- + The camaraderie between Biden and Suga has been reflected over the Senkaku Islands dispute.
- + Islets that have held a strategic position since two centuries ago.
- + Uninhabited land disputed by Japan, China and Taiwan
Why is Suga at war with Xi Jinping?
Answer: Two opposing stories that go back to the 15th century.
Tensions in the East China sea continue to simmer, as both China and Japan escalate their military capacities around the waters surrounding an unheated rocky chain, located 1.200 miles southwest of Tokyo. Such territory is known by the name of the Senkaku Islands, or as the Chinese call them, the Diaoyu islands. Before analysing the situation of today, it is important to go back a bit in time.
Japan asserts that the islands have been under sovereign power since 1895 after its victory in the Sino-Japanese War. Such assertion is grounded on the basis that when the Japanese were conducting a survey in the islands, throughout 1884, they found them to be terra nullius, with no evidence of Chinese power at all. However, for some scholars, the reality is way different from the one portrayed by the Japanese. Instead, the existence of these islands was first mentioned in a 15th-century travel documentary guide of a journey to the Ryukyus from China.
Later on, in the 17th century, the Chinese declared a maritime boundary between the islands in question and the Ryukyus, which adopted the name of “Black Water Trench.” By 1720, the deputy Chinese ambassador at the time, Xu Baoguang, was sent to the islands to confer a title upon the Ryukyuan king. However, Japan in 1879 annexed the Ryukyu kingdom and created the Okinawa Prefecture. By 1885, the governor of Okinawa petitioned the Meiji government to take control of the Senkaku Islands and due to the subsequent refusal, 10 years later, Japan secretly took control over the Senkaku.
As for China, the fact that these islands were uninhabited did not mean that they were unoccupied, hence the territorial invasion threat was calling at their door over again. And as such the annexation created a time bomb, that lasts up until our present date, due to the numerous stakes involved.
What does Xi Jinping want?
Answer: Have control over the existing stakes in the Islands.
The uninhabited land is the focus of a territorial dispute between China, Japan and Taiwan. Since 1972, after the US’ reversion of the Ryukyu Islands, the Senkaku have legitimately been under the Japanese administration. Subsequently, both China and Taiwan have also claimed sovereignty over them. However, the approach taken between these two latter countries is quite different. Whilst Taiwan has succumbed to Japan and tried to draft certain agreements to have access to the islands, China continues to use the resources it has to gain back their alleged sovereignty.
The reason behind the Chinese leader’s insistence, today embraced by Xi Jinping, is triggered by the fact that the islets are not simple chunks of rock, but have a rather strategic position. Firstly, the waters surrounding them are significant given the amount of maritime traffic in their surroundings. Secondly, they have a high economic value given the fishing resources and the hydrocarbon energy reserves that lie therein. Therefore, Xi Jinping’s strategy is to increase Chinese activity and presence in the area, with the aim of eventually establishing their own administration. Rather than commencing a fully-fledged war with Japan.
Examples of Chinese attempts to gain control are evident in the oil and gas platforms that the country has implemented along the median line that separates Japanese and Chinese administered waters or the illegal fishing that they conduct.
What does Suga want?
Answer: Hold grip over the Senkaku.
In response, the Japanese government, now led by Yoshihide Suga aims to challenge these threats by increasing its coast guard budget. Not only that, through information power and networks, Suga attempts to topple down any Chinese attempt to regain total control. Moreover, to prevent this, it is essential that the diplomatic community is also aware of the tensions that exist in this area and Xi Jingpin’s main aim.
For this reason, Shinzo Abe and now Suga, continue to reaffirm their ties with India and Australia, which along with the US and Japan are known as “the Quad”. This coalition is seen as a counter-weigh in Asia-Pacific
What is Suga doing?
Answer: Augmenting the number of allies with regards to the disputed area, specifically now with Biden.
With Biden, as the new elected President of the United States, his first significant foreign policy move concerned China, by publicly declaring the US’ security guarantees that will be applicable to Japan’s administration over the Senkaku. This occurred two weeks ago during a 15-minute conversation between Suga and Biden, when President-elect, Biden “gave a commitment that Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands”. This Article corresponds to the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation, which ensures the commitment of the US to come to Japan’s defence in the event of an armed attack against any territory under its administration.
Biden followed the legacy of Obama and Trump, which enhanced the US commitment to the Islands. For the Biden administration, it seems that this area plays a significant role in their foreign policy, as such cooperation will allow the US to achieve a freer and more open Indo-Pacific Sea as well as having a territorial base on China’s doorstep. Overall, Biden undermined Trump in the sense that the latter continuously pronounced the weakness of the Biden-Harris administration, as they would allow Beijing “to own our country”.
Who is winning and what about you?
Answer: Suga and his allies by far.
The Suga-Biden alliance over the uninhabited islands is indispensable for the peace and prosperity of the international society, Biden’s reinforcement has been necessary to palate Xi Jinping’s attempts to gain legitimate sovereignty over the territory. AS a result, thanks to the Quad commitment and Biden’s status quo, in the meantime Suga can remain calm over this disputed area.