Introduction: This workshop report comprises four papers presented at an international workshop, 'Tensions in the East China Sea', which was held at the Lowy Institute in Sydney in June 2013. The papers are written by Ms Bonnie Glaser, Ms Linda Jakobson, Prof Jin Canrong and Mr Wang Hao, and Lt Gen (Ret) Noboru Yamaguchi.

They assess decisions in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and Washington after Japan’s central government’s purchase in September 2012 of three of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands sparked a downward spiral in relations between Japan and China.

Key findings:

  • Lt Gen Yamaguchi reasons that in Japan the island purchase was driven by an unsettled relationship with the landowner, upcoming elections, and a desire by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to burnish his national security credentials.
  • Prof Jin argues that Tokyo’s tougher stance since the 2010 fishing boat incident combined with demands by special interest groups in China compelled Beijing to react to Japan’s attempts to what Beijing perceives as a unilateral change in the status quo.
  • Ms Glaser contends that Washington walks a diplomatic tightrope between Tokyo, a US ally, and China. Glaser argues that given the limited viable policy options available to the US, the current strategy is the most appropriate.
  • Ms Jakobson’s paper explores the landmark fishing agreement signed between Taipei and Tokyo in April 2013. In the report’s Concluding thoughts, she notes that the sovereignty dispute is but one element of complex power politics unbalancing China-Japan ties.
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