China's Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy
China's Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=fasi20 Download by: [184.108.40.206] Date: 01 November 2015, At: 09:21 Asian Security ISSN: 1479-9855 (Print) 1555-2764 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fasi20 China's Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy Krista E. Wiegand To cite this article: Krista E. Wiegand (2009) China's Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy, Asian Security, 5:2, 170-193, DOI: 10.1080/14799850902886617 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14799850902886617 Published online: 28 May 2009.
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Asian Security, vol. 5, no. 2, 2009, pp. 170–193 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN 1479-9855 print/1555-2764 online DOI:10.1080/14799850902886617 FASI 1479-9855 1555-2764 Asian Security, Vol. 5, No. 2, April 2009: pp. 1–20 Asian Security China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute Asian Security KRISTA E. WIEGAND Abstract: For almost four decades, China has disputed Japan’s sovereignty of several small rocky islands in the East China Sea.
Despite a June 2008 joint gas development agreement, China continues to claim sovereignty and the dispute is nowhere close to being resolved. This study proposes that China benefits from the endurance of the dispute because it can use territorial dispute threats to compel Japan to change its behavior or policy on other disputed issues. The results show that China gained concessions on other issues by using the territorial dispute as bargaining leverage in most of the 26 threats made between 1978 and 2008. For almost four decades China has disputed Japan’s sovereignty of several small rocky islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Since the dispute began, China has regularly made diplomatic and militarized threats about the disputed islands. In September 2005, China deployed five naval ships in the vicinity of the disputed waters, including a guided missile destroyer with its guns pointed at a Japanese P3-C surveillance aircraft.1 In the past few years, a number of clashes have occurred between government-backed Chinese activists attempting to land on the islands and the Japanese military, creating political tension for China and Japan. Most recently, the sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat involving the Japanese coastguard in the vicinity of the islands in mid-June 2008 not only led to major tensions between Taiwan and Japan, but also serious concern expressed by China.
As one China–Japan scholar notes, “since the beginning of the 21st century, the political and security environment has changed considerably, which makes a solution of the disputes [in the East China Sea] simultaneously more difficult and more urgent.”2 It is not surprising that China continues to press its claim for sovereignty of the islands and surrounding waters since the disputed area is suspected to have massive oil and natural gas resources, similar to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. A 2005 estimate of oil resources in the East China Sea is 100 to 200 billion barrels, enough to provide energy sources to either state for 50–80 years.3 Access to further oil resources is a critical priority for China, the second largest consumer of oil after the United States.
Despite a June 2008 joint gas development agreement in waters outside the disputed zone, China continues to claim sovereignty of the islands and the dispute is nowhere close to being resolved.4 When the natural gas agreement was made public, both states immediately assured their people that neither had abandoned their territorial positions and claims on the Senkaku/Dioayu Islands. This study proposes an explanation for China’s decades-long unwillingness to drop its territorial claim and its Address correspondence to: Krista E. Wiegand, Department of Political Science, Georgia Southern University, PO Box 8101, Statesboro, GA 30460-8101, USA.
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China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 171 strategy of threats regarding the territorial dispute, despite potential gains of gas and oil resources in the waters right around the islands. There is no indication that Japan will cede the islands to China by choice, nor is it likely that China will take the islands by force, deliberately provoking war against Japan. Since it is unlikely that the territorial status quo will change, why then does China continue to press its territorial claim and to regularly make threats to Japan? A likely explanation is that China benefits from the territorial dispute by taking advantage of crises that arise from the conflict.
By threatening Japan in the territorial dispute, China has used a dual strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy. Issue linkage occurs when a state deliberately links two or more distinct foreign policy issues together, claiming that resolution of one issue cannot occur without resolution of the other. Coercive diplomacy is an attempt by one state to compel another state through some type of coercion, threat, or use of force to reconsider or shift its foreign policy on a certain issue. The logic of coercive diplomacy is to back up a demand with a threat of punishment that is credible and strong enough to persuade the adversary to comply with the demand.
By combining these two foreign policy strategies, when crises arise, either deliberately or accidentally, China uses threats in the territorial dispute as bargaining leverage to compel Japan to shift its policy on another issue such as economic aid, Japan–US security agreements, or potential Japanese troop deployments.
Though the issues initially have little or nothing to do with each other, China often makes a diplomatic or militarized threat in the territorial dispute and implicitly links the threat to Japan’s compliance with China’s demand about another disputed issue. In this way, China has been able to take advantage of the endurance of its territorial dispute with Japan and use it as bargaining leverage to achieve shifts in Japanese foreign policies regarding other disputed issues that it otherwise would not be able to influence. I argue that it is the combination of coercive diplomacy and issue linkage that makes the territorial dispute so difficult to settle.
The endurance, or lack of resolution, of the territorial dispute allows the continuation of China’s use of the dispute as bargaining leverage in other issues. Maritime security expert Mark Valencia argues that the primary reason that this territorial dispute is not resolved is not because of oil, but instead because of other issues, namely “unresolved historical grievances and the politics of national identity.”5 These other issues are all part of a grander competition for the position of the dominant Asian power in the twenty-first century. Both China and Japan have used the territorial dispute as a pawn in this competition, but as the one who could threaten Japan’s status quo ownership of the islands, China has been able to use the territorial dispute more effectively to gain concessions from Japan.
There are a number of reasons why the endurance of this dispute is problematic and thus is worth analyzing. From a security standpoint, any dispute that provides China with an opportunity to threaten force against Japan militarily is not good for the stability of the region. Though the apparent intention of the Chinese is not to actually use armed force to take the islands, there is no guarantee that future militarized clashes with Japan will not escalate, leading inadvertently to armed conflict between China and Japan, likely drawing the United States into the conflict. Economically, Sino-Japanese trade and financial relations have been strained in past years due to the Downloaded by [18.104.22.168] at 09:21 01 November 2015
172 Asian Security dispute, and even with the recent natural gas agreement, it is likely there will continue to be accusations of breaching sovereignty rights, which could negatively affect trade relations. This dispute is also relevant because studying China’s strategy in this dispute can help hint at China’s strategy in the South China Sea dispute. The remainder of the article is divided into the following sections. The first section provides some background to the territorial dispute. I then explain the dual strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy and how China uses the strategy with Japan.
After explaining the logic of the theory, I examine China’s diplomatic and military confrontations of Japan from 1978 to 2008 and demonstrate that 77 percent of territorial dispute threats were linked to other disputed issues, mainly Japan–US security agreements, retribution for wartime atrocities, and economic aid and sanctions. The findings also show that China successfully gained concessions in other issues by using the territorial dispute as bargaining leverage in most of the 26 threats made by China between 1978 and 2008. The implication is that there is little incentive for China to drop its claim or attempt settlement with Japan on sovereignty since the endurance of the dispute allows China to use it as bargaining leverage to gain concessions in other disputed issues.
The article concludes with some comments about the implications of the findings for both scholars and policymakers.
The Islands Dispute The Diaoyu/Senkaku Island chain, comprised of eight small, uninhabited, barren islands, is located in the East China Sea approximately 120 nautical miles west of Fukien Province in China and 90 nautical miles northwest of islands in the Japanese Ryukyu island chain. Japan first legally acquired the disputed islands from China as surrounding islands of Formosa (Taiwan) as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki after the Sino-Japanese War of 1895. As a result of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which stripped Japan of several territories, the US military took over administration of the islands in 1953 as part of the Ryukyu Islands.
The US turned over administrative rights of the islands to Japan on May 15, 1972, as accorded by the Okinawa Reversion Treaty signed in June 1971 by the US and Japan. Since 1972, Japan has had effective control over the islands, monitored by the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency (MSA).
China made its formal claim for the islands and surrounding waters on December 30, 1971, six months after the US and Japan had signed the reversion treaty. In the official claim, the Foreign Ministry office claimed usurped ownership and encroachment of China’s sovereign territory, which had been part of China’s territory since the fifteenth century. The Japanese reacted to China’s claim by stating that “the Senkaku islands have been consistently a part of Japan’s territory of Nansei Shoto.”6 Despite the recent natural gas agreement, there have never been any attempts to settle the territorial dispute and ownership of the surrounding waters.
The status quo remains just as it was in 1971 – Japan maintains occupation of the islands, claiming there is no territorial dispute, while China claims the islands as part of its national sovereignty.
China’s Strategy of Issue Linkage and Coercive Diplomacy The Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute is a classic illustration of a pawn used by China as bargaining leverage in the broader competition for whether China or Japan will be the Downloaded by [22.214.171.124] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 173 dominant Asian power in the twenty-first century. I argue that by making diplomatic or militarized threats about the disputed territory, China has pursued a dual strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy in hopes that the threats will persuade Japan to seriously reconsider its position on certain policies or actions.
China threatens Japan on the territorial dispute not only to signal resolve about the territorial dispute, but also to link the threat to other disputed issues. By linking the territorial dispute threat with other disputed issues, China compels Japan to reconsider its position on these other issues in a way that is favorable to China, therefore providing China with greater bargaining leverage in the competition for power.
A state using the strategy of coercive diplomacy (coercer) threatens an adversary in order to get the adversary to halt an action it initiated. In other words, the adversary has made the first move and the coercer is responding to that action by issuing a threat to stop some action. Coercive diplomacy is not a traditional military strategy, but a political strategy that uses just enough of a threat to credibly demonstrate resolve and achieve one’s objectives.7 The primary objective of coercive diplomacy is to “create in the opponent the expectation of costs of sufficient magnitude to erode his motivation to continue doing what he is doing.”8 In territorial disputes, coercive diplomacy is sometimes used to persuade the adversary to halt some action it is doing with regard to the actual disputed territory.
When used this way, China uses the strategy of coercive diplomacy in response to some decision or action that Japan has made about the disputed islands, such as recognizing a lighthouse erected by a Japanese nationalist activist group or inclusion of the islands in official maps and textbooks. By deploying ships to the disputed waters or sending a submarine to Japanese waters, China is able to issue a threat in order to persuade Japan to halt any actions regarding the territorial dispute. This objective is one of the reasons why China uses coercive diplomacy – to signal resolve about China’s intent to acquire the territory and prevent Japan from being able to claim ownership without debate.
When China makes a threat about the territorial dispute with Japan, this is the objective that some analysts assume to be the primary impetus for the threats.
However, China’s primary use of the strategy is not to compel Japan to make a change specifically regarding the territorial dispute, but instead to compel Japan to change action regarding some other disputed issue that has little or nothing to do with the territorial dispute. In these cases, China is using a dual strategy of coercive diplomacy and issue linkage. Issue linkage occurs when a state making territorial claims strategically links territorial threats to other, initially unrelated, foreign policy issues, making the explicit or implicit claim that resolving one issue will affect or be affected by the resolution of another disputed issue.
With strategic issue linkage, states can use one issue where they have bargaining leverage in order to persuade adversaries to make a change in an issue area where they have relatively weaker bargaining leverage. In some cases, strong states will use issue linkage to extend their relative power from one issue area to another, while in other cases weak states can use issue linkage in an attempt to prevent another state from exercising its power.9 China knows that it has less economic leverage when it comes to influencing Japanese decisions about aid and investment in particular. China also knows it has more bargaining leverage by using threats of military force.
By shifting the military leverage into an economic issue area, Downloaded by [126.96.36.199] at 09:21 01 November 2015
174 Asian Security China links the two issues together so it can influence an economic issue using military leverage. When issue linkage is applied, it can be pursued with either a positive inducement of a reward or a negative threat of punishment. Most often, issue linkage is applied to the peaceful resolution of international crises.10 A state using an issue as positive leverage, also known as the “carrot” approach in diplomacy, offers rewards in one issue area if the adversary changes its approach in another issue area. By linking issues, states can offer side payments or concessions in one issue area to achieve change in another distinct issue area, which provides a better opportunity for dispute resolution.11 Positive issue linkage makes agreements between states possible when they cannot agree only on the one issue under contention.
The strategy is basically tit for tat involving two or more issues – you give me something in one issue area that you have and I will give you something in another issue area that I have. An example of positive leverage and issue linkage is the 1972 Soviet attempt to use the disputed Kurile Islands (Northern Territories) and fishing rights as concessions in exchange for Japan’s cooperation on normalization of Soviet–Japanese relations and Japanese investment in developing oil and natural gas fields in Siberia. The October 2008 US decision to drop North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to all nuclear inspection demands is another more recent example.
Though issue linkage is frequently used to successfully resolve crises or disputes by allowing the exchange of concessions on different issues, the strategy to achieve negative leverage through a threat, also known as the “stick” approach in diplomacy, is used just as frequently. Negative issue linkage occurs when one state makes a threat to compel a state to stop a certain action already initiated. In stick diplomacy, the coercer demands of the adversary some concession on a new issue before resolution of the dispute occurs. Economic sanctions are the most typical use of negative issue linkage, used to compel adversaries to change a policy on an unrelated but linked issue.
The choice of coercive diplomacy in territorial disputes means that a state like China has chosen to use a threat rather than a reward in order to compel an adversary like Japan to make a change on another issue. States can make diplomatic or militarized threats in the same way that threats of economic sanctions are used, as negative leverage using issue linkage. The purpose of using coercive diplomacy and issue linkage is to give the adversary an opportunity to halt or undo its actions before the challenger state resorts to the use of force. In territorial disputes, states can make a threat about the territorial dispute and use the threat as bargaining leverage to compel adversaries to make a change on a certain other issue.
Threats can range from official restatement of claims for the disputed territory to deployment of ships.
Issue linkage does not have to be a long-term calculated strategy. The strategy can be deliberate or occur as an ad hoc response to an action by the adversary.12 Though the threat must be overt, the issue linkage is often implicit and not directly communicated to the adversary since this approach would reveal the claimant state’s behind-the-scenes intentions of using the threat as bargaining leverage. As Schelling writes, “compellent threats tend to communicate only the general direction of compliance, and are less likely to be self-limiting, less likely to communicate in the very design of the threat just what, or how much, is demanded.”13 It could also be the case that policymakers Downloaded by [188.8.131.52] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 175 “deliberately choose to be unclear and to keep the enemy guessing either to keep his defenses less prepared or to enhance his anxiety.”14 Sometimes, avoiding explicit communication of demands and issuing demands privately is a better strategy, since this provides the adversary with the ability to not be embarrassed about compliance.15 What this means is that threats made by China do not explicitly cite the linked issue in an obvious way, but instead in an implicit way.
China’s strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy is most evident in its territorial dispute with Japan, but it also has been used in several other disputes.
China’s attack across the Vietnamese border in 1979 is a clear example of implicit demands linked to the militarized confrontation. On the day of the invasion, February 17, the official Chinese justification for the invasion made no mention of China’s objective to compel Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia and failed to set any conditions for Chinese withdrawal from Vietnam if Vietnam complied with the demand. Yet Chinese leaders later admitted this was their objective and they believed the Vietnamese would understand the signal. Because of the implicit nature of the issue linkage, “Hanoi was left to decipher Chinese ravings about border sovereignty and the meaning of terms like ‘self-defense counter attack.’”16 The explanation for China’s vague message to Vietnam was that it allowed Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia without losing face.17 The mobilization of up to 300,000 troops along the Sino-Vietnamese border in 1979 and their continued presence along the border all through the 1980s was used as a form of coercive diplomacy and issue linkage in an attempt to compel Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.18 Though there are a number of theories to explain China’s invasion across the Vietnamese border, “the real cause of the March 1979 border war was Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in Christmas 1978, an act that greatly provoked the Chinese and drove them to employ a much more aggressive diplomatic strategy.”19 A week after the Chinese attack across the border, Deng Xiaoping himself announced the objective of the attack: “to teach them they could not run about as much as they desire” implying running about Cambodia.20 China maintained the troops along the border in order to “impose high costs on Vietnam’s military venture in Cambodia.
The continued presence of Chinese troops along the border compelled Vietnam for a second lesson. Thus, China offered Vietnam reduced border tension and lower defense costs in return for Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia.”21 At the end of the war, when Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia, China relaxed its anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, withdrew most of its troops from the SinoVietnamese border, and opened negotiations with Vietnam.22 China used the border dispute with Vietnam as bargaining leverage for the issue of Cambodia, not because the border itself was so important to China.
China also used the strategy with the USSR in the late 1980s when China threatened the USSR, insisting that normalization would not be fulfilled unless a linked concession was made by the Soviets. China “repeatedly insisted that before it would agree to regularized diplomatic exchanges and to a Sino-Soviet summit, Moscow would have to cease supporting Vietnam’s Cambodia policy. Deng Xiaoping personally insisted that Moscow would have to resolve this issue before China would agree to a summit.”23 In order for China to be able to influence Soviet support in Southeast Asia, an issue with which China had little leverage itself, China used the leverage it had by threatening not Downloaded by [184.108.40.206] at 09:21 01 November 2015
176 Asian Security to normalize relations with the USSR. Realizing that Sino-Soviet relations were critical, the Soviet Union complied with Chinese demands by making a number of significant concessions on Vietnam and Cambodia beginning in 1988, including phasing out aid programs to Vietnam and encouraging Vietnamese flexibility on Cambodia.24 These cases suggest that China’s use of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy is not unique to its territorial dispute with Japan, but is perhaps a broader foreign policy strategy. However, the overwhelming use of this strategy with Japan in particular is likely due to the significant bilateral relationship that China and Japan have and because China is able to use leverage in the territorial dispute to repeatedly extract concessions from Japan.
In response to Chinese threats in the territorial dispute, Japan can risk use of force and potential occupation of the disputed islands by China, or accede to some or all of China’s demands about another disputed issue. Because Japan will presumably defend its sovereign territory at any cost, a threat by China must be taken seriously and must be considered a high priority. Therefore, when China links the territorial dispute to another disputed issue, Japan must seriously consider China’s demand for a policy change on the other issue, or risk China following through on the threat. China knows that Japan values the disputed territory, so China expects that Japan will give in to China’s strategy and change its policies, especially since China holds a strategic advantage over Japan.25 Why would Japan comply with Chinese demands when it knows it is being coerced? Since the defense of territory is considered to be a vital national interest for states, the cost of losing territory would be particularly high.
While territory is the most salient issue in international relations and the issue most likely to cause armed conflict, it is not surprising that China would choose to use the islands dispute with Japan as bargaining leverage in another disputed issue.26 To prevent risking the loss of territory, Japan will comply with Chinese demands on issues that are less salient to Japan, but more salient to China. Therefore, Japan concedes on issues that are not nearly as costly as losing sovereign territory to China. Since the threat is about something as salient as sovereign territory, Japan is much more likely to change a policy on another less salient issue as a concession, in order to prevent China from taking the threatening action in a much more important territorial dispute.
Since territorial control is ultimately more salient to Japan than providing China with economic aid or not deploying SDF troops, China’s strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy is generally successful. In this way, both sides benefit; China gets Japan to halt some action on another issue that China is concerned with and Japan gets to protect its sovereignty by providing China with concessions that are minor to Japan, but major for China. As long as the territorial claim exists and the dispute persists, challenger states have the opportunity to link threats in a territorial dispute to other disputed issues that also have salience.
Because China can achieve bargaining leverage in other disputed issues with Japan by using coercive diplomacy with Japan, there is little incentive for China to drop its territorial claim of the islands. Chinese Nationalism The strongest alternative explanation for China’s continued threats regarding the disputed islands is because of the role of territorial nationalism in China. When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the new government worked hard to maintain Downloaded by [220.127.116.11] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 177 control over territories inherited from the Qing dynasty by successfully defeating independence movements and, more recently, reclaiming sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau.27 The Chinese government has used the call for reunification with Taiwan as a means to promote unity and domestic mobilization of the people. With the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese government has used the islands dispute to mobilize domestic support only to some degree. According to one China specialist, “it is the symbolic significance of these islands, rather than any rights to natural resources which may be conferred by establishing control and ownership, that lies at the heart of the dispute.”28 Other specialists argue that even if oil resources did not exist, China would not give up one inch of what is considered its territory, pointing out that the symbolic value “far outweighs the commercial value the islands may hold.”29 Chinese officials have consistently stated that the islands have “always been part of the Chinese territory and China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands” and that “a great number of historical facts have proven the Diaoyu Islands belong to China.”30 Rhetorically, the Chinese government has always cited the significance of territory and territorial nationalism.
Yet, even with so much rhetoric, nationalism has not played a major role in influencing China’s stance on its territorial dispute with Japan. Despite the claim that the islands hold nationalist significance, Chinese government officials have rarely used the East China Sea dispute to mobilize domestic support. There is also evidence of government officials downplaying crises involving the territorial dispute in order to prevent too much anti-Japanese sentiment. These findings are not surprising based on the context of Chinese domestic politics: “anti-Japanese sentiment and its mobilization in the PRC are complex and multifaceted, and need to be viewed in the light of elite struggle amongst the Chinese leadership.”31 Due to divisions within the Chinese leadership, some decision-makers have focused more on relations with Japan and mobilization of nationalism, while others have not.
The first reason for the government’s lack of effort to use the disputed islands for mobilization is the concern by Chinese officials that too much nationalist sentiment might turn into anti-government sentiment, leading to protests and possible revolt. The general strategy of the CCP has been to allow anti-Japanese protests, which divert political frustrations to Japan rather than the government, but then call them off soon afterwards in order to prevent them from spiraling into anti-government protests. As Gries notes, since “popular nationalism can threaten the Party’s legitimacy, it is an increasingly significant constraint on China’s Japan policy.”32 Even though Chinese officials “may also wish to inculcate and galvanize nationalistic feelings or exploit xenophobic tensions as diversion from economic management, ethnic conflicts, or other problems,” they must take into consideration the possibility that they “may lose control of nationalist sentiments,” a situation that the CCP does not want to face.33 In several diplomatic and military conflicts with Japan, the CCP was willing to incur “significant damage to its nationalist credentials” in order to prevent the territorial dispute from harming bilateral relations with Japan and threatening the elite’s hold on power.34 Thus, government officials mobilize domestic support only to the point where the government appears to be defending homeland territory, but not enough to provoke the masses into nationalist demonstrations that might threaten the tight control the ruling elite have over the masses.
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178 Asian Security A second reason that nationalism cannot justifiably explain China’s continuing territorial threats is that economic performance often supersedes territorial nationalism, meaning that despite rhetoric to the contrary, Chinese officials are ultimately more concerned about economic success rather than territorial nationalism. Though there is an immense appeal to territorial nationalism in China, there is also a competing agenda, that of economic performance. With the gradual decline of legitimacy of Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist ideology in the 1980s and 1990s, the CCP implemented major economic reforms, causing widespread employment, corruption, and periodic spells of high inflation.
As a result, the CCP turned to gaining legitimacy via both economic performance and territorial nationalism. The outcome has been balancing on a fine line, appealing to nationalism with territorial disputes, but then reassuring other states that the CCP wants to cooperate economically with them. The key factor is that, forced to choose one over the other, Chinese officials have often opted to protect bilateral relations, especially with its economic partner Japan, rather than attempting to mobilize domestic gains or satisfy domestic demands.35 The frequent suspensions of antiJapanese protests by the Chinese government illustrates China’s concern not to allow nationalism to affect bilateral relations with Japan.
Although nationalism has been a significant aspect of Chinese government rule in the past few decades, the “intention was to fill the gap in the national psyche that had previously been occupied by socialism, not to encourage provocative gestures of public demonstrations which might scare away China’s biggest creditor nation.”36 Chinese Diplomatic and Military Threats Overall, China made threats against Japan on 26 occasions from 1978 to 2008, 13 of which were militarized threats and 13 diplomatic threats, as listed in Table 1. The most difficult years for Sino-Japanese relations, based on the frequency of diplomatic and military confrontations shown in Figure 1, were 1996, 2004, and 2005.
The vast majority of the threats, 77 percent, occurred around the same time period when China and Japan were disputing other issues. Of the remaining 23 percent of threats (six), when China used coercive diplomacy but not issue linkage, the threats were pursued to gain leverage directly in the territorial dispute half the time. These preliminary findings provide initial support for the argument that China’s threats to Japan in the territorial dispute are linked to other ongoing disputed issues.
Though it is difficult to predict precisely the foreign policy actions of the Chinese government, my analysis of Chinese threats made from 1978 to 2008 provides solid insight into which issues were most likely to cause China to use the strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy, listed in Table 2. By far the most significant issue that was linked to the territorial dispute was renewals, talks, or realignments of the Japan–US security agreement, followed by Japan’s treatment of wartime atrocities, and Japanese decisions to cut aid or place economic sanctions on China. SDF troop deployment was the next biggest issue, followed by general Japanese military plans, upcoming bilateral talks (on other issues), and Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
What this information reveals is that China is most likely to use the strategy of coercive diplomacy and issue linkage to compel Japan to reconsider elements of the Japan–US security arrangements, but also to attempt concessions regarding Japan’s Downloaded by [22.214.171.124] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 179 TABLE 1 CHINA’S DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARIZED CONFRONTATIONS, 1978–2008 Date Type Chinese Action Linked Issue April 1978 Militarized Armed fishing vessels surrounded islands with support of government Peace and Friendship Treaty negotiations with Japan October 1990 Diplomatic Foreign Ministry threatens Japan to withdraw claim of islands Potential SDF deployment to Gulf War December 1991 Militarized Armed ship fired warning shots at Japanese fishing ships near islands No issue linkage February 1992 Diplomatic Territorial waters law passed Potential SDF deployment to UN peacekeeping operations August 1995 Militarized Two fighter planes flew in airspace near islands Japanese economic sanctions July 1996 Militarized Two submarines deployed to islands Ratification of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; Japan–US security alliance renewal; economic sanctions September 1996 Militarized Warships dispatched to waters around islands; joint air force, navy, army maneuvers done; mock blockade of island chain Japan–US security alliance renewal; economic sanctions October 1996 Militarized Navy conducted military surveillance around islands Japan–US security alliance renewal; economic sanctions November 1996 Diplomatic Official claim of sovereignty made to UN Japan–US security alliance renewal; economic sanctions May 1999 Militarized Navy dispatched warships to waters surrounding islands Japanese bill reaffirming Japan–US security alliance July 1999 Militarized Naval drills conducted near islands Japanese bill reaffirming US-Japan security alliance June 2002 Diplomatic Government-backed activists attempt to land on islands Japan announced 10% reduction in aid to China; China suspicious of Japan’s eager support of US war on terrorism June 2003 Diplomatic Government-backed activists attempt to land on islands SDF troops dispatched to Iraq to help US-led coalition in Iraq War October 2003 Diplomatic Government-backed activists attempt to land on islands No issue linkage January 2004 Diplomatic Government-backed activists attempt to land on islands Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine March 2004 Diplomatic Government backed activists land on islands Important bilateral talks in early April July 2004 Military Naval ship conducts research in disputed waters; training, intelligence gathering in Japanese waters No issue linkage; Japan announced it would begin its own oil exploration October 2004 Military Naval ships in disputed waters Japan–US talks held on security alliance; Japan hosts multilateral maritime exercises; Japan reveals missile defense plan November 2004 Military Nuclear Han class submarine deployed to disputed waters Japanese SDF reveal military scenarios against China February 2005 Military Two destroyers deployed to disputed waters US and Japan declare Taiwan is mutual security concern; renewed US–Japanese security agreement April 2005 Diplomatic Nationwide protests against Japanese involvement in Diaoyu Islands approved by government New “whitewashed” history textbooks issued in Japan; Japan actively bid for seat on UN Security Council September 2005 Military Five naval ships deployed to disputed waters; spy planes collected data on Japanese military vessels; military established special naval reserve fleet for East China Sea To influence upcoming talks on territorial dispute; Koizumi’s insistence of right to visit Yasukuni Shrine October 2005 Diplomatic China canceled talks on territorial dispute and visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine for 5th time Downloaded by [126.96.36.199] at 09:21 01 November 2015
180 Asian Security wartime atrocities in China. The latter issue is not so surprising, considering that through a gentleman’s agreement, Japan has offered China billions in official development assistance in lieu of monetary retribution for the war. The following analysis of Chinese threats provide strong support for the argument that China has pursued a TABLE 1 (CONTINUED) Date Type Chinese Action Linked Issue October 2006 Diplomatic Government-backed activists travel to islands No issue linkage February 2007 Military Research ships found surveying in Japanese waters No issue linkage; to influence talks on joint natural gas development August 2007 Diplomatic Government-backed activists travel to islands To commemorate Japan’s invasion of China 70 years ago October 2007 Diplomatic Government-backed activists travel to islands No issue linkage; to influence talks on joint natural gas development FIGURE 1 FREQUENCY OF CHINA’S DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY CONFRONTATIONS, 1978–2008.
1978 1990 1991 1995 1996 1999 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Year Frequency Diplomatic Military TABLE 2 JAPANESE ISSUES LINKED TO TERRITORIAL DISPUTE BY CHINA Disputed Issue Number of Linkages Japan–US security agreement 8 Wartime atrocities and visits to Yasukuni Shrine 5 Economic sanctions, foreign aid cut 5 SDF troop deployment 4 General Japanese military plans (missile defense shield) 3 Bilateral talks upcoming (other issues) 2 UN Security Council bid 1 Downloaded by [188.8.131.52] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 181 strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy to gain leverage on other issues, and therefore China has little incentive to settle the territorial dispute. Lighthouse Incident In October 1990 China issued a threat to Japan when it officially restated its territorial claim on the islands in protest against a September 29 decision in Japan to officially recognize a lighthouse on the islands built by a Japanese nationalist group in 1978. The Chinese threat was directly linked with two other issues: 1) Japan considering whether to send SDF troops to the Middle East to participate in the Gulf War, and 2) Japan’s decision to resume loans to China after sanctions had been imposed in 1989 due to the Tiananmen Square incident.
In fall 1990, the Japanese Diet began heated debates about the possible deployment of SDF troops to the Persian Gulf.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately announced its grave dissatisfaction about Japanese proposals to send SDF troops to the Middle East and demanded that Japan halt all unilateral actions on the disputed islands.37 China’s reaction to the news of potential Japanese deployment to Iraq, which would break a 45-year ban on sending Japanese troops abroad, was not surprising: “naturally they [Chinese] are very sensitive to Japan’s sending troops overseas.”38 Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qi Huaiyan held an emergency meeting with the Japanese ambassador, making “stern representations on the Diaoyudao [Senkaku Islands] issue.
He also made clear China’s stand on the question of the Japanese government dispatching troops abroad.”39 Diplomats immediately recognized the issue linkage by agreeing that China’s threat “would have received little attention if it were not for the fact that Japan’s proposal to send troops to the Persian Gulf has brought an outpouring of concern among its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea.”40 By linking the disputed islands with the protest of troop deployment, China was able to compel Japan to reconsider its decision: “China, mindful of history, is unhappy at the idea that Japanese troops, albeit in small numbers and as noncombatants, may soon be going to the Gulf.
The Diaoyutai islands provide an easy way to express that unhappiness and embarrass Mr. Toshiki Kaifu and his government in Japan.”41 The Chinese strategy of issue linkage was to threaten Japan about the islands to provoke Japan to deploy SDF troops to patrol the islands, then China and other Asian states could claim that Japan’s actions in the islands dispute further demonstrated Japan’s alleged growing militarism shown by planned deployment of SDF troops to the Middle East. An editorial in The Straits Times, an English newspaper in Singapore, noted how the dispute [over the islands] might make Asians skeptical of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu’s proposal to send Japan’s Self-Defense-Forces to the Persian Gulf.
A bellicose Japanese attitude in the matter would, in fact, be counterproductive for Tokyo. In such a situation, military assertiveness over the islands might complicate Japan’s efforts to assure its Asian neighbors that its intentions [to deploy troops to the Middle East] are good.42 The Chinese decision to threaten Japan diplomatically and not militarily was an intentional decision by practical decision-makers who were also concerned about the Downloaded by [184.108.40.206] at 09:21 01 November 2015
182 Asian Security resumption of Japanese loans and the end of economic sanctions placed on China by Japan, among other states, as a result of the Tiananmen Square incident the year before. A week after hostilities had escalated due to the war of words between China and Japan over the islands, the Chinese attempted to de-escalate the tensions by calling for negotiations over the islands. On October 27, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister suggested that the two governments hold talks as soon as possible regarding joint exploitation of marine resources (including oil) in the area, and opening of fishing resources in waters near the islands.
Though Japan rejected the proposal, both governments agreed to “quietly drop the dispute and avoid further provocative actions.”43 If China had sought a more aggressive strategy with the territorial dispute, it “would [have] threaten[ed] economic ties with Japan and Japanese diplomatic support, which was critical in persuading the Group of Seven to support the resumption of multilateral lending to China.”44 The two-stage issue linkage plan worked for China. By making a hostile restatement of its territorial claim, China was able to warn Japan not only of its dissatisfaction with the Japanese government’s recognition of the lighthouse, but to compel Japan to reconsider the deployment of SDF troops to the Middle East.
By backing down a week later and proposing negotiations, China then signaled to Japan that it was not militarily hostile and would be accommodating in order to receive much-needed economic loans again. After the de-escalation of tensions, Japanese officials responded by announcing that they would not be sending SDF troops to the Middle East and they would resume loans to China.45 Within three weeks, Japanese Prime Minister Kaifu announced that the government would not recognize the lighthouse as an official beacon, promising that there were no plans to dispatch Japanese military ships to the islands.46 According to China scholars Downs and Saunders, “Kaifu’s statement demonstrated Japan’s desire to prevent the issue from escalating and sought to reassure China that the pending Diet bill authorizing deployment of Japanese forces for United Nations peacekeeping missions did not represent a resurgence of Japanese militarism.”47 The statement was a direct response to China’s issue linkage of the lighthouse issue on the disputed islands and the SDF troop deployment.
Though implicit, Japan recognized the intended issue linkage and responded accordingly.
There is little doubt that the resumption of economic aid to China was directly linked to China’s willingness to back down from its threat about the disputed islands and reign in anti-Japanese protests in China. According to Downs and Saunders, “the perceived linkage between the CCP’s accommodating posture toward the Diaoyu dispute and resumption of Japanese loans highlighted the contradictions between the Chinese leadership’s nationalist claims and its passive actions during the dispute.”48 The Chinese media criticized Prime Minister Li Peng for “begging for Japanese loans” while the CCP banned anti-Japanese protests and backed off the Diaoyu islands claim.49 In the end, China’s issue linkage and coercive diplomacy strategy was successful: Japan not only backed down on the lighthouse issue, but it also halted its decision to deploy troops to the Gulf and resumed economic aid to China the following month, in November 1990.
Military Clashes From July to September 1996, tensions between China and Japan were higher than they had been during any other time of the dispute. On July 20, 1996, Japan ratified Downloaded by [220.127.116.11] at 09:21 01 November 2015
China’s Strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute 183 the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which meant that Japan would enforce its control of Japan’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), including the disputed islands. In support of the Japanese ratification, a Japanese nationalist group rebuilt a lighthouse on one of the disputed islands and on July 25 requested approval from the government for the lighthouse to be an official beacon. Days after the Japanese ratification and the government’s consideration of the request by the nationalist group, China accused the Japanese government of reviving militarism, restated its claim, and deployed two submarines to the islands.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang made a statement in August that linked the lighthouse dispute with other disputed issues. According to Shen, a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and five cabinet members to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the claim of some Japanese politicians that the 1937 capture of Nanking was a hoax, were the events that provoked China to respond in the islands dispute. At an August press conference, Shen noted that All these [events] added up to giving a green light to these actions and remarks of the Japanese right wing groups . Japan has failed to arrive at what is a right understanding of history.
The Japanese government therefore should have a sober-minded perspective and clear understanding as regards this issue. Otherwise Sino-Japanese relations would be seriously affected.50 Admitting issue linkage, Shen also noted that “the recent words and actions of some Japanese right-wing groups and other people are not accidental and directly related to the attitude of the Japanese government,” specifically citing the government visits to the shrine.51 The Chinese reaction to Japan’s move regarding the lighthouse was therefore not really about the recognition of the lighthouse, but China’s greater concern over actions by the Japanese that signaled a lack of regret with regard to historic Japanese aggression towards China.
By simultaneously threatening Japan on China’s claim over the islands and dispatching the submarines, China was able to use the territorial dispute as leverage in an attempt to compel the Japanese to reconsider its attitude toward Japan’s historic role in China.
The tension continued through September when, on September 9, members of a Japanese nationalist group returned to one of the disputed islands to conduct repairs to the lighthouse and reapplied for recognition as an official beacon on September 10. The same day, the Chinese government demanded that Japan remove the lighthouse, with Shen “warning that bilateral ties will be seriously harmed if Japan does not take appropriate action.”52 Shen threatened that if the Japanese government did not take effective measures to reign in the nationalist group, which infringed on China’s sovereignty, “it would be bound to cause serious damage to Sino-Japanese relations.”53 The next day the PLA issued a report, stating that the use of armed force against Japan would become inevitable if the problem were not solved diplomatically.54 Two days later, on September 13–14, China conducted large-scale military maneuvers involving joint army, air force, and navy exercises, off China’s northeastern coast.
The exercises involved mock blockades and landings on a group of unidentified islands off the northeastern coast of Liaoning province, done “in an apparent warning to Japan over a Downloaded by [18.104.22.168] at 09:21 01 November 2015