On Island-Grabbing Juggernaut Japan Jolts China
One wishes India emulates Japan’s strong rebuff to communist China’s crafty moves on expanding its territory through questionable historical evidence, whether it is on the land or the seas. The recent example is the Middle Kingdom’s roughshod island-grabbing policy to claim sovereignty over Senkaku islands, which has abruptly come to a grinding halt after Tokyo decided to nationalise these rocky-oceanic outposts by purchasing them from a private Japanese owner in September last. Such an unprecedented tough stand to the Chinese bellicose claims to the Japanese-controlled islets (named Diaoyu by China) located in the East China Sea has turned into a disgraceful fiasco.
Japan’s outright rejection of China’s cheeky demand that it acknowledges a sovereignty dispute on the islands carries a lesson for other neighbouring countries affected by Chinese bullying. These miniscule oceanic territories are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of gas, oil and other undersea resources. Japan says it saw no trace of Chinese control over the islands in an 1885 survey, so formally recognised them as Japanese sovereign territory in 1895. Moreover, China itself showed little interest in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands prior to 1968, the year a geographical study pointed to a vast oil reserves beneath the seabed.
It is not surprising that Beijing’s aggressive efforts to expand its maritime territory to the waters, rich in fish, oil and natural gas by intimidation, directed against Japan, have come to a naught while Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea still remain victims of dragon’s invasive designs. This is because Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has firmly stood up to the Chinese sabre rattling and refused to be bullied on the issue. According to him, Japan is “back” and will not stand down in its ongoing sovereignty dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
Over the past months, China has repeatedly sent marine surveillance ships into waters around the islets not only to scare off Japan but also to prove to the world that it effectively holds control over the uninhabited oceanic rocky patches. China has thus sought to demonstrate its claim to the islands by deploying air and naval assets aircraft in areas where Japanese Coast Guard ships normally conduct patrols and accused Japan of escalating the maritime tension in their relationship by harassing Chinese ships. The PLA air force also launched its surveillance and fighter jet sorties in the vicinity of the islands but the Japanese self-defence forces’ planes constantly intercepted and shadowed them. In a rare show of brinkmanship, a Chinese warship even locked its weapons-targeting radar onto a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) destroyer in the East China Sea in late January. Another Chinese warship did likewise targeting a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force helicopter.
Tokyo has firmly warned China of deploying its naval Self-Defence Force if Beijing escalates the issue further. Chinese are aware of Japan’s effective deterrent in the form of powerful naval force. The JMSDF is viewed as the second-strongest destroyer navy in the world as it boasts of six Aegis-equipped destroyers and two state-of-the-art helicopter carriers. It is viewed as the main regional counterweight to China, which has rapidly developed its anti-access and blue-water naval capabilities in recent years. Japan has the world’s sixth-largest military budget, while its navy boasts of 48 major surface combatants, two large helicopter-carrying destroyers, an assortment of corvettes, frigates and stealthy diesel-powered submarines and a state-of-the-art Aegis combat system.
Moreover, in its 2011 Defence White Paper, Tokyo has made known that it will further boost its defence and military capabilities in its southeast parts closest to China. In view of the concerns over the security in the region, plans are already afoot to raise the defence budget beyond informal one per cent limit of the island nation’s GDP. The Japanese forces may add more amphibious units, ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, besides considerably increasing recruitment for manning the augmented war machine.
Besides, in view of China’s expansionist policy, Japanese strategy is to consolidate the US-Japan alliance. America, which plans to deploy a major portion of its naval power in the Western Pacific in the coming years, also wants Japan to play a bigger role in containing aggressive Chinese designs of territorial expansion.
For Japan, free access to sea is a matter of national survival and Tokyo’s tough countermeasures on military as well as diplomatic fronts seem to have yielded desired results. The mellowed down dragon now perceives that it has a bit more than it could chew and whatever brave faces it is making now are meant for the public consumption within the country. Now Beijing may consider it a strategic victory if it can persuade the Abe government to sit at the the negotiating table to discuss the issue. China is signaling that it is ready to take practical measures to turn around strained Sino-Japanese relations since China and Japan are neighbours that can never be separated.
Japan ‘s example has also emboldened Vietnam and the Philippines, whose island territories Beijing wants to grab, to assert themselves. These two nations are also building up their naval power in the South China Sea, besides seeking alliance with the United States as well as Japan. This may cause the ‘rising China’ to think twice before making any further aggressive moves against these nations in the region.
Will India, whose vast chunks of Himalayan territory are still under illegal Chinese military occupation, learn from Japanese precedent of standing up to China? Despite recent gestures of friendship by the new Chinese leadership, there is likely to be a long haul of covert hostility by China towards India. China’s official mouthpiece, the Global Times recently editorially commented that there is a palpable fear of China in Delhi. The newspaper also issued veiled threat that India would face the same risks of war as Japan does if the India-Japan strategic partnership moves to a military alliance. It is high time the Indian leadership gave a pragmatic direction to its China policy by showing some mettle and grit.
By NK Pant