Guest Post: Japan’s Three Options In The East China Sea

Tyler Durden's picture


Authored by Robert Dujarric, via The Diplomat,

What options does China have? The Naval Diplomat's James Holmes has one idea here.

Tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands are continuing, as indicated by continued obstacles to Japanese businesses in China, a drastic decline in tourism, and Chinese patrols near the islands.   This is both a Sino-Japanese issue and a part of a broader confrontation between China on one side and the United States and its allies on the other. 

Given Japan’s reliance on the U.S. security umbrella, Tokyo’s moves are to some extent constrained by American actions.  Nevertheless, Japan’s size and resources mean Tokyo retains considerable autonomy in handling its relationship with Beijing.

At this point, Tokyo has three options:

DO NOTHING.    Regardless of the legitimacy of conflicting claims over the islands, the responsibility for the escalation lies mostly with China.   The nationalization of three islets, previously owned by a Japanese citizen, did not alter the status quo.  Moreover, given (former) Governor Ishihara’s antics about Tokyo purchasing then, it was imperative that the central government preempt him.   On the other hand, the party-sponsored – or at least tolerated – violence against Japanese property and individuals in China was on a different scale.   Additionally, Chinese moves against Japanese businesses in China amount to economic sanctions

Nevertheless, doing nothing is an option for Japan.   Chinese actions so far are not a grave threat.   Japan has an overriding interest in not making the situation worse, and in making sure that if it does it will be crystal clear that Beijing is at fault.   A Japanese reaction could backfire, whereas waiting to see how things evolve over the next months, or even years, avoids this risk.

Additionally, the Noda cabinet may soon be history, possibly replaced by an administration led by a failed ex-premier (Shinzo Abe) who deemed it a good idea to pray at Yasukuni Shrine earlier this month.   Taking a proactive course on China policy requires stable and high-quality leadership, something which is lacking in Tokyo.

SEEK A COMPROMISE:    Giving up control of the islands is not in the cards.  However, Japan could seek to accept some Chinese demands.    This could include  looking at various forms of joint development, revising fishing zones, etc. 

The advantage of such a strategy is that it would test the proposition that the Communist Party is not interested in drastically altering the status quo but had to react when the “nationalization” of the three islands made it lose face.   If this hypothesis is true, a limited amount of concessions could settle the issue.   Given the importance for all concerned to defuse the situation, the cost-benefit ratio of such a strategy would be positive. 

If it turned out that no amount of Japanese concessions bought peace, then we would all know that Chinese Communist Party's intent.   However, given the domestic politics in Tokyo, implementation of such a policy would be tricky in the absence of a charismatic prime minister trusted by a large majority of the electorate.

GO ON THE OFFENSIVE:    In both 2010 and 2012, Beijing crossed the line of accepted norms.  It unleashed economic warfare against Japan (in 2010 with the rare earths and delays in customs, in 2012 through physical attacks on Japanese assets in China, state-sponsored cancellations of travel, slowdowns in import processing, etc.).  So there is an argument for demonstrating that there is a price to pay.

A strategic offensive would have two prongs.  The diplomatic part would be Japanese support for a territorial status quo to end once and for all territorial disputes.  Japan would acknowledge the full sovereignty of South Korea over Takeshima (Dokto) and of Russia over the Northern Territories (the southern Kuriles).   China would then be seen as the only troublemaker, since it would be the only remaining regional actor with territorial claims (Taiwan would too, but its role in the Senkaku crisis is obviously less critical) and improve relations with Seoul (and perhaps Moscow).

The economic offensive could have several pillars.  Japanese customs would slow down the processing of Chinese imports, focusing on those which can easily be sourced from other locations. Chinese airlines and tour operators that bring tourists from Japan to China could see their operations subjected to unfortunately lengthy tax audits, inspections, and other bureaucratic hurdles. 

In some cases, Japan is the only source of high-tech components for China-based exporters. In selected cases, these exports could be slowed down, focusing on those that are vital for Chinese state-owned corporations and businesses owned by senior party officials and their families.  

Such an ambitious strategy could signal Beijing that there are costs to aggressive behavior.  In particular, it would have the advantage of preventing future miscalculations on China’s part by deterring the Communist Party from further escalation with Japan.  If one believes that China is on a road that will lead to war with the U.S. and its allies, making a stand now could ensure peace in the future by forcing Beijing to see how costly its objectives are and demonstrating Japanese resolve backed by the U.S. 

All of these three options have advantages and disadvantages.   The first one differs from the other two in terms of the requirements for implementation.   It does not require particularly talented leadership, whereas the others demand first-rate actors in Japan's cabinet.   The last one, and to some extent the "compromise” would also entail very close cooperation with the United States, but the “do nothing” option could be accomplished through normal working level channels with Washington.

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Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:32 | 2920164 zerozam
zerozam's picture

Fuck the chinese motherfuckers!

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:56 | 2920217 3rdgrader
3rdgrader's picture

Wrong. Focusing the spot light on China's criminality is only a distraction from our Government's criminality.

The only viable solution is for our Military to arrest our Politicians and Bankers.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:24 | 2920256 Precious
Precious's picture

"Japan would acknowledge the full sovereignty of South Korea over Takeshima (Dokto) and of Russia over the Northern Territories (the southern Kuriles).   China would then be seen as the only troublemaker, since it would be the only remaining regional actor with territorial claims (Taiwan would too, but its role in the Senkaku crisis is obviously less critical) and improve relations with Seoul (and perhaps Moscow)."

Russia doesn't really care since they are pragmatic.  As for China and Korea, nothing Japan does will ever satiate the low-self esteem nationalists that are perpetually jealous of Japan.   The last leader of Korea that tried to make peace with Japan, in his retirement got thrown over a seaside cliff to his death.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 22:41 | 2920523 Frozen IcQb
Frozen IcQb's picture

Japan needs a popular schmoozer PM.

Get Junichiro Koizumi out of retirement and no more shrine visits please!

He's the only one I know that has a shot at getting the negotiations done.

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 05:14 | 2920875 Never One Roach
Never One Roach's picture

Wait until Japan attacks Pearl Harbor again. The far right Tokyo mayor wants the constitution changed so Japan can possess its very own nuclear missiles. Gonna be interesting. The japanese have never gotten over the humiliation of being defeated by 'the inferior westerners.'

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 23:08 | 2920572 Jake88
Jake88's picture

Since you are only a third grader I won't fault you for not knowing that the criminals control the military.

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 00:46 | 2920681 toomanyfakecons...
toomanyfakeconservatives's picture

Yes, suit and tie criminals control the U.S. military... until they lose that control and end up in handcuffs...

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:37 | 2920173 alstry
alstry's picture

Now this is milking a systemic issue where gold and currency lose relevance.

There are three forms of money: Love, Trade, and Force.

When you can't trade, all that is left is Love or Force in the

We better start thinking systemically, or there may not be much to think about.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:02 | 2920229 knukles
knukles's picture


Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:13 | 2920249 alstry
alstry's picture

7 Billion People.....One Planet.....Limited Resources.....And The World Is Bankrupt

Do you really think gold, silver, or currency matters that much in this environment?

We can either think or fight.....the choice is ours.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:26 | 2920266 alstry
alstry's picture

Money is simply something we exchange for the production of others.

Most production is exchanged by, silver, currency, or barter. However, one can obtain the production of another via Love, unconditional giving with nothing expected in return.

Finally, the least virtuous method to obtain the production of another is Force. It can be very effective against those that rely on gold, silver, and currency.

Just ask Qadaffi or Hussein....they understand Force very least they did.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:52 | 2920323 Yen Cross
Yen Cross's picture

 You picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue...

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:58 | 2920335 Hulk
Hulk's picture

and I thought England Dan was dead...

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 11:59 | 2921795 JimBowie1958
JimBowie1958's picture

Just ask Qadaffi or Hussein....they understand Force very least they did.

If they understood it so well, then why are they now DEAD before their natural time?

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:39 | 2920176 malikai
malikai's picture

Interesting perspective. I would expect "do nothing" as that seems to be the safest and indeed Japan doesn't seem like they would be prepared to deal with the eventualities of the other options.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:41 | 2920180 CrashisOptimistic
CrashisOptimistic's picture

No, no and no.

This is misunderstanding the Japanese perspective.

IT'S ABOUT OIL.  They are taught from kindergarten through college that they got nuked in the 20th century, the only country to be nuked in warfare, BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO OIL.  FDR's embargo of oil on Japan in August 1941 is what forced them into bombing Pearl Harbor, to eliminate the US Pacific Fleet as a threat to their route to Indonesia's oil.  In the end, they got nuked because they have no oil.

Now, in their view FINALLY, they have oil on/under their territory and someone is trying to STEAL IT.  

Unless you understand this perspective from Japan, you will consistently get projection of what is to happen in the Senkaku Islands wrong.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:00 | 2920224 Jack Burton
Jack Burton's picture

The prosepct of oil in the territorial waters of these Islands and others in dispute is clearly what the conflict is all about. Japan and China both want to drill for oil in the waters that come with ownership of these and other disputed islands. Indeed! It is about OIL!

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:24 | 2920263 Precious
Precious's picture

Somebody should tell poor old China that they can't eat that kind of oil.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:54 | 2920326 dick cheneys ghost
dick cheneys ghost's picture

It is also about the dollar and the yuan and China buying lots of gold.........the pivot to the asia/pacific region by Obummer and the war department serves many purposes............god forbid there should be another reserve currency in the world....

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:58 | 2920304 malikai
malikai's picture

It better be about oil, because otherwise it is completely senseless. Nevertheless, Japan is late to the party, and this field is pence. They should have stepped up prior to 2006.

"The Chunxiao field is the first of a group of four natural gas fields in the Xihu Trough being developed by China: the other ones are Tianwaitian, Duanqiao, and Canxue.

Production from the field started on January 28, 2006.[1] CNOOC and Sinopec operate the site. Unocal and Shell withdrew from the project in late 2004 for reasons of high costs, unclear reserves, and the territorial dispute.

CNOOC estimates net oil reserves of the field at 3.8 million Barrels of oil, and 168.6 BCF of natural gas.[2]"

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:14 | 2920250 yogibear
yogibear's picture

Foolish, the indians should arm themselves and hunt the people that are involved. The Indians can be stealthy hunters. 

George  Patton:  The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.” 

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:45 | 2920192 Jason T
Jason T's picture

Option 4, recruit 7 samuria.  

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:20 | 2920361 Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

Option 5: Bottle Fukushima spring water and sell to the Chinese as Rhino Horn Elixer to cure erectile dysfunction. Cheaper than Viagra, Cialis, and penis pumps put together.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:39 | 2920406 dracos_ghost
dracos_ghost's picture

Yup, and when all their hair falls out, it will look HUGE.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:52 | 2920207 Manthong
Manthong's picture

Tora! Tora! Tora?

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:52 | 2920210 g3h
g3h's picture

The author is clueless.  His reasoning is not just the outdated simplistic view that the U. S. will bailout every ally and is still the sole and superpower that can strike anyone as it pleases, but it is entirely based in a vacuum, as conceived by a recent (college) graduate in his first paper.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:56 | 2920212 Jugdish
Jugdish's picture

One option for China is just seize it. What can Japan do about it? Whine? Japan - U.S. alliance not an issue. Is president Soetoro going to retaliate? I think not. China can go to the UN and point to modern US imperial expansion. Are the criminals in DC and on Wall Street going to sacrifice their power and money for a thermonuclear war over some useless islands? No. They wouldn't do shit except sell a bunch of weapons an shit to Taiwan an Japan, make a bunch of money, and raise the fear gauge on fox to Orange. Spoooky.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:03 | 2920230 g3h
g3h's picture

It is a straight forward solution.  Except there is one problem.

I am not even sure the Chinese naval warships can sustain a strong hurricane when they sail to the island.  They probably will all sink in the storm before anyone realizes they need to do anything.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:28 | 2920267 Precious
Precious's picture

Seize the deserted island from whom, a bunch of birds and flies?

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:43 | 2920301 mjcOH1
mjcOH1's picture

"One option for China is just seize it. What can Japan do about it? Whine? Japan - U.S. alliance not an issue. Is president Soetoro going to retaliate? I think not"


And one option for Japan is to go nuclear.   They've been a couple of weeks away from 'non-nuclear' power to fielding one of the world's largest nuclear weapon inventories for 30 or so years.

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 12:03 | 2921805 JimBowie1958
JimBowie1958's picture

Yes, one of Beijing's worst nightmares is to provoke a resurgance of Japanese militancy as they well remember what that was once like. I think that they shrink from that more than they do from Obama's velvet wrist.

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 04:36 | 2920852 Vlad Tepid
Vlad Tepid's picture

The object in all of this for the Chinese isn't the actual physical posession of the islands.  It is the bullying of their neighbors into acknowledging the hegemony of China in the region.  The strategic importance of the islands for China are like a tenth of what they are for Japan, plus the fact that Japan has a much better claim to them as the author pointed out.  Furthermore, assuming that the CHinese were actually able to affect a landing in the face of Japanese opposition, they would find it impossible to retain it.  A mere blockade that the JMSDF could carry out with no need for outside help would force the Chinese into a humiliating retreat that they would dare undertake in the first place.  They learned the lesson of the Falklands War.  This is exactly what happened to Argentina.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:00 | 2920221 knukles
knukles's picture

It would appear that the official foreign policy position of the Great People's Republic of Whereeveritiswelive believes that if they ain't white Anglo-saxon or own gold and or oil, they should be killed.
Ergo, the most effective means by which to pursue this dilemma is to encourage them to kill each other off.  No need for us to shed blood unnecessarily.

Passive encouragement of an effective foreign policy.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:01 | 2920226 SilverFish
SilverFish's picture

I think Japan should suprise attack China in the middle of the night when they're sleeping and just take over the whole country.


They could live quite comfortably with just 3.5 people per sq mile, according to my calculations.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:17 | 2920253 jackes123
jackes123's picture

everyone knows Jap is USA's bitch. And you expect good analysis about China-Jap relationship from US?

fuck you.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:33 | 2920279 Duke of Con Dao
Duke of Con Dao's picture

take a trip to Vietnam sometime. 

their name for the South China Sea is a the Eastern sea. 

new eye Candy (not See's)

YouTube - Victim of Campaign He Blew his Mind out in a Fridge: Here's a Voter who would not Take It Anymore!

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:36 | 2920287 SilverFish
SilverFish's picture

Just imagine how many Hibachi grill's the could build right into the side of the Great Wall. They could put on every 1/4 mile or so.


Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:46 | 2920309 mjcOH1
mjcOH1's picture

And think of the awesome Toyota commercials that could be filmed on the Great Wall.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:40 | 2920292 Zgangsta
Zgangsta's picture


Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:42 | 2920297 hannah
hannah's picture

dan dan noodles or sushi...? cant decide.....

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:48 | 2920313 Kali
Kali's picture

A little off topic, but

Japan may not be around much longer, Fuku IS NOT FIXED.  A people fighting over resources for a future it may not have.  And the problem they havent fixed is headed our way.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:54 | 2920327 sangell
sangell's picture

Turn the islands into a nuclear waste repository for Fukushima and other decommissioned nuclear power plants then acknowledge Chinese sovereignty when waste has been transferred to islands

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 20:56 | 2920331 suteibu
suteibu's picture

"....Tokyo’s moves are to some extent constrained by American actions."

The understatement of the year. Ask Hatoyama and Ozawa what happens when a Japanese politician tries to move the nation closer to China and establish a "more equal" relationship with the US.

"Nevertheless, Japan’s size and resources mean Tokyo retains considerable autonomy in handling its relationship with Beijing."


Japan has no hope of working anything out with China as long as the Chinese know that, ultimately, decisions are made in Washington, based on America's interests, and not Tokyo.  The US hangs over Asia like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. 

And I don't see anyone speculating that China's move on the Senkaku's is aimed at the US, not Japan.  The US picks on Iran, China picks on Japan.

Japan and China have been meeting secretly over the past few days, no doubt as a way of discussing the issues without the US involved.

Sadly, the rest of the article is crap.  It has no depth.  It is like a brainstorming sessions where everything is written down regardless of how inane and irrelevant it is.

"Japan would acknowledge the full sovereignty of South Korea over Takeshima (Dokto) and of Russia over the Northern Territories (the southern Kuriles)."

Not going to happen.  The Koreans want Emperor Akihito to personally apologize for comfort women and a whole host of decades-old transgressions.  The Japanese people would not stand for it.

Of course, this article also leaves out the role of the US in resolving the Senkaku's issue.  The Japanese expect the US to protect Japan after paying for the privilege of hosting US troops in Japan for 67 years in which Japan has never been threatened.  Now that America's bogeyman, China, has actually taken action, the US has decided to sit on their diplomatic hands and give vague assurances to the Japanese but then, on the next day, invite the Chinese military to participate in the largest military exercise in the Pacific. in 2014 (RIMPAC).

"All of these three options have advantages and disadvantages.   The first one differs from the other two in terms of the requirements for implementation.   It does not require particularly talented leadership, whereas the others demand first-rate actors in Japan's cabinet.   The last one, and to some extent the "compromise” would also entail very close cooperation with the United States, but the “do nothing” option could be accomplished through normal working level channels with Washington."

This paragraph would have been much more accurate if it had not been written.  What, did you have a word quota and thought you could pass this off as meaningful?

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:02 | 2920340 sangell
sangell's picture

About a month ago Japanese ground forces, for the first time, took part in a USMC amphibious landing exercise. May not have gotten much attention in the US but it was big news in Japan and, no doubt, in Beijing.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:22 | 2920371 suteibu
suteibu's picture

The joint exercise you are referring to was held in Guam and at a time when the Chinese navy was holding drills off the Senkakus.

Last Sunday, the US cancelled a joint exercise with the GSDF which would practice retaking the Senkaku Islands on an uninhabited island off of Okinawa. To be sure, Beijing noticed. Shortly afterward, Chinese ships sailed on the edge of Japanese waters adjacent to the Senkakus.  

When the Chinese captain was arrested two years ago, it was Obama who told Kan to send him back to China because he did not want the incident to affect upcoming US/China talks.  The US is clearly absent on this issue and the Japanese have few options. 

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 05:12 | 2920874 Sandmann
Sandmann's picture

They took part in Guadacanal too - I guess you mean they were on the same side this time !

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 22:50 | 2920546 Cosimo de Medici
Cosimo de Medici's picture

You overestimate the influence of the US in Japan.  The Obama Administration has virtually no foreign policy, and even less of one when it comes to Japan. On occasion Hillary feels obligated to gas up at Yokota, but there has been less public and private contact between the US and Japan during Obama than at any time since WWII.  I'd be willing to bet that one could pop a quiz in the Cabinet Room of the West Wing, and less than 30% could tell you who the current PM of Japan is.  The US no longer throws up on Japanese Prime Ministers.

The island battle is being driven by Ishihara Shintaro, from Tokyo.  Washington is as puzzled as anyone.  As for the joint military exercises, US military types will join in any exercise where they get to fly or float or march in formation.  It's the next best thing if they can't blow up something.  Policy is simply not that coordinated, and only seems so to those who need to create order where there is none.

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 23:14 | 2920580 suteibu
suteibu's picture

"You overestimate the influence of the US in Japan."

Either you have no direct understanding or you are trying to obfuscate the issue.  The Obama administration has been heavily involved in Japanese policy, from Okinawa to nuclear power to prime ministers.

It was Obama who snubbed Hatoyama, not because of the decades-long base relocation issue, but because he and de facto party leader Ozawa wanted to move closer to China (Google Hatoyama and his EAC proposal) and create a more equal relationship with the US, including reviewing the security agreement.  Obama surrogates in the media called Hatoyama "loopy" and pro-US bureaucrats in the Japanese government undermined him at every opportunity.  Hatoyama was replaced by Kan whose first action was to reaffirm the Japan/US alliance and even went further in stating that the alliance was the basis of Japanese foreign policy.

After Fukushima, Kan was ousted because he turned anti-nuke, an extremely popular position among the Japanese public but not so with Washington.  Kan was replaced by Noda who is even more pro-American than Kan.  Just recently, when Noda sought to add the goal of zero nuclear power generation to Japan's energy policy statement, it was Obama who told him to omit any reference to it.  Subsequently, and to the surprise of many in Japan, Noda removed all reference to the notion.

When the US and Japan were negotiating the transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, the US overestimated both the number of troops that would be moved and the total cost of the operation (to make it appear that Japan's portion was less on a percentage basis) in order to make the deal more politically palatable to the Japanese public.

I could go on.  The US is nothing if not more heavily involved in Japanese politics now than since the heyday of the occupation. 

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 05:17 | 2920876 Never One Roach
Never One Roach's picture

"Never happen" is correct. Just watch Korean news and discussion channels on Cable. They blast the japanese as aggressors every night nowadays.

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