Nicholas Kristoff, the well known Asian affairs commentator, holds forth on the Senkaku Island dispute today in the NY Times. His piece is long and there are several parts I'd like to highlight.
First, the "weak government means war" thesis:
The reason to worry is that nationalists in both China and Taiwan see the islands as unquestionably theirs and think that their government has been weak in asserting this authority. So far, wiser heads have generally prevailed on each side, but at some point a weakened Chinese leader might try to gain legitimacy with the public by pushing the issue and recovering the islands.Time for analysts to get on board with reality: right now the Chinese government enjoys good legitimacy and is strong and yet China is growing ever more belligerent. Make the connection guys -- in this case growing strength drives growing expansion.
Second, on the US role:
The other problem is that, technically, the U.S. would be obliged to bail Japan out if there were a fight over the Senkakus. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on who owns the islands, but the Japan-U.S. security treaty specifies that the U.S. will help defend areas that Japan administers. And in 1972, when the U.S. handed Okinawa back to Japan, it agreed that Japan should administer the Senkakus. So we’re in the absurd position of being committed to help Japan fight a war over islands, even though we don’t agree that they are necessarily Japanese.Kristof writes that there's zero chance we'd honor our treaty. Zero chance? We'd just ignore Japan instead? The problem is that a few years ago the US and Japan held joint military exercises in those selfsame Senkaku Islands, which implies that the US would in fact honor the security treaty. Especially since armed clashes between Japan and China are likely spread to take in other Japanese held areas, such as Yoniguni Islands or Okinawa. Can you imagine how Japan and the rest of the world would take it if the US did not come to the aid of its ally? I think "zero chance" is simply wrong.
In reality, of course, there is zero chance that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligation over a few barren rocks. We’re not going to risk a nuclear confrontation with China over some islands that may well be China’s. But if we don’t help, our security relationship with Japan will be stretched to the breaking point.
Kristof writes on the sovereignty issue:
So which country has a better claim to the islands? My feeling is that it’s China, although the answer isn’t clearcut. Chinese navigational records show the islands as Chinese for many centuries, and a 1783 Japanese map shows them as Chinese as well. Japan purported to “discover” the islands only in 1884 and annexed them only in 1895 when it also grabbed Taiwan. (You can also make a case that they are terra nullis, belonging to no nation.)In fact as the pro-PRC Wiki page notes, the governor of Okinawa had requested their inclusion into the Japanese empire in 1885. Japan finally incorporated the islands in Jan of 1895, prior to the annexation of Formosa. As I have noted many times, prior to the announcement of the possibility of oil there in 1968, both PRC and ROC maps showed the islands as either Japanese or lying outside the territory of China. This whole dispute is a post-1969 fantasy retrojected into the past. Sorry, Nick, but this dispute is very clear. UPDATE: The Washington Times has published an excerpt from the 1969 map.
But more importantly, the whole way sovereignty is thought about here is ridiculous. The Chinese claim is like one of those medieval European claims that were revived to use as a pretext to annex a neighboring kingdom: "My fourth cousin's second wife was your great-great-great uncle's daughter therefore I own your kingdom!" The current Chinese method is like the "Courts of Reunion" that the Sun King used to claim adjacent states, manufacturing current sovereignty by retrojecting modern claims on sovereignty into selectively reconstructed history.
Essentially, using a Qing claim to support the current PRC claim is like arguing that Turkey owns Egypt because the Ottoman empire once did. The Ottomans are gone and so is their sovereignty. The Qing are gone and their empire has dissolved into independent states. The difference is that after 1911 Chinese nationalists decided to inflate China out to the old borders -- much as if Turkish nationalists had decided to reconstruct a Greater Turkey along the old Ottoman lines, and were currently trying to annex Serbia, Greece, Egypt, and Jordan. We are still living with the consequences of post-Qing Chinese re-expansionism and will be for another 50 years, through the next several rounds of hegemonic warfare.
Another sovereignty issue is one for that stream of Taiwan nationalists who argue based on the Qing claim that Taiwan owns the Senkakus. My response would be that if you recognize Qing sovereignty as extending into the modern era and shaping claims to the Senkakus, then you recognize PRC sovereignty over Taiwan based on the Qing claim. You can't pick and choose among Qing claims just because they suit your appetite for expansion. Taiwan doesn't own the Senkakus.
The last paragraph is a bit of mainstream media hubris:
As Chinese nationalism grows, as China’s navy and ability to project power in the ocean gains, we could see some military jostling over the islands. You read it here first.No, we didn't read it here first, Nicholas. This blog has been pointing this out for several years, and many others were there before I was, including the US and Japanese Navy officers who put together joint exercises in the Senkakus. As is always with the mainstream media, you guys are way behind academia, the government, and the blogs.
Also, I find the habit of mainstream media columnists calling their columns "blogs" to be entirely reprehensible. It should stop.
Have a great week! I'm off to drown my sorrows over the Browns loss in a passion fruit smoothie.
UPDATE: Ampotan with an extensive, excellent post.
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