The dispute between Japan and China over the ownership of a chain of islands in the East China Sea continues to escalate, with China boycotting a meeting of the IMF being held in Tokyo. A growing sense of fear over China’s increasing strength is being reported in the Japanese capital.
In August a fleet of Japanese boats headed for the disputed islands, called the Senkaku by Japan, and the Diaoyu by China. After a journey of several hours, some of the activists – including Japanese lawmakers – swim out to the uninhabited rocks.
The expedition was organized by ‘Ganbare Nippon’, a nationalist group whose name loosely translates as ‘Go Japan.’ Its founder is the right-wing filmmaker and playwright Satoru Mizushima.
“Historically the Senkaku are Japan’s islands and China never owned the islands before. The Chinese state media accept that fact,” said Mizushima. “But in 1970 gas and oil was found beneath the ocean floor; only then did China start to say that the Senkaku belong to them.”
In recent weeks the dispute has sparked violent anti-Japanese protests across China, with Japanese businesses and property targeted. The group Ganbare Nippon has organized counter-protests in Tokyo.
Satoru Mizushima said he fears further violence.
“China organized the anti-Japanese protests on purpose because they would like to hide their own contradictions in their own country,” he said. “If we let China do what they are trying to do, it will be the same as the appeasement of the Nazis in Germany. China will encroach on the rest of Asia.”
After Japan’s World War II defeat in 1945, the United States controlled the islands until 1972, when they were handed back. China said it owned the islands until the Sino-Japanese war of 1895.
Much of the dispute is rooted in the history of conflict.
The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo is meant to house the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including many convicted war criminals. A series of visits in recent years by Japanese politicians has prompted fury in Beijing.
On a recent public holiday, Japanese citizens visiting the shrine supported their country’s stance in the island dispute.
One man said, “Many people don’t know about Japanese history. Originally the Senkaku belonged to Japan. America announced the Senkaku are Japanese before and after World War II. China’s way of doing this is illegal, therefore they won’t get the islands.”
“In international law, Japan believes it is right. Because of the Chinese education system, Chinese people believe they are right,” said another man. “If you want to decide which one is right, you need another party, such as America, they can make a just and clear judgement.”
Observers say that with both international pride and potentially huge natural resources at stake, neither side is likely to back down soon.