The fact that Professor Jacobs has decided to throw down the gauntlet to China by comparing its actions to those of fascists might be seen as overly provocative, and certainly China will object by stating that (1) its claims are based on historical documentation, (2) China suffered terribly at the hands of fascist Japan, and to accuse China of engaging in dictatorial, racist, fascist behaviour (yes, Prof. Jacobs did make those accusations) insults the memory of those who died during the “war against fascism”, and (3) it is Japan who sparked the dispute over the Senkaku Islands by disturbing the status quo established by the governments of both countries during the 1970s.
By launching intrusions into Japan’s EEZ, reportedly targeting SDF vessels and aircraft, encouraging inflammatory rhetoric from domestic commentators (both military and civilian), suspending exports, ignoring (if not outright snubbing) Japanese delegates at international forums, and allowing large scale protests condemning Japan to occur in multiple places across China (a trend which will not abate so long as the CCP believes it serves a useful purpose in diverting domestic anger, hence this summer may again witness protests against Japan on a scale similar if not greater than last year’s), the CCP has not convinced anyone that it is prepared to resolve its dispute with Japan in good faith. Its attempts to browbeat its neighbours into accepting its territorial position with the threat of force belie its rhetoric of seeking a “peaceful rise”, unless this refers to the emergence of a docile domestic audience (ne middle class) that accepts the rule of the CCP and contributes to the generation of wealth for the state at the expense of China’s foreign relations. Peaceful in one sense, but overall a pretty misleading statement.
Still, I can’t quite gauge why Prof. Jacobs wrote his article, unless it was only in defence of what he believes are the threats China poses to “world democracy” (as he stated at the conclusion of his op-ed). The forcefulness by which he disputes China’s claims to the East China and South China Seas suggests a growing sense of anger at how China is conducting itself and the apparent nonchalance by which it dismisses any criticism of its conduct. Then again, he may have written the article to answer the claims of those “former Australian politicians” he believes are promoting the “big lie” of Chinese sovereignty over the islands (on this point, he appears to be pointing towards an article by former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans for Project Syndicate – Link - that claimed that Japan had not shown enough contrition for its wartime activities and that the Abe Cabinet may be trying to ramp up nationalist sentiment in Japan).
Nonetheless, Prof. Jacobs article does provide some contrast to the suggestions of Sourabh Gupta of Samuels International. Professor Gupta’s suggestion was that both China and Japan revert to the situation between them before September, 2010 and that neither side continue to press their claims against those of the other. His reason for hope lies in the numerous bilateral agreements signed between both countries and others in the region regarding joint development of oil and gas fields, marine research, and fisheries access. This may come to pass in time, however the Senkaku Islands are a highly politicised issue that neither side will back away from without concessions from the other. Japan has administered the area since the 1970s, and regards it as its territory. China, while not administering the area directly, argues that the islands have always been Chinese and is prepared to enforce its claim using semi-military means.
Asking China to accept the status quo doesn’t appear to yield much by way of results, not when so much has been made of its claims. This doesn’t mean that such a resolution can’t be reached, but merely makes it less likely. For China to agree to discuss its claims with Japan, cease its patrols of the Senkaku area, and have the situation revert to the pre-2010 status quo would require political and possible physical courage on the part of the members of the Chinese Central Committee, particularly President Xi Jinping. With the transition process only just concluded, it is too early to expect any changes in China’s stance, so if both sides can avoid escalating the situation to the point at which shots are fired, a resolution will inevitably be reached.