Whenever China wants to identify the issues considered important enough to go to war over, it uses the term “core interests.”
The phrase was once restricted to Taiwan, the island nation that China has threatened to forcibly unify with the mainland.
About five years ago, Chinese leaders expanded the term to include Tibet and Xinjiang, two provinces with indigenous autonomy movements that Beijing has worked feverishly to control.
Since then, Chinese officials have spoken more broadly about economic growth, territorial integrity and preserving the Communist system. But recently they narrowed their sights again, extending the term explicitly to the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo are dangerously squabbling over some uninhabited islands.
Top Chinese military officials first delivered the message to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visited Beijing last month. The next day, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told reporters that “the Diaoyu Islands are about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of course it’s China’s core interest.”
This wording, with its threatening implications, is raising new tensions in a region already on edge over North Korea and several other maritime disputes, and it will make it harder to peacefully resolve the dispute over the islands, called Diaoyu in China, and Senkaku in Japan.
While Japan has held the islands for more than a century, China also claims title and has sent armed ships and planes from civilian maritime agencies to assert a presence around them. The waters adjacent to the islands are believed to hold oil and gas deposits.
To some extent, China is simply throwing its weight around, challenging the United States and its regional allies. On May 8/9, 2013, Chinese state-run newspapers carried commentaries questioning Japan’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa, where about 25,000 American troops are based. Japan, whose wartime aggression against China and other countries still engenders animosity, has not helped. Last September, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda provocatively bought three of the islands from their private owner.
The Japanese right-wing nationalists who took power in December may be equally unwilling to put Japan’s past behind it, although the government of the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, took a positive step when it said it would abide by official apologies that the country made two decades ago to victims of World War II.
China and Japan have strong economic ties and are critical to regional stability. Both will lose if they stumble into war or otherwise cannot resolve this escalating dispute. Though efforts are under way to find a mutually face-saving solution, using loaded phrases like “core interests” to describe the islands only adds to the political and emotional sensitivities and will not advance that goal.
- China criticises Japan’s protest over question of Okinawa sovereignty (chinadailymail.com)
- China deploys navy ships to patrol Diaoyu Islands (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s stealth wars of acquisition. (chinadailymail.com)
- China points finger at U.S. over Asia-Pacific tensions (chinadailymail.com)
- Japan requests that France not sell helicopter equipment to China (japandailypress.com)
- China reiterates sovereignty over Diaoyu islands (vancouverdesi.com)
- People’s Daily hints Beijing may press claim to Okinawa (wantchinatimes.com)
- China mouthpiece claims rights over Okinawa. (chinadailymail.com)
What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core Interests”? (chinafile.com)
- China tests ships near disputed islands (chinadailymail.com)