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Commentary: Chinese intimidation in Senkakus retaliation against Japan

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics must be an unequaled opportunity for a major military power with regional hegemonic ambitions to surreptitiously move forward with its plan. On August 5, the day the Olympics began, China sent its coast guard vessels into the waters near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.


China excels at cunning military strategies like those described in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. As per The Art of War, China avoids fights when enemies are strong and attacks where defenses are not as strong or launches surprise attacks. Although these may be cunning tactics, they are underhanded tactics.


As many as 15 Chinese vessels sailed into the contiguous zone (CZ) and intermittently intruded into Japan’s territorial waters. This surpasses the 12 vessels observed following Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012. In addition, 200 to 300 Chinese fishing boats came along this time. It also appears that trained militias were on board some of these fishing boats.


Early August is a time for the Xi administration to discuss important subjects with the Chinese Communist Party’s senior members at the “Beidaihe Conference.” It is possible that in order to maintain its influence, the leadership ordered the Chinese military and coast guard to conduct provocative activities coinciding with the Olympics so that China can rattle Japan while the attention of the international community is focused on the event.


Such tactics are nothing new. While the world was preoccupied with the Tokyo Olympics in October 1964, China carried out its first nuclear test. It was at this time that Prime Minister Khrushchev of the former Soviet Union was ousted.


It is not difficult to imagine that if the Xi administration wished to make a bold maneuver in the Senkaku Islands, the ongoing Olympics and the Beidaihe Conference would be a good opportunity to do so.


Furthermore, only a totalitarian state like China can mobilize so many fishing boats for political ends. It is a desperate tactic taken by a weak country, not by a major power.


If China wants to claim its sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, it would be more appropriate for the country to file a lawsuit with either the International Court of Justice or the International Court of Arbitration where the country can fairly and reasonably argue its position. The PRC, however, does not wish to fight a losing battle. This was apparent following the recent ruling on July 12 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The court ruled that the “nine-dash line” covering the South China Sea claimed by China had “no legal ground.” A major country given a special position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council was defeated by the Philippines, a smaller nation. For China, there could be no humiliation worse than this. Because the PRC has no intention to fight fairly, the country could only dismiss the ruling as “a worthless piece of paper.”


If China unilaterally establishes an air defense identification zone over the nine-dash line, or begins reclaiming the Scarborough Reef near the Philippines, the confrontation between the U.S. and China will intensify. When the U.S. saw signs that China was building artificial islands there, Washington warned the PRC behind the scenes and the U.S. Pacific Command deployed A-10 attack airplanes to a base in the Philippines. Needless to say, China retreated in haste.


It can be said that China, having no other recourse, began taking aggressive action around the Senkaku Islands in retaliation for Japan’s urging the PRC to accept the latest ruling.


If China maintains its high-handed stance, Japan can take the next step by calling for a boycott of the G-20 summit meeting scheduled in Hangzhou, China, in September. If Japan participates in the meeting, Tokyo can propose that the Senkaku issue be one of the subjects for discussion, and thus internationalize it by combining it with the South China issue.  

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