I previously covered the Senkaku/Diaoyu disputed in the context of rising Chinese Nationalism.

China's government-run Xinhua news agency published coordinates for a newly established "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone," which covers most of that sea and includes the skies over the disputed islands.

The area covers the airspace above the disputed islands, and also overlaps with Japan's claimed air-defence zone.

China warned that it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in the airspace.

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Saturday afternoon against two Chinese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea, the Japanese Defence Ministry said.

Tokyo lodged a strong protest through the Chinese embassy, calling the action totally unacceptable and warning that the overlap of the air defense identification zone "has the risk of leading to an unexpected situation."

The United States expressed its strong concerns to China, with the White House saying the “escalatory development" increased regional tensions and affected U.S. interests and those of its allies.

If there is ever going to be an end to tensions over the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategically important waterways, countries in the region need to find a way to work out their volatile maritime disputes. China, more than any other nation, has fanned those hostilities with sweeping sovereignty claims and confrontations over disputed islands and even specks of rock.

After WWII the islands came under US trusteeship, being returned to Japan in 1971 under the Okinawa reversion deal.

Japan says China raised no objections to the San Francisco deal. It is only since the 1970s, when the issue of oil resources in the area emerged, that Chinese and Taiwanese authorities began pressing their claims.

China on the other hand says that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that this is "fully proven by history and is legally well-founded".

As I suggested in my earlier expose, given that the Chinese Dream is deeply rooted in history, in particular on China’s interpretation of history which may differ in crucial ways from Japan or the United States’ own teachings of that history, there is an unavoidable chasm between how China perceives the Chinese Dream and how foreign audiences do. Not only do many non-Chinese lack a strong understanding of Chinese history, but many are not accustomed to drawing such a strong connection between historical events and current affairs.

This varying historical consciousness of different countries creates a perception gap. One need only look at the differences between how Chinese and Japanese students learn important historic events. For example, whereas Chinese students learn all the details about the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese history textbooks contain very little information on the war, so younger generations do not know much about that part of history. Thus, the Chinese and Japanese have contrasting views over the Diaoyu/Senkakus. The Chinese youth are emotional in regard to the territorial dispute because they connect the current standoff with past humiliations, but the Japanese consider these completely separate issues. The Japanese indifference towards historical issues in turn further infuriates the Chinese.

These different historical memories have caused misconceptions between China and some of its neighbors over other sovereignty issues. For example, it seems inconceivable to the Philippines and Vietnam that China’s historical evidence of sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea should take precedent over modern international law. Consequently, these countries and others perceive China’s claims and efforts to defend them as inherently aggressive, and in turn demonstrate that China is a revisionist power.

This situation is not helped with the now also more hard-line Japanese Nationalist stance following the election of Shinzō Abe as Japanese Prime Minister.

The dispute thus has a tendency to ignite nationalist passions on both sides, putting pressure on politicians to appear tough, and ultimately making any possible resolution even harder to find.

China is also engaged in territorial disputes with several South East Asian countries, including Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. The disputes centre around ocean areas and two island chains in the South China Sea. And  a concern is that China’s next move in the East China Sea will be to challenge the middle line dividing China and Taiwan along the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait.

Conclusion: The peaceful management of China’s rise as a major global economic and geopolitical power is probably the most important geopolitical issue of the next two decades, surpassing even current tensions in the Middle East. Historically, the rise of a new economic, financial and military power that faces an older established power has often led to war: This happened with the rise of Japan and Germany. Of course, history does not have to repeat and there are many ways that the U.S. and the other powers in Asia can cooperate with China to continue its peaceful integration into the global economic and political system.

Although in the current situation, if China was able to fly over the islands, that means they can erode some of Japan's sovereignty claim over the islands, as neither side will shoot first.


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