China snubbed receiving the Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura on Sunday, reportedly due to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's 5th visit to a controversial shrine to Japan's war dead. Foreign Minister Machimura is getting a repeat of China's refusal to meet with Mr. Koizumi in May of this year (see DEL post). China has been stoking the flames of domestic hatred towards the Japanese that led to many Japanese businesses in China being ransacked earlier this year along with large street demonstrations in many parts of China. In May, DEL argued that the Chinese desire to raise the hatred of Japan as a domestic issue was largely driven by a desire to keep Japan from a permanent UN Security Council seat. Now that UN reforms are stalled, what is the reason for the current snub?
One Answer: "Energy"
As the Asia Times Online reports, it could be over an issue larger than stoking nationalism for moving Chinese domestic focus away from one-party rule. Oil and natural gas deposits in the East China Sea and a growing confrontation over who controls them may be the current issue.
Asia Times Online describes growing military rivalries, much like US-Soviet actions in the Cold War:
"The East China Sea situation is becoming increasingly volatile. Tensions have been high since last month when a Chinese Navy destroyer aimed its guns at a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force P3-C surveillance plane near the disputed waters of the Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea. Five Chinese Navy warships have also recently been observed prowling in the same area.
And the Japanese news agency Kyodo this week reported that China last month sent a spy plane, the third in two months, to the disputed East China Sea area to collect data on Japanese military vessels operating there."
Japan and China were scheduled for talks on October 19th regarding this issue, which the Japanese were clearly looking forward to dealing with diplomatically. Is the Chinese leadership expecting a strong Japanese response or are they missing the internal signs in Japan regarding their motives and Japan's security? China clearly wants to delay any diplomatic moves on the issue.
"A senior Japanese diplomat, who did not wish to be identified said: "It will be difficult for either Japan or China to compromise in this dispute, but failure to do so could create a very dangerous situation. We issued China an ultimatum at the previous talks [at the beginning of October], and made it clear that the issue must be resolved in the next and final round of negotiations scheduled for October 19. If we do not reach a satisfactory settlement, the Japanese public's patience is likely to reach breaking point."
A public opinion poll detailed this week in the Yomiuri Shimbun suggests that 70% of Japanese think China should suspend its unilateral development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea. The survey also found that 65% of respondents believe that if China refuses to stop the gas-field development, Japan also should develop gas fields in the region on its own."
What is at stake is over 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves. China already has developed stations at Chunxiao (Shirakaba), Duanqiao (Kusunoki) and Tianwaitian (Kashi) that are starting this month to produce natural gas. Japan had floated a proposal to jointly develop the sites, but only after China agreeing to stop drilling and submit to Japan its internal surveys of where the natural gas is coming from (See the Asia Times Online file for an in depth analysis).
China may believe that Japan's pacifist history post-WWII and regional condemnation from neighbors over the shrine visits will keep at bay the Japanese Self Defense Force and provoking an international incident. However, there is strong Japanese support for not allowing the Chinese to claim the territory or natural gas deposits within Japan. It could develop into a Sino-Japanese version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There seems room for diplomacy if the Chinese will move away from their unilateral approach, especially since the Japanese have already proposed a generous revenue sharing proposal.
Update: The Washington Post has an article covering the same topic in today's issue. However it doesn't mention the offer Japan made to China in a joint development as does the Asia Times Online. However, it does provide key information in the Japanese bringing the dispute by their envoy to the US. Considering the US-Japanese Security Agreement, it will be interesting to see what role, if any, the US plays in the dispute.