SENKAKU-DIAOYU-ISLANDS DISPUTE HEATS UP AFTER JAPAN BUYS THE ISLANDS IN 2012

CHINESE SHIPS AROUND THE SENKAKU ISLANDS

Chinese fishing boats and surveillance vessels routinely sail around the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands to make their presence felt. China's strategy is to use such vessels to give the impression that the area belongs to China. Chinese patrol vessels entered Japanese territorial waters in March 2012. China has said it plans to increase the number of patrol vessels and beef up their capabilities. Its enhancement of its naval forces also has been noticeable. Growing tensions in waters off the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands appear inevitable. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2012]

In April 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Japan Coast Guard aircraft spotted Chinese fishery surveillance ships in the East China Sea near the Senkaku Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The Yuzheng 202 and 32501 ships, which belong to the Chinese Agriculture Ministry, were seen cruising about 56 kilometers north-northwest of Uotsurijima island at about 7:20 a.m. Both ships entered the Japanese contiguous zone surrounding the nation's territorial waters by about 8:20 a.m., about 44 kilometers north-northwest of Uotsurijima. [Source: Jiji Press, April 6, 2012]

Earlier the Jiji reported: “Two Chinese maritime surveillance ships approached the Japan-controlled Senaku Islands in the East China Sea and one of them briefly entered Japan's territorial waters, the Japan Coast Guard said. The two patrol vessels -- the Haijian 50 and Haijian 66 -- arrived in waters near the Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu, the coast guard said. The Haijian 50, entered Japanese territorial waters at around 9:38 a.m. and left at around 10:03 a.m. after a Japanese patrol boat issued a warning to leave, it said. [Ibid]

The coast guard's 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, based in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, said the Chinese surveillance ship intruded into Japanese territory across the territorial waters line east of Minami-Kojima island, an islet belonging to the Senkaku-Diaoyu islet group. Both ships had left the contiguous zone, which lies outside territorial waters, by around 2:40 p.m., the regional headquarters said. [Ibid]

In October 2011, Kyodo reported: “A Chinese research ship was again spotted apparently surveying waters outside its permitted area in Japan's exclusive economic zone near the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said. A coast guard patrol aircraft issued a warning to the Chinese ship, the Beidou, not to conduct a survey outside the pre-approved areas, but received no reply, it said. The Beidou was found first in waters some 155 kilometers north of Taisho Island, part of the Senkaku Islands, and continued to sail southeastward before entering a pre-approved survey area some 139 km from the island around 11:30 a.m. [Source: Kyodo, October 7, 2011]

Japanese Air Force Scrambles Planes a Record 156 Times against Chinese Planes

In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The number of scrambles by Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets in response to Chinese planes in fiscal 2011 (April 2011 to March 2012) reached a record 156, up 60 from the previous year, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry's Joint Staff Office said this was the highest number caused by China since Japan began recording which countries caused scrambles in fiscal 2001. While there are no country-by-country records on scrambles prior to 2001, the ministry said the response to Chinese planes in fiscal 2011 is probably the highest throughout the ASDF's history. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 27, 2012]

There were 425 ASDF scrambles in response to foreign planes that threatened to violate Japan's airspace in fiscal 2011, up 39 from fiscal 2010, and the highest number in 20 years. However, the ministry said there were no airspace violations in fiscal 2011. Russian planes caused 247 scrambles, a decrease by 17 from the previous fiscal year. Among the countries that cause ASDF scrambles, Russia is consistently the highest. [Ibid]

Many of the scrambles involving Chinese planes were against Y-8 intelligence gathering planes that made long flights near the Nansei Islands in the East China Sea. "The data shows that China's activities in the East China Sea have intensified," a ministry official said. [Ibid]

In October 2011, Kyodo reported: “The Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets 83 times in response to Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace in the April-September period, a 3.5-fold increase from a year earlier, the Defense Ministry said. While the Chinese planes did not violate Japanese airspace during the period, they diversified flight routes focusing on areas close to a China-developed gas field and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the ministry said. On September 8, a Chinese reconnaissance plane flew to an area 100 to 150 kilometers from the Senkakus. The ministry also said that during the period the ASDF scrambled fighters 106 times in response to Russian aircraft, including two bombers that circled around Japan and were refueled over waters off Hokkaido on September 8.[Source: Kyodo, October 14, 2011]

Tokyo Gov. Ishihara’s Plan to Buy the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands

In April 2012 Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said he planned to use public money to buy the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands, a group of resource-rich islands known in China as the Diaoyu. They islands are are controlled by Japan, but claimed by China and Taiwan. also of islands at the centre of a dispute between Japan and China. The move was condemned by Chinese officials as illegal. Later Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that the Japanese government would buy the islands. [Source: BBC, April 16, 2012]

“Ishihara, who is known for being outspoken, made the claim during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, the BBC reported. He said that he was in discussions with the private Japanese owner of three of the islands in the disputed chain. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the islands, and that any unilateral action from Japan would be "illegal and invalid". [Ibid]

Takashi Shiraishi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara should be held responsible for internationalizing the dispute over the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands by announcing his intention of having the Tokyo metropolitan government purchase the then privately owned island group in Okinawa Prefecture. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 24, 2012. Shiraishi is president of both the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and the Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization]

Upon learning that Shin Shin, a 6-year-old female panda at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, may be pregnant. Ishihara joked that possible giant panda cubs at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo should be named after Japanese islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China. "Why not name the babies Sen Sen and Kaku Kaku?" Ishihara said at a press conference, referring to the Senkaku Islands."This will give China control [of the Senkakus] when the baby pandas return to China," he said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2012]

Japanese Government Plans to Buy Senkaku-Diaoyus

In early July 2012, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced a plan by the Japanese government to purchase the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and said negotiations had already begun with the islands' owner. "There can be no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are part of Japanese territory, both under international law and from a historical point of view," the prime minister said. "The Senkakus are under the effective control of our nation, and there is no territorial issue with any other country over the islands." [Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government has informed Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who has been proceeding with an independent plan for the Tokyo metropolitan government to purchase the islands, of the state's intention to nationalize the Senkakus, Noda said. Three of the five Senkaku islands would be purchased under the government's plan. They are Uotsurijima, Minami-kojima and Kita-kojima, which are owned by a man from Saitama Prefecture, officials accompanying the prime minister said. [Ibid]

In mid July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Three Chinese fishery patrol boats intruded into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in two days. The patrol ships were purportedly protecting Chinese fishing rights. It is unusual to see such aggressive activity by them on consecutive days. When a Japan Coast Guard patrol ship asked the Chinese boats to leave, they insisted they were conducting legitimate official duties. They also told the JCG not to obstruct them and to leave "Chinese territorial waters" immediately. Afterward, they lingered in areas surrounding the Japanese territorial waters. The incursion was likely a response to the Japanese government's expression of intent to purchase three of the islands. The Chinese government apparently wished to demonstrate its strong determination. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2012]

Hong Kong Activists Land on the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands

On August 15, 2012, Hong Kong activists reach the disputed islands by sea for the first time since 1996, with seven activists disembarking onto the island. Reuters reported; “Fourteen activists from China, Hong Kong and Macau travelled by boat to the group of islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in China, on the emotionally charged anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of the second world war. Five were arrested on the islands, and nine others detained on their boat, Japan's coastguard said earlier. [Ibid]

Several of the activists jumped into the sea, swam and waded ashore. The group said its boat had been rammed by the coastguard and hit with water cannon. A Japanese official denied that any serious damage had been done to the boat. Chinese media published photographs of the activists planting the country's flag on a rocky shore. "We've waited 10 years for this. We finally managed to get ashore," the captain of the protest ship was quoted as saying on Hong Kong television. [Ibid]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Video footage released two weeks after the event by the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) shows activists on a Hong Kong protest ship throwing bricks at a JCG patrol vessel as the two boats collided near the Senkaku Islands (known as Diaoyu Islands in China) on August 15. In the recording, the JCG's vessels obstructed the protest boat's course when it neared the island. However, the boat continued to sail straight. It ran aground and the activists disembarked. [Source: Daily Yomiuri, August 29, 2012]

The footage taken by the JCG also shows that the protest boat rushed to Uotsurijima Island in the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, where activists then landed, despite warnings by the JCG, and footage shows the protest boat was repeatedly warned by the JCG to refrain from intruding into Japan's territorial waters after it came within about 44 kilometres of the Senkaku Islands. JCG vessels sprayed water at the bridge of the protest boat. [Ibid]

Activists were recorded throwing chunks of brick at the JCG vessel. But a JCG official said, "We do not feel our officers were obstructed as we were able to continue our activities, which included spraying water." After watching the video, Democratic Party of Japan House of Representatives member Takashi Nagao said the government's response to the activists was lenient. "We must find if the government made clear its basic policy that their landing was never tolerated," he said. Liberal Democratic Party lower house member and former Defence Agency Director General Gen Nakatani said, "We need to revise the related laws so we can physically and firmly stop [illegal landings]."

China Demands Release of Islands Activists and Calls Japan Law Worthless

The Hong Kong activists were arrested after they landed on the islands. Reuters reported: “China has urged Japan to immediately and unconditionally release 14 activists who planted the Chinese flag on a disputed island that has long been a source of tension between the two Asian powers. In discussions with Japanese officials, Chinese vice-foreign minister, Fu Ying, demanded that Japan ensure the safety of the 14 Chinese nationals and immediately and unconditionally release them, the Chinese foreign ministry said on its website. Fu also "made solemn representations on Japan's unlawful detention of Chinese nationals on the Diaoyu Islands", the ministry website said. Japan protested to China's ambassador over the activists' landing and the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said Tokyo would deal with the matter strictly in accordance with the law. [Source: Reuters, August 15, 2012]

China's Xinhua state news agency said Japan had pushed tension "to a new high". "The tensions are fully due to irresponsible clamouring and attempts by some Japanese politicians and activists to claim the islands, which ... indisputably belong to China," it said. Friction over the uninhabited isles, which are near potentially rich gas deposits, had already been heating up. A separate row over rival claims by South Korea and Japan to other rocky islands has also intensified, signalling how the region has failed to resolve differences nearly seven decades after Japan's defeat at the end of the second world war. [Ibid]

Jiji Press reported: “Chinese newspapers played up the landing by Hong Kong activists on one of the Senkaku Islands on Wednesday, running headline stories on the incident on their front pages. "Seven Diaoyu Guardians Land on Diaoyu," the Beijing News' top headline said in its Thursday edition. "The Foreign Ministry Seeks Japan's Release of Them." "Japan's domestic law is effectively as worthless as wastepaper in the face of China's will and determination to defend its sovereignty and protect the legal rights of the public," the Beijing Times said in its editorial. [Source: Jiji Press, August 17, 2012]

The Beijing News said in its editorial, "Faced with the strong will of the Chinese public, the Japanese government now must become extremely cautious by taking [the incident] more seriously." The Beijing News also carried a comment from activist Tong Zeng, head of the Chinese Civilian Association for Safeguarding the Diaoyu Islands. China needs to take steps to strongly demonstrate its sovereignty and enhance surveillance of waters around the islands by using maritime surveillance ships, Tong was quoted as saying. [Ibid]

The friction in part reflects scepticism over the sincerity of Japan's apologies for wartime and colonial excesses .South Korea's Lee Myung-bak told a group of teachers that Emperor Akihito should apologise sincerely if he wanted to visit South Korea, saying a repeat of his 1990 expression of "deepest regrets" would not suffice. Japan, noting that it had never broached the idea of a visit by the emperor to South Korea, lodged a protest with Seoul over the remarks. The Beijing Youth Daily said Japan has been driven into a corner due to increasing challenges to its territorial claims from China, Russia and South Korea. Speaking at a ceremony marking the war's end in Japan, Noda acknowledged the "enormous damage and suffering" caused by Japan to other countries, especially in Asia. "We deeply reflect upon [that] and express our deepest condolences to the victims and their families," he said, vowing that Japan would never go to war again. [Ibid]

Three days after the island landing Jiji Press reported: “Japanese authorities deported seven of the 14 people from Hong Kong who were arrested this week on or near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on charges of violating the immigration control law. The 14 people included five Chinese members of a Hong Kong-based activist group who were arrested by the Okinawa prefectural police on Wednesday after landing on Uotsurijima island. [Source: Jiji Press, August 18, 2012]

The five members of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, along with two members of a television crew, left from an airport in Okinawa. The remaining seven, including the boat captain, were sent separately to Okinawa's Ishigaki island by air to be deported on the ship they used to reach the islands. The deportations came after Okinawa police carried out a thorough investigation but found no violations other than illegal landing and intrusion into Japanese waters, a senior police official said. According to the police, the five said they wanted to show that the islands are Chinese territory. "It was very regrettable that they entered Japanese waters, despite repeated warnings, and illegally landed on Uotsurijima," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said.

Japanese Activists Land on the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands

On August 19, 2012, ten Japanese activists swam ashore and raised Japanese flags on the island chain, setting off anti-Japanese protests. Keith Bradsher, Martin Fackler, and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “About 10 of the activists, including local assembly members from Tokyo, swam ashore to the disputed island, Uotsuri. While Japan controls the island chain, the Tokyo government restricts access to avoid inflaming regional tensions. The 10 who landed Sunday did so without permission, and were later questioned by the Japanese Coast Guard. [Source: Keith Bradsher, Martin Fackler, and Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, August 19, 2012]

Members of the group said they were responding to the pro-China activists’ landing, and they urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to do more to defend the islands. “Four days ago there was an illegal landing of Chinese people on the island,” Koichi Mukoyama, a lawmaker who was sailed to the island but did not swim ashore, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “We need to solidly reaffirm our own territory.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted angrily, after having asked Japan to make sure no activists reached the island. “Japanese right-wing elements have illegally violated China’s territorial sovereignty,” Qin Gang, a spokesman, said on the ministry’s Web site. “Relevant officials from the Foreign Ministry have already made stern representations to the Japanese ambassador, making a strong protest and urging Japan to cease actions that are damaging China’s territorial sovereignty.”

The Japanese activists were part of a group of conservative members of Parliament and local politicians who arrived at the island on nearly two dozen boats that carried about 150 people. The Japanese Coast Guard did not release the names of the activists who had made it to the island’s rocky shore. Photos of the landing by the Kyodo News Agency showed several men and at least one woman standing in wet street clothes as they displayed a Japanese flag on shore. [Ibid]

In China, Global Times, a nationalist-inflected newspaper owned by People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, held an impromptu seminar on the crisis on Sunday, with many participants calling for more radical action. During the seminar, one hawkish analyst, Dai Xu, called on the Chinese military to seize Japanese ships. Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, one of the most outspokenly hawkish generals in China, called on China to send 100 boats to defend the islands. “If necessary, we could make the Diaoyu Islands a target range for China’s Air Force and plant mines around them,” he said, according to a microblog posting by the newspaper. [Ibid]

But Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times and an organizer of the seminar, counseled restraint, a departure from his usually militant writings on China’s territorial disputes. He belittled the Japanese activists as “provocative right-wing monkeys,” but said the dispute was not worth a full-scale war between the countries. “Chinese people, please don’t be overly angered by this,” he wrote. “We should have more confidence and view Japan from a global perspective.”

Japan Purchases the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands

On In early September 2012, the Japanese government announced that it was in the process of purchasing the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands from a private Japanese owner, with the actual deal going through a few days later. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government and the owner of three of the Senkaku Islands have agreed on the purchase of the islets for about 2.05 billion yen ($26 million), according to government sources. The Tokyo metropolitan government was initially considering buying the islands, but with the latest move by the central government, the islets will be put under state control. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 6, 2012]

The government will purchase the three islands of Uotsurijima, Kita-kojima and Minami-kojima from their owner in Saitama Prefecture, the sources said, By placing the islands under state control, the government is apparently carrying out its plan to "maintain the island chain peacefully and stably." In April, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced the metropolitan government's intention to buy the islands. The governor has maintained a tough stance on China, which also claims sovereignty over the Senkakus. Concerned about worsening relations between Japan and China, the central government is believed to have decided to independently proceed with negotiations to place the islands under state control. [Ibid]

After the government's purchase, the Japan Coast Guard will likely have jurisdiction over the islands, the sources said. The government will keep the islets as they are and not build anything on them, such as a lighthouse or a small port that can shelter boats during bad weather, which the metropolitan government had initially requested, the sources said. [Ibid]

Ishihara has expressed his willingness to accept the central government's decision to purchase three of the Senkaku Islands. "From the beginning, I intended to eventually give [the islands] to the central government. So I have no issue with the government buying them," the governor said Wednesday morning in front of his house. Asked about the donations the metropolitan government had collected for the purchase, which have topped 1.46 billion yen, Ishihara told reporters: "We've already come this far in collecting donations. If the government is buying the islands, we'll immediately hand over the money."

About a week later, Jiji Press reported: “The government made its final decision to buy three of the five Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and signed a purchase contract with the islands' private owner. At the day's Cabinet meeting, the government decided to spend 2.05 billion yen from its contingency reserves under the fiscal 2012 budget to buy the three islands--Uotsurijima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima. Following the decision, the government signed a contract on the purchase with the owner, bringing the three islands under state control. Of the other two islands in the chain in the East China Sea, one is held by another private owner and the other is owned by the government. At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the purchase of the islands "will not cause any problem with any other nation or region." In response to the government's move, China sent marine surveillance ships to waters near the Senkaku Islands, which are called Diaoyu in China. [Source: Jiji Press, September 12, 2012]

Takashi Shiraishi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun that while Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara should therefore be held responsible for internationalizing the dispute over the Senkaku Islands---the Japanese government owes the Japanese public an explanation about why it subsequently opted to make a "cabinet decision" on "nationalizing" three of the Senkaku Islands from the private landlord even though they are part of Japanese territory and why it went ahead with such a decision at a time when China was entering a period of transition in its leadership. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 24, 2012]

His advise: “In any event, the Senkaku Islands have now been "nationalized" and tensions between Japan and China have mounted considerably. Under the circumstances, it is important that the government shows no sign of losing its nerve and caving in to China's pressure. At the same time, the government has to make an all-out effort to make Japan's effective control of the Senkakus steadfast. China will also most likely seize this opportunity to have its marine surveillance and fishery surveillance ships embark on "patrol" operations around the Senkakus on a routine basis to make the point that the island group is disputed between Japan and China. Beefing up the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, among other measures, will therefore emerge as major medium- to long-term items on the national agenda. [Ibid]

China Accuses Japan of Stealing Islands

Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “The Chinese government accused Japan of stealing a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea, hours after the Japanese government announced that it had bought them from their private Japanese owners. In a show of strength, China sent two maritime law enforcement ships to the islands, which are known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan. The ships, belonging to the China Marine Surveillance, are commonly deployed in the South China Sea, where China and its neighbors have other territorial disputes over islands. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, September 11. 2012]

Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, said Tuesday that the marine agency had drafted an “action plan” for asserting China’s claim to the disputed islands. In an unusual array of strong statements by top leaders in recent days, China has asserted that the islands have belonged to China since ancient times. Chinese president Hu Jintao warned the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Russia that nationalizing the islands would be illegal, Xinhua reported. In a statement, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the purchase of the islands by the Japanese government “cannot alter the fact the Japanese side stole the islands from China.”

The confrontation between China and Japan comes as the Chinese government nears the start of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition at a Communist Party Congress expected to be held within weeks. Some Western analysts say they believe that the strong public defense of China’s territorial claims may be a way to deflect attention from an unusually rocky succession process by shaking up the strong Chinese nationalist feelings against Japan. [Ibid]

The Chinese state news media have not reported that the country’s presumptive new leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, has canceled meetings with foreign leaders since last Wednesday. His absence has provoked widespread speculation about his condition on the Internet. In contrast, the state media have been full of reports in the last several weeks about the disputed islands and what are presented as the transgressions of the Japanese. [Ibid]

The intensity of the feelings in China against the Japanese purchase of the islands was expressed in academic circles. Hu Lingyuan, deputy director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the Japanese notion of reducing tensions by buying the islands before the Tokyo government could do so would not mollify Beijing. “Justifying the so-called nationalization as a means to keep the Diaoyu Islands situation stable is self-deception,” he said of the purchase. “The Chinese people won’t fall for the Noda government’s lie.” A storekeeper in Beijing who gave only his surname, Li, said: “When other countries insult the United States, America strikes back with force, defending its honor. But when China is actually attacked, when its people are dying, all we do is insult the attacker. I’m ashamed to be Chinese.”

In contrast, a prominent Chinese journalist, Wang Shuo, the managing editor of Caixin Media, said Tuesday on his microblog, “China is protesting because it cannot accept any transfer of property rights that is not under Chinese sovereignty and actual rule.” He added: “The Japanese government bought the island to prevent its being bought by a right-wing Japanese politician. It could help contain the situation.” The situation would be worse if the Tokyo governor had bought the islands. By intervening with its own purchase, the Japanese government can block efforts by Japanese nationalists, who have sailed to the islands in the past few weeks to try to occupy them, to land there. [Ibid]

China, Taiwan Form 'Tag Team' and Engage in Giant Water Fight with Japan over Senkaku-Diaoyus

In late September 2012, several dozen 40 Taiwanese fishing boats traded water cannon fire with Japanese coast guard ships after Taiwan for the first time ventured into the disputed waters. Beijing gave it blessing to the incursion funded by business group active on both sides of strait Kazuhide Minamoto and Seima Oki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “As 52 Taiwan fishing boats and patrol vessels entered Japan's territorial waters near the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday, the news was being beamed back to Taiwan. "Approaching the 12 nautical miles of Tiaoyutai," one Taiwan reporter said as the flotilla approached the islands. Moments later, the reporter sent an update: "We're within 12 nautical miles of Tiaoyutai." [Source: Kazuhide Minamoto and Seima Oki, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2012]

Subtitles flashed on the screen as updates came in. With 62 Taiwan reporters aboard the ships, there was continuous coverage of the fleet as it played cat-and-mouse for several hours with Japan Coast Guard vessels in waters near the islands called Tiaoyutai in Taiwan and Diaoyutai in China. When JCG patrol ships began spraying water at the Taiwan fishing boats, Taiwan Coast Guard Administration patrol boats that were accompanying the fleet replied by firing their water cannons at the JCG vessels. Taiwan TV reporters described the tense exchange as it happened in front of them. [Ibid]

This mass protest was financially supported by Taiwan's Want Want Holdings Ltd., which donated 5 million Taiwan dollars (about $150,000) to help cover the flotilla's fuel costs. [Ibid] Want Want operates a food manufacturing business in China, where its products such as confectionery are widely distributed. In Taiwan, the group--which is regarded as pro-China--has a TV station and a newspaper company under its umbrella in addition to hotel and real estate businesses. The group is flush with capital. [Ibid]

The Taiwan fishing boats displayed banners that said, "Tiaoyutai belongs to Taiwan" as well as the name of a Want Want group company. Taiwan fishermen reportedly operated around the Senkaku Islands until about 1970, when they were barred from entering the waters after Japan adopted strict controls following claims by Taiwan and China to the islands. Angry Taiwan fishermen joined in criticism that President Ma Ying-jeou was weak-kneed and demanded, "The administration should step up pressure on Japan." Ma responded by sending patrol boats to escort the fishing boats. On the Senkaku-Diaoyu issue, Ma has repeatedly stated he would not cooperate with China. But events gave the impression China and Taiwan were working in tandem, and came after several recent incursions in the waters by Chinese vessels. When Taiwan fishing boats left for the islands Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed clear support for Taiwan. "Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should work together, placing the Chinese nation's sense of honor at the forefront," he said. [Ibid]

Meanwhile, China has also reached out to South Korea on territorial issues involving Japan. At U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung Hwan that the order of Northeast Asia would face a challenge if nations linked to the Senkaku-Diaoyu issue do not have a correct view of history. His remark indicates China wants to bring South Korea into its corner, as Japan claims sovereignty over the South Korean-occupied Takeshima islands, in an effort to have the international community better recognize the frictions Japan has with its neighbors. [Ibid]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated December 2012

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