Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute: Scenarios

Published On July 16, 2013 | Far East

Here is a couple of possible developments in the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, which has a significant potential in drawing the Asia giants China and Japan into a war neither of them is keen on waging.

Scenario 1:  Cooperation economic system between Japan, China and Taiwan to extract the area resources

Declare the islands neutral area and create a cooperation system of extracting the resources surrounding the islands between Japan, China and Taiwan sponsored and sustained by these countries. This is the best case scenario as no party will be perceived as loser – they will show an example of cooperation and desire for future development and scientific exploration. They will create the bases of an economic bloc and this will consolidate the relations between the parties (political, economical, social). China and Taiwan will get justice and Japan will show conciliatory gestures as the conflict escalated when Japanese government bought the islands. China, Japan and Taiwan adhere to the freedom of navigation and joint fishing rights. This will focus the parties attention toward science and innovation and collaborate for  mutual gains. The problem of access to resources should be divided between the parties in terms of their investments, according to their necessity, capacity of extraction and technology used. To coordinate the resources exploitation and how the parties share it an international organization has to be created as a partnership between China, Japan and Taiwan. By declaring the islands neutral land and creating a scientific base with the possibility of extracting the resources by all parties (China, Japan, Taiwan), this option avoids an open violent conflict and fulfills the economic needs of all 3 countries by creating a precedent and the beginning of a system of cooperation between them.

The problems that arise from this scenario are who owns the islands and how the decision making structure will function. If the islands are declared neutral area, what would be their international legal status? The problems that need to be settled are who administer the islands. Japan is the international recognized administer of the islands and is very improbable that it will drop out and give up what it owns.

Considering the decision making structure, if the parties have equal rights and each party hold a third, the possible problems are that two parties will ally and the other will be left alone. Also, Taiwan is a relatively small country in comparison with Japan and China, and cannot compare with these two countries in economic terms. So the decision factors should be in proportion with the investments in the extraction of the resources.

This conflict resolution is one of the best case scenarios, and demands that all three countries put aside their differences in terms of national interests and pride and put the basis of a common economic market and start an economic bloc.

Scenario 2:  What if China declares war to Japan?

The worst case scenario for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands refers to China’s threatens of war. If  the conflict escalates and the parties adopt a hostile behavior toward each other and China pursue its declaration of  war to Japan over the sovereignty of the islands.

Although Japan is the legally recognized administer of the islands, China remains one important actor in the dispute over the islands sovereignty. Although, all the parties, including Japan, China and Taiwan are in posession of contradictory historical proves that they own the islands, China remains a highly relevant actor in the conflict that continues to trigger the conflict due to its threats of war to Japan over the sovereignty of the islands.

Between these countries a lot of resentment and hostility cumulate and going to war it would be a way for China to prove its economic and military power. China’s declaration of war will force Japan to prepare itself for war and seek for help to its allies, the most important one being United States.

An important actor in this dispute is United States which although has stated its intentions to remain neutral and uninvolved in the parties dispute over the islands sovereignty, all parties – China, Japan and Taiwan – have huge expectations from US. Also, US has economic and political relations with both China and Japan, but moreover, is linked to Japan under the Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States and will interfere in the conflict to support Japan only if China uses violence to occupy or control the islands.

The problems that arise from this scenario are in which matter US will interfere to support Japan against China – one of its biggest economic trading partners and what is China technology for war. One the one hand, China have to be prepared not only to attack Japan, but also to defeat itself against a possible attack of US which can come in the aid of Japan. On the other hand, the possibility of US intervention must be calculated – as it is captured between these two countries – Japan as military ally and China as economic partner. For US choosing one side will mean losing the other partner, and this choice is a very tricky one. If US decide to enroll in the conflict it has to get prepared and establish how much aid it will provide for Japan.

Another relevant aspect is the international reactions, which will have to respond to China’s actions and retrieve a diplomatic solution and bring parties to negotiations.

This scenario is highly unlikely to escalate into a world war, as China and Japan will have to balance their power with their allies. Given the fact that the conflict arise between two major countries with economic and politic power, this will draw the international attention and will have a huge geopolitical impact.

The solutions to avoid this problem are the interference of the international actors into the dispute before it escalates. US intervention is highly anticipated by the parties, and they strongly desire that it will act as a mediator. Pursuing the parties intention to negotiate should avoid the outburst of a military conflict and convince them to collaborate and avoid war as neither of them is prepared to go to war and suffer its consequences in terms of resources, costs, human lives, infrastructure and technology.


Martin Lohmeyer – The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Dispute

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