The dispute between Japan and China over the ownership of the Senkaku islands continues to escalate.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao earlier today threatened Japan with "further action" if the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that rammed Japanese coast guard vessels last week is not released. Given that China has already canceled all high-level contacts with Japan, and broken off all on-going talks, the phrase "further action" could take on ominous overtones.
The real dispute over the islands has little to do with fishing rights, and a great deal to do with the vast gas and oil deposits which are believed to lie beneath the seabed in the area around the islands. It is becoming clear that China, repeating a pattern of behavior seen in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, sent the fishing boat into Japanese waters specifically to provoke a confrontation, which it is now seeking to exploit. This theory of deliberate provocation is bolstered by the convenient proximity to the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident, which China still makes much of, even 80 years later. There too, much of the "public outrage" in China over this recent incident has a definite flavor of being orchestrated.
The Japanese, however, have their own agenda. In the first place, Japan desperately needs an oil source of its own. Japan requires a half-dozen supertankers full of crude oil per day in order to keep its economy running, oil that it has historically obtained through the Persian Gulf. But with Persian Gulf oil sources, and indeed all Middle East oil sources, fast becoming of ever more uncertain reliability, Japan very much needs a long-term solution.
In the second place, a confrontation with the Chinese now could serve as a casus belli for Japan to amend its post-war constitution and openly re-arm, especially given that any such re-armament would inevitably infuriate the Chinese in any case.
See earlier entry on this incident here
Al Jazeera story on the latest developments here
UK Telegraph story here, but with an odd perspective.