The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress last month elected Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) as the party’s new general secretary. Several things have happened since then that indicate Xi will take a hawkish line in foreign relations. These include China expressing its intention to strictly enforce its law in the South China Sea, its controversial inclusion of its territorial claims in the design of its new passports and repeated encroachments by Chinese vessels into waters surrounding the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkakus in Japan.
Just days before Japan’s general election on Dec. 16, China sent a reconnaissance plane to patrol the Diaoyutais, angering Japanese voters and helping Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe, whom China regards as a rightist, become prime minister again. The incident won support for Abe’s advocacy of tougher policies on China. Japanese media said China’s actions seemed designed to win votes for Abe’s party. One might think that China’s leaders actually supported Abe’s call for Japan to alter its Constitution to make its Self-Defense Forces into a national military. Did Beijing not know what would come of such hawkish tactics?
Abe talked tough before the election, but on Dec. 22, he said his government would delay its plan to station coast guard officials on the Diaoyutai Islands. Abe said that Japan’s relationship with China was among its most important bilateral relations and that his government would make efforts to relaunch a mutually beneficial relationship with China.
However, on the very same day, China sent a surveillance plane into airspace about 100km north of the Diaoyutai Islands. The Chinese plane flew away after the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force dispatched fighter planes to intercept it. However, China’s move was a kick in the teeth for Abe, just as he spoke in such friendly terms.
Maybe China’s leaders think such actions strengthen their efforts to extend China’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands, but actually they are ineffective and will cause significant long-term damage to China’s image and national interests. The alliance between the US and Japan will get even closer, and the aim of amending Japan’s “Peace Constitution” will become easier to achieve. China’s actions will provide a rationale for Japan and its allies to exercise their right to collective self-defense.
The threat to Taiwan’s security comes from China. The nation’s security depends on getting help from its strategic allies, the US-Japan security alliance. However, since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed office, his government has leaned excessively toward China and this policy has eroded confidence among Taiwan’s strategic allies. One sign of this is the US government’s refusal to sell more advanced weapons to Taiwan.
Although Ma insists that he has no intention of allying with China to resist Japan, he has permitted government vessels from Taiwan to escort fishing boats flying China’s national flag to land on the Diaoyutai Islands. Ma has never said a word about encroachments by Chinese government vessels and reconnaissance planes in the sea and airspace around the Diaoyutai Islands, which are Taiwan’s territory. This gives the international community the impression that Taiwan is acquiescing to Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.