- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

China-Japan tensions

U.S. officials are monitoring rising tensions between China and Japan over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain who is accused of ramming his boat into two Japanese patrol boats near the Senkaku islands north of Taiwan and south of Okinawa.

The islands have been Japanese territory for decades and were even recognized as such in China’s Communist Party People’s Daily many years ago.

But since 1970, China — based on growing nationalist sentiment — publicly laid claim to the island chain, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu. Taiwan also claims the islands, further complicating the territorial dispute.

Inside the Ring has obtained a classified Chinese map that is likely to further muddy Beijing’s territorial claims. The 1969 map, produced by the People's Republic of China map authority and labeled “confidential,” lists the islands as “Senkaku,” the Japanese name, and contains a dividing line south of the islands indicating that they fall within Japanese territory.

The map contradicts the statement on Tuesday by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, who told reporters: “The Diaoyu Islands have always been Chinese territory since ancient times, and this is the fact that nobody can ever change. China owns indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. The Chinese government’s will and determination to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is firm and unshakable.”

Amid the tensions, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group is located several hundred miles from the area.

The latest dispute began Sept. 7, when a Chinese trawler near the Senkakus was ordered to halt fishing. According to Japanese reports, the trawler then rammed two Japanese patrol boats, triggering a naval chase and the captain’s arrest.

Diplomatic protests began flying as China summoned Japanese diplomats several times to demand the captain’s release, claiming Japan could not enforce its laws on Chinese territory.

China stepped up the protest by canceling a senior official’s visit to Japan, and said plans to resume talks on a disputed undersea natural gas field were called off.

Diplomatic sources said Japan is expected to release the captain on humanitarian grounds after it completes its investigation, ending the immediate dispute but not resolving the issue of the uninhabited islands.

The Senkaku dispute provides another example for growing U.S. concerns over China’s aggressiveness and efforts to seek control over others’ territory and international waters.

In July, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton challenged China over its claims to wide areas of the South China Sea. She said “the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” U.S. officials said the comment is part of a broader effort to push back against growing Chinese hegemony in Southeast and Northeast Asia.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an e-mail that “there is some increased tension” between the two Asian giants over the islands dispute.

“But we believe this can be resolved by Japan and China,” he said. “We have not been asked to intercede in any way at this point.”

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