US, Japan seem fine with island row

By Joe Hung, special to The China Post

Tokyo and Washington seem to want nothing better than to prolong the current sovereignty row between Japan and China, which may touch off an accidental military skirmish off the disputed islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. In Taiwan the eight uninhabited islets are known as Tiaoyutai, which it claims are its inherent territory.

Beijing and Tokyo have locked horns since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda nationalized three of the Senkaku Islands in September last year to prevent ultra-nationalist Governor Shintaro Ishihara of Tokyo from buying them. Shintaro’s intentions were to defend them against a possible Chinese takeover.

Chinese maritime surveillance ships have regularly patrolled what they say are their territorial waters and the Japanese have scrambled warplanes from time to time to warn the Chinese vessels against coming too near to the islands, which are under Japan’s administrative control. Tokyo alleged that a Chinee frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer in January.

Japanese fighter pilots may fire warning tracer shots. They may be mistaken for an attack, which may lead to an exchange of fire, kicking off a war by accident. But Beijing appeared to call for a respite a week or so ago. Xi Jinping, general-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and president of the People’s Republic of China, reshuffled his State Council. Yang Jiechi, foreign minister, was made a State Council member or minister without portfolio in charge of foreign affairs, and succeeded by Wang Yi, director of the State Council Office of Taiwan Affairs.

Xi’s appointment of the two top diplomats displays a Chinese desire to repair relations with Japan after months of disruption, while keeping the United States and its strategic pivot to Asia at bay. A former ambassador to Tokyo, Wang knows Japan well and is expected to repair relations between the two neighbors damaged by the ongoing row in the East China Sea.

Yang is a former ambassador in Washington, who firmly believes the United States should stay out of regional Asian affairs. The military, often an influential voice in China’s foreign policy, is also making conciliatory commentaries about Japan to indicate Beijing’s intention to thaw the frozen relations between the two countries.

Then came the alarming news of a joint U.S.-Japan military plan to counter any Chinese invasion of the disputed islands.

Japan’s Nikkei newspaper, citing an unidentified Pentagon source, reported that Japanese and U.S. officials had drawn up a joint plan for retaking the Senkakus should the People’s Liberation Army seize them.

Last Thursday and Friday, General Shigeru Iwasaki, Japan’s chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, in Hawaii to finalize the joint plan.