Noilly Prattle: Senkaku, Diaoyu, Tiaoyutai

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Senkaku, Diaoyu, Tiaoyutai

Senkaku, Diaoyu, Tiaoyutai Islands
These strange sounding names all belong to the same set of ROCKS in the East China Sea. Problem is that this same set of rocks is claimed by three different countries—well, almost different, if you consider Taiwan (formerly Formosa) a separate country. Mainland China doesn't. Anyway, Japan, China and Taiwan all claim ownership of these rocks. The rocks themselves are uninhabited (and essentially, perhaps, uninhabitable for all practical purposes) but may contain mineral wealth (especially oil and gas) on the surrounding seabed. The waters around them are also rich in fisheries.

The islands lie about 150 km. northeast of Taiwan, which is, in effect, the nearest claimant to ownership of the islands. The disputed ownership of these islands comes to the surface every once in a while, but the latest opening of this particular can of worms may have hidden dimensions related to history and politics as well as exploitation of potential natural resources.

Put in historical context, the ownership of some of the islands is claimed by a Japanese family dating back to the Edo Period of Japanese history. The country was then ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family from 1603 to 1868. Of course, how valid any kind of deed from that period would be today is questionable at best.

More recent historical and political developments in Japan, however, may play a more determinant role in the current spat. Japan, since the end of World War II until 2009, was ruled basically as a one-party monopoly of the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP became deeply entrenched under a basically three legged stool of support: agriculture, the construction industry and the bureaucracy. Agriculture benefited lavishly from government subsidies and the construction industry got lucrative contracts for infrastructure spending on large scale public works projects. Then came the collapse of the speculative real estate bubble in the early 90s, effectively ending Japan's gogo years and ushering in the now 20 years (two “lost decades”) of stagnation and loss of confidence in Japan's future prospects.

Enter the new inexperienced administration of the Democratic Party of Japan in September of 2009. After over half a century, the LDP found itself out of power, but it had some secret information that it failed to pass on to the new administration related to the Senkaku islands, also known as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai.

Shintaro Ishihara,  Governor of Tokyo
The current dispute over the islands was instigated by the right wing Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, a former LDP Diet member. The Senkakus are, it would seem, his personal irredenta. In August this year, some activists from Hong Kong landed on one of the islands (their Diaoyu), were arrested and released by the Japanese government and reprimanded by the Chinese government. Ishihara, who has a history of needling the Chinese, couldn't pass up another opportunity. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, he added more fuel to the fire by offering to “buy” the islands “owned” by a Japanese family and started a drive to raise funds from private donations, eventually raising about 1.5 billion Yen (around $19,000,000) and sending a “survey” craft to inspect the islands, clearly as further provocation. He also wants to build landing infrastructure for use by Japanese fishermen “in case they need a refuge from storms”. The government decided to outbid the Ishihara tribe by buying the islands for about 2.1 billion Yen (around $27,000,000) and nationalizing them but allowing no infrastructure to be built nor allowing landings and “surveys”.
Ishihara's "survey team"

These actions on Ishihara's part seem like intentional right wing provocations designed to stir up the Chinese and Taiwanese and consequently inflame the nationalist sentiments of the Japanese—all of whom have political and ethnic “issues” stemming from the war—as well as discredit the DPJ Administration. The question is why and why now?

My guess is it's political machination and manipulation to discredit the DPJ Administration as inept at governing the country, force a national election and put the LDP back at the helm. At the time of the transition from LDP to DPJ rule a crucial back door agreement between the governments of Japan and China was kept from the new administration. At the time of normalization of relations between the US, China and Japan (then under the LDP) with Nixon's visit to China in 1972 an agreement was made to shelve the issue of the islands until a later date when, hopefully, cooler heads would prevail. This secret deal was kept from the incoming DPJ Administration, perhaps intentionally to use as an Ace up the LDP's sleeve for future use—i.e., when the time was ripe for the LDP to perhaps regain power.

Nobuteru Ishihara [2nd from right]
The approval rate for the DPJ has sunk to the 20 percentage points range. It has soured relations with the US over the military bases in Okinawa issue. It hasn't been able to dig Japan out of its 20 years of negligible growth. The Japanese export engine has lost steam with the global economic meltdown. Off-shoring of Japanese companies has led to a two-tier economy at home with many young people stuck in low paying no benefits part time jobs. Agitation for a change in government is on the rise. A charismatic new leader is rising in Osaka with a new party called Japan Restoration offering platform planks that dovetail nicely with the those of the LDP. There is talk of pushing for a general election as soon as possible. There is a reasonably good chance that the LDP allied with one or two other parties including Japan Restoration could regain control of the government. It may be worth noting that Mr. Ishihara's son Nobuteru is an LDP presidential candidate running for election this year.

What I'm saying here is I think the party now out of power, salivating to get back in, is manipulating the islands issue to further discredit and weaken the DPJ and use it as a wedge issue to manipulate a gullible population into voting the LDP back into power.

We could find out if I'm right or wrong in the not too distant future if events proceed on the current track.


Anonymous said...

ahhhh, politics around the world

Noilly Prattle said...

Yes. The DPJ, like the Obama Adminstration, inherited a mess made by the previous administration, is being criticized for not cleaning up fast enough. And now the ones who made the mess want back in--to deepen the mess I suppose. Then they'll just get the "servants" to come back in after the party and start cleaning up the place all over again...

Anonymous said...

never ending cycle, it seems….round the world