With the rise of China as Asia's leading economic power, a Chinese government think tank says the nation's conflict with Japan over the Senkaku Islands is inevitable at a time when its bilateral relations are changing as a consequence.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) also said in its annual report that the two countries’ relationship will enter into a highly unstable period.
While thinking that the conflict over the islands could be prolonged, China is now paying attention to what action the new Japanese government, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will take.
The “report on the development of the Asia-Pacific region” points out that China’s rapid development is raising anxieties in surrounding nations, forcing them into taking precautions and requiring them to accept the “readjustment” of the power balance.
As for the Senkaku Islands, the report explained that Japan’s right-wing groups, which have gained strength through the country’s two decades of a sluggish economy called “the lost 20 years,” regarded U.S. policy of “pivoting to Asia” as the best opportunity to nationalize the islands. In September, Japan purchased three of the five Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu Islands in China, from a private landowner.
Until the new power balance is established in the fields of politics and economics, prolongation of the conflict is inevitable. As a result, Japan-China relations will enter into a highly volatile period, the report said.
“Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands destroyed the framework for keeping a balance, which means ‘shelving a conflict,’ ” a Chinese diplomatic source said.
“China has no political methods to return the situation to the (pre-nationalization) state. Therefore, there are no other ways except for looking for a new framework,” the source said.
In a symposium held on Dec. 28, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said, “China and Japan should find crisis management methods through dialogue.”
With the comment, Zhang showed willingness to establish a framework for preventing possible clashes between vessels or aircraft around the Senkaku Islands from escalating into a military conflict.
As a precondition for establishing the framework, an executive of a think tank said, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should not take actions that heighten the tensions further.”
Since the days before Dec. 26 when the Abe government was formed, Beijing has been paying close attention to Abe’s hard-line remarks, such as stationing public servants on the Senkaku Islands or making visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors not only Japanese war dead, but also Class-A war criminals.
“It is the same as a game of go. If Japan escalates the conflict, China will be prepared to respond to the move,” the executive said.
Gao Hong, deputy director of the CASS’s Institute of Japanese Studies, said, “It is necessary for Japan-China relations to return to the original point of the two countries seeking long-term profits in their relationship.”
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