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Should Other Countries Get Involved In Disputes Between China and Japan?

Wed, May. 31, 2017 Posted: 10:53 AM


In the middle of this month, the leaders of Japan and China came together for talks of provocations by North Korea and the future bilateral cooperation. Reaching common ground is more important than ever, as both countries have big stakes in one another.

In fact, China is Japan’s biggest trading partner and accounts for the majority of its foreign visitors. On the other hand, Japan offers a major source of foreign investment for China. These ties have become strained by many issues, most notably a territory dispute over a chain of uninhabited islands. Located in the East China Sea, the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in the China make up eight islands devoid of all inhabitants. While they may seem insignificant, these islands are strategically located near trade routes, fishing grounds and oil and gas reserves. They remain at the center of the dispute that has continued for many years.

Japan claims that the islands were first incorporated into their territory in 1895, after having carefully ascertained that there had been no trace of control over the Senkaku Islands by another state prior to that period. After being renounced and taken under U.S. ownership after WWII, the territory was returned to the Japanese. The Japanese government points out that China did not contest their ownership until the discovery of oil reserves in the area. However, China maintains that the territory has been under their control since ancient times. Overseen by Taiwan, China argues that the islands should have been properly returned to them in the WWII agreement.

As the BBC reports, this area dispute has been thrust back into the spotlight yet again as China takes questionable measures to attempt to secure the islands for themselves. As the dispute continues, some are wondering if other countries should get involved in disputes that occur between China and Japan, such as this.

Countries, such as the United States may have no choice but to get involved if a dispute gets to a certain point. After all, Japan and the United States formed a security alliance after WWII. In exchange for allowing the United States to have military bases on Japanese soil, the United States has promised to defend the country if the need should arise. Even back in 2014, former President Barack Obama was very clear that the United States would be a rational force in these issues, but would stand by their word to engage in conflict if needed.

"Obviously this isn't a red line that I'm drawing. It is the standard interpretation over multiple administrations of the terms of the alliance, which is that territories under the administration of Japan are covered under the treaty. There's no shift in position,” Obama said during a 2014 interview, according to The Christian Post. “There's no red line that's been drawn. We're simply applying the treaty,"

Back in February, U.S Defense Secretary, James Mattis explained that America would continue standing by this alliance and would engage in conflict if Japan was attacked in any way.

“I made clear that our long-standing policy on the Senkaku Islands stands. The U.S. will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands,” Mattis said. “As such, Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty applies.”

Canada is another country that has seemed to enter itself in the middle of China and Japan disputes. The issue of establishing annual Nanking Massacre Day in Ontario is causing some disruption between Chinese and Japanese Canadians. The issue stems from a bill introduced by a Chinese Canadian MPP, Soo Wong. Bill 79, also known as the Nanking Massacre Commemorative Day Act, is building momentum as it has gathered thousands of approval petition signatures to become a reality. However, this bill is highly debated, as are the details of the Nanking Massacre.

This event took place in late 1937, at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War. As Japan wrapped up a bloody victory in Shanghai, the military decided to continue to march the Chinese capital of Nanking. Chinese leaders evacuated the city of all high ranking and trained fighters after decided to abandon Nanking citizens, leaving the city defenseless. China claims that more than 300,000 people were sexually assaulted and killed. However, the details of this event have been highly debated and remain an issue of contention to this day. It is easy to see how Ontario’s creation of this memorial holiday would only serve to further create tension.

As Wong is able to gather thousands of supporters, there are also several others that are against the creation of this Chinese remembrance holiday. Opponents of the bill are mostly made up of Japanese Canadians who dispute the facts of the Nanking Massacre. These critics argue that the number of victims has been grossly exaggerated. To put it in perspective, about six million Jews were killed by pre-war Nazis in a period of about ten years. On the other hand, the Chinese government claims that around 300,000 citizens were killed during the six-week Nanking massacre.

Comparing these two events makes one wonder how this much devastation in such as short period was possible. To further these claims of exaggeration, critics point out that names continue to be added to the list of victims. This raises the question of why the toll would continue to rise so many years after the event.

In response to the allegations of falsifying numbers and what Japanese called an “act of Chinese people derogating Japan,” China has erected memorials of the Nanking Massacre around the country. Descendants of the victims that have migrated have built memorials in their new countries as well, further spreading the disagreement throughout the world. Critics of this bill also explain that the only place that this type of remembrance belongs in the native country of China, not Canada.

With this huge issue and possibility of introducing Nanking Massacre Day in Ontario, Canada is no doubt involved in the continued dispute between China and Japan. However, if it comes down to a physical engagement, it is highly doubtful that the country will involve itself.

In stark contrast to Canada, Russia is another country that has seemed to be willing to get involved in the Japan-China disputes. The country’s president, Vladimir Putin has vowed his support to Japan as they continue the ownership dispute. However, it is important to note, that neither Japan and China do not want an armed conflict.

With such vows of allegiance made, these countries may have no choice but to get involved in conflicts. However, is their involvement necessary? Many political experts explain that getting involved in Asian conflicts could have disastrous conflicts. For example, Abraham Denmark, senior vice president for political and security affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research explained to Vice why it would be a good idea to avoid engaging.

“A conflict between China and the US of any significance would be disastrous for both sides—politically, economically, and militarily. It's something both sides have a profound interest in avoiding,” Denmark explained. “Increasingly [China] is incorporating scenarios related to the Senkaku Islands and in the South China Sea.”

Other political experts pose their own opinion of why countries, such as America, shouldn’t get involved in disputes between Japan and China. One common argument is that this dispute is not a critical issue to other countries. Spending the resources and money to get involved does not result in many benefits to said country. Of course, there are several others who believe that countries, such as the United States have no choice. This group of political analysts argues that America is already too involved with the conflict to refuse further involvement.

Whether countries decide to get involved with disputes between China and Japan, or not, there is one point that Denmark and other political experts can agree on.

A war is not something to be taken on lightly,” finished Denmark.

Wars bring about several consequences to all sides. Political, social and economic impacts are severe and inevitable. For example, countries in wartime experience inflation and industrial setbacks. The decision to engage in conflicts should be reached by weighing the political, economic and societal costs to the individual country.

George Smith