Dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Heats Up
The international debate over the Senkaku islands has become even more heated in the last week. On April 19th, Japan began military expansions for the first time in forty years on the western end of the chain of islands. A radar station is set to be built on an island off the coast of Taiwan, named Yonaguni. This station will help to improve Japanese defense and surveillance capabilities, as it gives the country a lookout 93 miles away from the Senkaku islands.
The base could potentially give the Japanese the ability to monitor China’s mainland and track Chinese ships and planes as well. Though Japan never named a specific enemy when building up these defensive capabilities, it is a well-known fact that the country and China view each other as threats.
1,500 people reside on Yonaguni, which is most known for its “strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving.” Many of the islanders are excited about the base, as it will bring an economic boost to the community. Others, however, fear that the base will only make the island a target if Japan and another country begin to fight.
China and Japan have disputed over who owns the islands for many years now. However, it is China’s actions last year, when it developed an “air-defense identification zone in the Each China Sea,” (ADIZ), and consequently over the Senkaku islands, that might have been a catalyst in President Shinzo Abe’s decision to put soldiers on Yonaguni.
Due to the United States’ pact with Japan to defend the country’s territory, the US has warned China against taking action in regards to the islets. On April 22, President Obama stated that if China were to become aggressive, then the US would have no choice but to become involved militarily. He stated clearly that Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security covered the Senkaku islands, and considered Japan the administrators of the territory.
This public show of support is meant to deter China from taking actions to repatriate the islands. Washington’s support of Abe’s moves to build greater defenses have the potential to bring greater security to the region overall.
Chinese reactions to President Obama’s statement have been dismissive. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry stated that nothing has changed, and that the islands are still the sole territory of China. As far as China is concerned, it has the right to defend the maritime and national security interest of its territory—including the islands.