The political cartoon Japan-China Island Dispute, created by Patrick Chappatte and published in The New York Times on September 20, 2012, depicts an island lying in-between two naval ships rushing towards each other. One of the ships displays Japan’s national flag, while the other displays China’s national flag. A man who resembles Uncle Sam is tied to an anchor that is being dragged behind the Japanese ship. Uncle Sam is holding up a hand to signal “stop” (Chappatte). The cartoon conveys the conflict between China and Japan over disputed islands and America’s role in this complex foreign issue.
The island in the political cartoon represents a set of eight uninhabited islands that are called “Senkaku” islands by the Japanese, “Diaoyudao” islands by the Chinese, and “Diaoyutai” islands by Taiwan (Yu). The Senkaku/Diaoyudao/Diaoyutai islands are located northeast of Taiwan and consist of seven square kilometers in total area. Their importance lies in their proximity to nearby shipping lanes, rich fish-filled waters, nearby (possible) oil and gas reserves, and strategic military location for dominance within the Asia-Pacific region (“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties”). These islands are located on the East China Sea and should not be confused with another set of disputed islands between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam in the South China Sea (McKirdy and Hunt).
In some ways the disputes over these islands resemble events in Asia before, during, and after World War II, when nations were in conflict over territory and colonization (“The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine”). The current Disputed Islands Conflict holds relevance to our lives because the countries in these territorial disagreements are the same major political players who were at odds immediately before and during the Second World War and also because the failure to satisfactorily resolve earlier territorial disagreements is now the source of renewed geo-political tension and potential conflict. This is worrisome; for as George Santayana would once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana 284).
In Chappatte’s cartoon, the two colliding battle ships represent Japan and China and their this territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyudao/Diaoyutai islands. Japan claims it originally surveyed the islands, found them uninhabited, and officially made them part of Japan’s territory on January 14, 1895. According to the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, however, Japan had to give up some of its islands to China, although these disputed lands were not a part of the treaty. The Senkaku/Diaoyudao/Diaoyutai islands remained under US trusteeship until they were returned to Japan in 1971. Meanwhile, China contends that the islands have been apart of China since before Japan’s nineteenth century survey and therefore should have been given to China under the Treaty of San Francisco (“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties”).
Not mentioned in the political cartoon but equally important is Taiwan’s involvement in this conflict. Taiwan argues that the islands belong to them. The Senkaku/Diaoyudao/Diaoyutai islands are crucial fishing areas for the Taiwanese economy and food supply. Japan offered a diplomatic solution to Taiwan by allowing them to fish in the area in exchange for naval assistance in surveillance of the islands (Chiu Bi-Whei). This strategic move not only gave Japan a neighboring ally in this matter but also bolstered the division between China and Taiwan.
In Chappatte’s political cartoon, Uncle Sam represents America’s involvement on the side of Japan in this dispute. After its loss in World War II, Japan’s constitution was rewritten by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (“Bringing Democracy to Japan”). Under Article Nine of the new constitution, Japan was to disband all military forces. After the formal U.S. Occupation ended, Japan was only able to operate a defensive military Self-Defense Force (“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty”). Not having any military whatsoever would have left Japan crippled if foreign affairs were to turn violent. To resolve this pressing matter, in 1952 the two countries signed the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Under this treaty, America was allowed to station U.S. military bases in Japan; in exchange, Japan would receive U.S. military aide if they were to experience foreign conflicts (“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty”).
The current discord between Japan and China is reminiscent of tensions between the two nations during the early 1930’s and leading up to World War II. The tense situation over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyudao/Diaoyutai islands in the East China Sea revelas a continuous, unresolved source of friction between China and Japan. In order to maintain open international ocean trade routes as well as overall peace in the Asia-Pacific region, America has given support to Japan in this complex foreign dispute. If violent conflict were to erupt, the damage would not only be felt by Japanese and Chinese citizens and others in the region, but also by the American people here at home due to our alliance with Japan and our obligations to provide military support under the terms of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.” Asia for Educators. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
“Bringing Democracy to Japan.” Crf-usa.org. Constitutional Rights Foundation, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Chappatte, Patrick. “Japan-China Island Dispute.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Chiu Bi-Whei. “Taiwan Wants a Say in Senkaku Talks.” DW.COM. Made for Minds, 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
McKirdy, Euan, and Katie Hunt. “Showdown in the South China Sea: How Did We Get Here? – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Santayana, George. The Life of Reason, Or, The Phases of Human Progress. New York: Scribner, 1954. Print.
“The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine.” History.state.gov. U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
Yu, Miles. “Taiwan’s First President Ignites Firestorm with Claim That Disputed Islands Belong to Japan.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, 6 Aug. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.