Would China and Japan go to war over Diaoyu Islands?
This was the discussion topic that had seen several reruns on CNA’s Perspective programme hosted by Pek Lian. The participants were Tommy Koh and Lam Peng Er, the latter is likely to be a Singaporean too, Victor Gao from China and Takaaki Kojima from Japan.
The issue of Diaoyu/Senkaku is quite clear. The islands were seized from China under the Unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1894 after China was defeated by Japan. They were war loots. The islands were supposed to be returned to China after Japan’s defeat in WW2. But the Americans was tasked to be the trustee, tried to return to Chiang Kai Shek, but he preferred the US to keep them in case he lost Taiwan to the Communists and had some where to run to. The US gave administrative control of the islands to Japan in 1972 after falling out with Communist China and the start of the Cold War.
In 1972, Zhou Enlai and Tanaka signed a communiqué agreeing to keep the status of the islands on hold, but also with Japan agreeing to abide by the post war treaties of Potsdam and Cairo. The sovereignty of the islands was thus kept in the back burner till it flared up again when Shintaro Ishihara hatched a scheme to buy it from another Japanese, thus sealing the fate of the islands as Japanese territories. China protested strongly against such a move.
On the pretext of easing tension, Japanese PM tried to con the Chinese with another sure win scheme, to nationalise the islands. Under both con jobs, the islands would be officially recognised as Japanese islands if they were executed. And China would have lost the islands by a fait accompli for not protesting.
The position of the two Singaporeans was simple enough. Please don’t go to war as it would hurt both countries. The neutral stance is understandable as they did not have any stakes to consider.
The Chinese position was also simple. The islands were Chinese territory and China would fight to keep them at all cost. China was willing to maintain status quo but Japan had pushed China to react and China would have to let the world know that these were undisputed Chinese islands. Not negotiable.
The Japanese position was also simple. It refused to acknowledge that the islands were seized from China and claimed that those were Japanese islands. And to further perpetuate its con job, even accused China for raising tension.
The Chinese would not fall victim to this con job. But Tommy Koh was conned all the way. He swallowed hook, line and sinker thrown out by the Japanese. He did not even want to dispute Japanese claim to the islands, and through his comments that was a settled issue.
And he tried to throw smoke to compare Germany and Japan’s remorse after the WW2 and urged both parties not to go to war. The official position of Germany and Japan, to acknowledge the war atrocities and aggression, was really a moot point and secondary in the discussion.
Tommy asked whether China would risk and waste resources and lives over a few pieces of worthless rocks. Or would Japan do likewise over these rocks. He forgot that China lost the islands to the Japanese and the Japanese was the illegal owner of Chinese islands.
Another point of naivety exposed in Tommy was his belief that the US did not want to see a war between Japan and China. Unbelieveable to think that he is a veteran in international relations! Yes, the US would not want to be involved in a direct war with China. An open conflict between Japan and China would be most welcomed. Whatever treaty it has with Japan, it would use it expediently to serve its selfish interest. It would be in a very advantageous position to calibrate its response, likely to start with lip service, then supply and sell more arms to Japan, and finally decide whether to commit arms and its military forces to the conflict, depending on the outcome of the war. The Chinese and Japanese would have to kill each other first before the Americans decide what to do, just like WW2. Let them cripple themselves, their economies, lives and resources. The Americans can march in as the victor at the closing chapters.
The island dispute is really about sovereignty, about national pride, about ownership. Why should China give up fighting for its own islands? Or why should Japan not return the islands to China without going to war? Who is the net loser or gainer? Not going to war, China lost. Returning the islands to China, Japan did not lose anything and could lead to a real closure to WW2. Why would Japan want to risk going to war again with China by keeping a few worthless pieces of rocks, in the view of Tommy Koh, that it stole from China?
This is the real issue that would have to be settled between China and Japan now or later, not the apologies and gestures of remorse. Return the islands and everything would be back to square one and bringing about a full closure of Japanese aggression against China and the Chinese people. Is this so hard to understand? Why are the recalcitrant Japanese so persistent in holding on to war loots it took by forced and risking a war with China some time tomorrow? They are peaceful people? They started the war of aggression not only against China but the whole of East and Southeast Asia and against the US.