Japan has water cannons, but China’s first carrier goes into service

China sent its first aircraft carrier into service and Japan protests Taiwan vessel presence near disputed isles.

Question:

Would you say that there are reasons to fear that the situation will escalate even further or you see also some positive sings?

Answers:

Bernt Berger, Senior Researcher with China and Global Security Programme, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

What we are witnessing right now is a sabre rattling of an extend that has not been witnessed before. Neither side has an interest to risk a real armed conflict. Trade and investment relations are very close and a trilateral economic zone with South Korea under negotiation. Yet, both sides need to make the case in order to vent anger and nationalist sentiment in their pubic sphere.

Luckily both sides know what is at stake. But restraint is useful indeed for several reasons. Firstly, especially China has so far send out ships from its civilian maritime agencies in order to stage small scale provocations. But these agencies often are badly coordinated with their counterparts in the security sector and might make mistakes. Secondly, the governments face a double-edged sword. Although the confrontations are largely staged for a domestic audience, the public sentiment will be satisfied, yet, hardly cool down as long as the situation at sea goes on.

The aircraft carrier has no real operational role. Of course the timing, intended or not, sends a signal to the Chinese public that China is a force to deal with and can no longer be contained. Of course this has nothing to do with facts. So far the carrier is mainly intended for training purposes and technology development. So far the Chinese arms industry has little if none access to relevant technologies and needs to become innovative alongside its developing needs. The Liaoning will serve for research in order to enable the Chinese arms industry to develop the first generation of its own aircraft carriers in the future.

Robert Sutter, Professor of Practice of International Affairs, Elliot  School of International Affairs, George Washington University

There are few “positive” signs apart from public US efforts and presumably other private efforts to get the disputants to calm down and avoid conflict.

Both Japan and China depends fundamentally on peaceful development. They cannot afford to allow confrontation over these islands to lead to serious disruption of the regional order that needs to be stable for their development to take place successfully. I assume that they will take actions to avoid serious conflict and confrontation.

Mikael Mattlin, Researcher, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Both sides are now actively trying to control the situation in order to keep it from unnecessarily escalating any further. In the past, for example in 2005, China and Japan have been successful in keeping similar disputes under control and manageable. However, the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue is quite emotional in all of the concerned societies, and particularly so in China. The timing is also sensitive, given that there are upcoming leadership changes in both China and Japan. Because of these domestic pressures, it is very difficult for either government to be seen as soft on issues intimately related to sovereignty.

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