An old buddy saw chess everywhere in life. A pawn, wisely moved, may kill a King. Small stories become world-changing events. A pawn is in play between Japan, China and America over the unpopulated resource rich Senkaku Islands. Called the Daiyou Islands in China, the Senkaku lie between Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and Taiwan. During research for my thriller, “Stealing Thunder,” I discovered that these Japanese ruled rocky outcroppings, claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan, are a powder keg pawn between nuclear superpowers and ancient enemies.
On September 7th, , the fire was stoked when a PRC fishing boat ignored warnings to leave the ara and collided with Japanese patrol vessels. Japan took the crew, the captain and the ship. They released the boat and its crew but held its captain on charges and for damages.
Since 1969, China and Taiwan started disputing Japanese sovereignty, despite evidence in Chinese and Taiwanese archives that support Japanese ownership. Supporting documents include a PRC map, references in the Communist People’s Daily (mouthpiece of the Central Committee) and more. China started sending the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to probe Japan’s resolve around the islands. Japanese nationalists have planted flags, lighthouses and even Shinto shrines on these outcroppings. Chinese nationalists have confronted Japanese patrol boats which have chased away Chinese fishing boats and frigates. In April 2008, Chinese jet fighters confronted Japanese patrol aircraft seeking Chinese nuclear subs operating in the area. In 2009, Chinese fighters interecepted three Japanese Air Self Defense F2 aircraft – and raised the stakes with missile lock. Despite historical references to the contrary, China is pushing its claim for sovereignty over the islands. Why? What are China’s objectives?
Oil. In 1969, a United Nations economic commission reported extensive oil and gas reserves in the Senkaku. China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan are all net oil importers for their economic engine. Indonesia left OPEC in 2008 to redirect its oil exports to its own booming economy. China’s primary source of domestic oil comes from its northwest territories, previously vulnerable to Soviet and now increasing Muslim fundamentalist threats. Deng Xiopeng reformed the Chinese economy, saying: “What do I care the color of a cat (the economy) as long as it catches mice (money.)” Chinese industry needs oil – and not the heavy sulfuric northwest oil which taxes its refineries – but the sweeter crude in the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea – and the Senkaku Islands.
Power. China seeks to dominate Asia and the world. Its economy is the world’s second largest. So China gave Japan a shove. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told Japan to “immediately and unconditionally” release fishing boat Captain – or face dire consequences. Other consequences started right away. Chinese exporters stopped the shipment of essential rare earth metals – though China denied the link. Four Japanese citizens were investigated for illegaly entering a military zone and were possibly detained. Chinese tourists were discouraged from Japanese travel. Some importers have said Chinese authorities are inspecting Japanese goods up to eighty percent or more – increasing waiting periods from a day to a week. With Japan as essentially an export nation in dire economic straits, this strategy can be devastating. The Socialist news agency, Xinhua, reported that the stress had killed the Captain’s grandmother and that “the family was too depressed to buy traditional pastries to celebrate the autumn festival. Instead, the dispatch said, the fisherman’s family would eat instant noodles.” China is playing every card to intimidate Japan.
China’s Dictators are mindful of Sun Tzu’s adage: “The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” They can play on Japan’s constitutional limit against aggressive military action, derived from its brutality and atrocities of its Greater East Asia CoProsperity Sphere in the Second World War. China recognizes America and Japan’s Self-Defense Treaty of 1960 which could invite American naval might. This treaty excludes the Ryuku and Senkaku Islands. China does not want a conventional war which would devastate its coastal factories and its herculean export machine. Nuclear war, unthinkable, and only used as a geopolitical chess maneuver.
The Chinese Socialist Dictatorship has a strategy of Incremental Confrontation. First, drive a wedge between the U.S. and Japan, by creating economic desperation for Japan and economic vulnerability for America. South Korea would be queezed between these two powers – and battered by China’s proxy, North Korea. Taiwan professes self-determination but is keenly aligned with China on the Senkaku Islands. Ultimately, the Senkaku Islands and the contested Spratley Islands in the South China Sea represent control of the sea which influences the region’s economies and, therefore, its allegiances and policies. From obscure islands may emerge a sea change from Washington D.C. to Beijing.