Analysis: China, Japan seek to dial down tension, but risk remains

TOKYO/SHANGHAI Mon Feb 4, 2013 8:14am EST

1 of 3. Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No. 51 (rear) cruises next to a Japan Coast Guard patrol ship, Akaishi, in the East China Sea near the disputed isles known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in this handout photo released by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard February 4, 2013. Two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japan's territorial waters on Monday around the disputed isles in the East China Sea, Kyodo News reported. Mandatory Credit

Credit: Reuters/11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard/Handout

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TOKYO/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Two Japanese F-15s scramble as a Chinese plane nears the disputed islands: one in the lead, the other providing cover.

They issue radio warnings to leave the area, but are ignored.

Visual wing-tipping signals go unheeded.

The Japanese pilots consider their last option: firing warning shots - a step Beijing could consider an act of war.

That hypothetical scenario, described by a former Japanese air force pilot, shows how the risky game being played near a chain of rocky, uninhabited isles at the heart of a row between China and Japan could quickly escalate to the danger point.

"China would be furious. They would regard it as war, although it is not by international law," the former pilot, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said of the scenario over the East China Sea.

A long-simmering row over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, has in recent months escalated to the point where both have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other in nearby seas.

Tokyo noted last month that its pilots have the right under global rules to fire warning shots against intruders in its air space, a step Japan has taken only once since World War Two.

Concerns that the increasing cat-and-mouse encounters between planes or patrol ships in the East China Sea will cause an accidental clash are giving impetus to efforts to dial down tensions, including a possible leaders' summit.

But while hopes have emerged of a thaw in the chill that began when Japan bought the islands from a private citizen last September, deep mistrust, regional rivalry and pumped up nationalism complicated by bitter Chinese memories of Japan's wartime aggression mean any rapprochement will be fragile.

"Most likely the two sides will eventually find a face-saving formula to step back from this. But I doubt it's a flash in the pan," said Andy Gilholm of consultancy Control Risks.

"There seems no chance of a permanent settlement and even a durable setting aside of the issue looks very unlikely. So ... we're advising clients that this kind of friction is part of the new normal, not a fleeting storm."

With Japanese businesses suffering from a downturn in trade after violent anti-Japan protests last September and jobs and investment in China at risk if the feud drags on or worsens, the pressure is on to find a resolution of sorts.

Japan's ally the United States, which has shifted its attention to the region in an Asian "pivot", has signaled it does not want to see a military clash over the islands, which Washington says fall under a two-way security pact with Tokyo.

A string of Japanese politicians including Abe's junior coalition partner and former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama - a socialist who issued a landmark 1995 apology for Japan's wartime aggression - have visited Beijing in recent weeks.

"These (visits) are being reported in China in an explicit way," said Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University in Tokyo. "China is telling its domestic audience that it is time to try something new."

"NIXON IN CHINA"?

Abe, who returned to Japan's top job in December after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) huge election win, now says he is open to a summit. LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura may travel to China to try to lay the groundwork, although no meeting is expected until after Xi becomes president in March.

Abe moved quickly to repair Sino-Japanese ties when he took office for a first term in 2006 and Japanese executives and some experts say his nationalist image may mean he is well placed to do something similar again, as then-President Richard Nixon's 1972 China visit set the stage to normalize Sino-American ties.

Still, setting the stage for summitry will require deft diplomacy. "Both sides want to lower the heat, but they don't want to look soft to their own nationals," said the Japanese ex-pilot, now an expert on regional security matters.

Abe's predecessor bought the islands, located near potentially big maritime gas reserves, last September to prevent their purchase by the nationalist governor of Tokyo. Beijing rejected Japan's explanation that the move was meant to avoid escalating tensions, and violent protests erupted in China.

Even if the leaders meet, a substantive compromise in which Beijing stops sending ships and planes to the area or Tokyo agrees that the island's sovereignty is disputed looks elusive.

The row over the islands has caused flare-ups with serious economic fallout in years past, but China's stepped up efforts to physically challenge Japan's control - and Japan's decision to push back - has raised the risk to a new level, diplomats say.

Japanese fighters scrambled 160 times between April and October last year, the latest period for which data is available, more than the total in the 12 months to March 2012, and at least eight times since December 13 when a Chinese turbo-prop plane entered what Japan considers its airspace.

Japan's defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, said in January that Japan might fire tracer bullets as warning shots, a step its air force has taken only once since World War Two when a Soviet bomber strayed into its airspace over Okinawa.

That incident ended with an apology by Moscow but any similar episode is unlikely to be so easily settled this time.

Another elevated risk is a possible collision between Japanese and Chinese patrol vessels in the area or a boat of Chinese activists that tries to land on one of the islands.

In a sign that Japan sees the tensions persisting, the defense ministry is considering deploying F-15 fighter jets and patrol planes to another island chain closer to the disputed isles to respond more quickly to Chinese vessels and aircraft.

"At least there are efforts to manage the situation," said former Japanese diplomat Hitoshi Tanaka, head of the Institute for International Strategy in Tokyo. "But the danger remains." (This story is refiled to make clear pilot is describing a hypothetical situation)

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Robert Birsel)

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Comments (2)
Pterosaur wrote:
Japan’s true plan is to revive its militarism. It will keep stirring up the tension, claiming islands from its neighbors, encouraging smaller countries in the whole East Asia to do the same…. end result? It can re-militarize its Imperialist army.

Feb 04, 2013 11:09pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Janeallen wrote:
Japan is a trustee, who knowingly violated its duty, to sneak military secrets, high tech intellectual property through manipulation, pushing buttons to get China to react in a way that further some inaccurate but common misconception among Americans about China.

The United States recognize administrative rights, but not ownership of the islands by Japan. A trustee has a fiduciary duty not to commit self-dealing, not to take entrusted property and deliberately misportray it as its own. That’s violation of fiduciary duty.
Under the right conditions, a trustee who has violated its fiduciary duty can be stripped of its trustee position, and asked to pay compensation. Congress is acting like fools, falling for the same trap Japan used before EVERY military action that led to war crimes.

Obama’s Administration stated through Donilan that it intends to improve the “power, prestige, and authority” of the United States.
What the U.S. Ambassador to Japan stated on NHK does exactly the opposite. Whether NHK took the Ambassador’s words out of context, there is no way to tell from the NHK broadcast alone, but the U.S. Ambassador to Japan should be well aware of the notorious making up of false news by NHK with highly sophisticated techniques, often plugged into pre-existing misconception of Americans about Asia, Asians, Asian history and culture.

Power, prestige, authority in the eyes of the international community comes only with MORAL authority.

By allowing Japan’s NHK to portray the United States as having no moral fiber, and blindly following Japan’s pushing of the most vulnerable buttons, and declare a “blank cheque” to Japan to proceed with its unfinished agenda of conquering Asia as the agent of American hegemony, just like Custer conquered the Native Americans under the Monroe Doctrine — that’s the most destructive propaganda our Ambassador allowed NHK do to American. It portrays America is weak, and has to rely on Japan as its cornerstone. It portrays America as agreeing with the principle of being willing to go along with Abe’s proudly displaying its tradition of committing crimes of humanity, following in the class I war criminals’ well known modus operandus of ALWAYS faking a convincing case that its intended prey and victim is provoking war. It happens EVERY TIME before Japan’s predatory activities.

Obama, and Clinton appear woefully ignorant about mistakes of Teddy Roosevelt, and of FDR, who were both misled by Japan, at great detriment to the prestige, authority and power of the United States in Asia.

My computer was hacked. The American agency that misused the hacking to malign, and impugn the loyalty & patriotism of independent American voices of conscience, responded by manufacturing a whole slew of Chinese hacking history to distract from its responsibility.

And Obama and Hilary are hams. That further diminished the prestige, authority and credibility of the United States on the international stage.

Had the United States not been misled by Japan’s Aryan race just over a century ago, the Communist Party of China might not even have been established. Had the United States not looked the other way upon well known news of Japanese crimes against humanity in Asia in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, Communism could never have taken hold in Korea, Vietnam or China. Yet, no historian dares to tell it as it is. Instead, they all want to earn brownie points for popularity by scapegoating foreign countries— something Japan learned to use and manipulate us over and over again. The American Ambassador to Japan is betraying American interest. He might be naive; he have not have adequately studied the history of Japanese manipulative techniques well enough to do his job. Regardless of the reason, he is allowing Japan to make a fool of the United States, create an image of weakness, and weak moral constitution.

I hope John Kerry can be better than Hilary. I voted for Hilary in the primary leading up to the 2008 election. I see practically zero chance that I will ever vote for Hilary again. She practically sold out American interest to boost her re-election chances. Hilary is an American traitor. Either that, of she is truly blind, deaf to basic sense of human rights of Asians, corroborating with Abe’s statement that deaths of non-Japanese Asians are not human deaths, and fair prey, as long as he, in the same pattern as his ancestors, can cover up the eyes, ears, mouth of the western powers enough to call those human beings non humans, not raped women as non-human, just like the architect of Jim Crow laws called their lynching of Afro-Americans legal.

On this 100 year anniversary of Rosa Parks, I appeal to President Obama, not to continue turning a blind eye against the egregious and continuous violation of human rights by Japan, and by their national policy.

Barak Obama: DO NOT FORGET WHO YOU ARE, WHY WE ELECTED YOU, AND WHAT WE ELECTED YOU TO DO. WE ELECTED YOU TO LEAD, NOT TO BE MISLED. IF MOST OF YOUR CONSTITUENTS ARE NOT EXPERT ON THIS SUBJECT, AND EVEN YOUR ADVISORS ARE WOEFULLY IGNORANT ABOUT ASIAN HISTORY (AND SOME OF THE WORST RACIST ARE DISGUISED AS OBJECTIVE POLICY ADVISORS FOR ASIA, LIKE JAMES FALLOWS & THE ATLANTIC PROPAGANDA MONGERS) WE EXPECT YOU TO LEAD THE COUNTRY AWAY FROM A WOEFULLY RACIST POLICY.

BARAK OBAMA: YOU HAVE MORE CAPABILITY TO INFLUENCE CHINA TOWARDS A BETTER HUMAN RIGHTS DIRECTION RIGHT NOW. USE IT. DON’T PASS OVER IT.
ONCE YOU HAND OVER THIS LEVERAGE BY SUPPLYING JAPAN HIGH LEVEL MILITARY SECRETS OF THE F35, YOU ARE GIVING UP THE LEVERAGE THAT MAY NOT COME AGAIN. USE THE LEVERAGE TO DO GOOD IN A WAY THAT WILL PROMOTE AMERICAN PRESTIGE, RESPECT IN THE REGION. PROVING SUCH MILITARY SKILLS TO JAPAN AFTER IT DECLARES A DESIRE TO RETRACE THE STEPS OF INVADING CHINA, OF HEGEMONY, OF COMMITTING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY WITH IMPUNITY BY THE SAME TRICKS OF FANNING FEAR AGAINST ITS INTENDED AND POST VICTIMS — THAT’S SQUANDERING AWAY THE LEVERAGE.

DO NOT. I REPEAT. DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE F35 SECRET WITHOUT FIRST ENSURING YOU GET EVERY DROP OF LEVERAGE OUT OF IT.

THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN IS PRACTICALLY AN AMERICAN TRAITOR, AND SHOULD BE RECALLED AND FIRED. AMEN.

Feb 05, 2013 5:20am EST  --  Report as abuse
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