Early last month, a Chinese submarine entered Japanese territorial waters in the vicinity of Okinawa, raising tension between the two nations. Not long afterward, Japan announced that it would be reducing financial aid to China. These two incidents have caused turmoil in Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations.
A week after the of discovery of the submarine, Beijing came out and admitted it was indeed theirs, and although there was no formal apology, China's response was regarded by Japan as sincere.
Subsequently, President Chen Shui-bian (
that information about the submarine's presence in Japanese waters had been provided by Taiwan. This was done in a manner to emphasize the close intelligence ties between Taiwan and Japan, but the "revelation" touched a nerve in the Japanese political establishment and it was immediately denied by the Japanese government.
According to the Japanese account of events, the submarine had been spotted a number of days before its incursion into Japan's territorial waters. The submarine was in Japanese waters for only about two hours, but this was the first time that such an incursion had taken place (as far as we know) and may have been due to technical difficulties, as the Chinese claimed.
In recent years there have been numerous incidents of North Korean spy ships, Chinese surveillance craft and submarines in the vicinity of Japan. These have posed new challenges for the nation's defense apparatus. This is especially true in light of China's double-digit economic growth, massive spending on its military and obvious aspirations to become a naval power. All this has made Japan rethink national defense strategy.
But Japan has been hampered by its so-called pacifist Constitution, so that even possession of a strong navy would be of little use.
Areas of overlap exist regarding China and Japan's claims to resource-rich maritime areas. Recently, China has been cooperating with multinational firms to search for natural gas in the East China Sea, which has been the source of much anxiety in Japan. The problems associated with sovereignty over the Diaoyutai islands are also a result of competition over resources. Both China and Japan are major importers of energy, and the competition for safe passage and security of resources from the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea down to the Indian Ocean, will only intensify.
In this situation, for Japan to provide aid to China is peculiar and the Japanese people cannot understand why its government has provided long-term aid to a nuclear-armed nation that is not only constantly strengthening its military, but is not even particularly friendly to Japan.
In fact, when Japan's foreign aid program was launched in 1958, the first recipient of its aid was India, but because of the Cold War, the relationship became increasingly distant. China's position, on the other hand, became increasingly important, and today the Japanese economy is highly dependant on China, and is even seen as a means of economic recovery. Japan will certainly seek to maintain whatever friendship there may be with China.
The 1995 Taiwan Strait crisis was a turning point for Sino-Japanese relations and caused the Japanese to adjust the terms of their mutual defense treaty with the US. China's "rising" has also influenced strategic thinking in Asia and given a new dimension to Taiwan's strategic value, which has created considerable space for joint security cooperation between the US, Japan and Taiwan. But this cooperation should be planned cautiously and implemented in an unobtrusive manner. Ostentatiousness will be counterproductive.