Senkakus/Diaoyu incident: reinforced trends or a harbinger of change?
The jury is still out on how Japan-China relations will be affected by their recent dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. By now we have seen efforts on both sides to defuse tensions, but China’s intentions remain unclear, while Japan might choose to respond with more robust defense measures.
Aside from developments in the region’s security structure, a key variable to observe is the shifting perceptions of domestic actors in both countries, says Mike Mochizuki in a recent interview in The Oriental Economist.
In Japan, the security policy community had already been concerned about China’s increasingly assertive behavior. However, Mochizuki notes,
“The real question is whether this incident will convince others in Japan: those that have, up to now, been less concerned about Chinese military activities and were much more focused on the benefits that the Chinese market gives to the Japanese economy. If this incident has changed [their] perceptions, that would be a sea change.”
The obscurity of China’s decision-making process makes it more difficult to determine what is driving China’s behavior, and whether political competition between domestic actors can explain the mix of restraint and assertiveness we see from China.
Nevertheless, for now the Senkakus/Diaoyu dispute can be seen as “a case of reinforcing trends that preceded the incident,” says Mochizuki. This includes Japan’s heightened wariness of China’s military activities, as well as improvements in the security relationship between Japan and the United States.
Read the full text of the interview here.