Monday, 30 September 2013

Tensions escalate between China and Japan

China's President Xi Jinping said Monday that he will not meet Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit this week, following comments made by Abe at a news conference in New York over a disputed islet. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Abe said that “Japan will not make a concession on our territorial integrity,” but stressed that he did not wish to escalate the issue any further, despite what he called “intrusions by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters.”
Relations between the second and third-largest economies in the world have been strained during the last year, as Japan has remained defiant of its territorial rights over islands in the East China Sea in the face of an increasingly robust foreign policy by China. Ships and aircraft from both sides have been involved in provocative military exercises in each other's back yards for over a year, since Japan officially bought three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
It is believed the eight uninhabited islands, referred to as the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands by Japan and China respectively, are located near potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves, strategic shipping lanes and in valuable fishing waters. The island's exclusive economic zone would grant the controlling state sovereignty over these resources. Unsurprisingly, Chinese protests over the sovereignty of the islands only began in the mid-1970s, after the oil and gas discoveries were first made.
China's claims to the islands date back many centuries, historically serving as important fishing waters for the Chinese province of Taiwan. In the 19th century, they were ceded, along with Taiwan, to Japan in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. They were formally incorporated into Japanese territory, as part of the Ryukyu Islands (modern day Okinawa), that same year and retained that status until after the Second World War.
In 1951, Japan's claim to Taiwan was renounced in the Treaty of San Francisco, and the islands subsequently fell under US trusteeship until they were returned to Japan twenty years later. Despite the question of sovereignty over the islands being raised in both 1951 and 1971, China at no point contested the outcomes of those formal agreements. Beijing has retrospectively argued that they should have been returned, but the Kuomintag leader, Chiang Kai-shek, did not make these feelings heard at the time. Worth noting is that the islands are also claimed by Taiwan.

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