in recent years china’s claims to island chains such as the senkaku (diaoyu in china) have been called aggressive. japan currently administers the senkaku islands, and with the u.s. have been in control of the islands for over a century. the chinese discovered the centuries before and used them as navigational markers in sailing to the ryukyu kingdom. china has recently claimed sovereignty over the ryukyu islands. historically the ryukyuan kingdom gave tribute to both japanese and chinese empires, though quit paying tribute to the chinese empire in the 19th century. contemporarily, the people of the ryukyu islands speak a dialect of japanese and the islands have been administered by two japanese prefectures for over a century.
china has “claimed” these islands by sending patrols out into the east china sea and extending an air defense identification zone into the sea. chinese diplomats have spoken out about the threat of japan. but it not has not taken further action, action that could be described as aggressive. these policies have garnered international attention to china’s history, sovereignty, and relations with its neighbors in east asia, and its policies demands fine and subtle diplomacy from other asian nations, particularly japan and korea. china is demanding attention. and maintaining this aggressive facade may even produce some leverage diplomatically, encouraging countries to make more concessions in reaction to such aggression.
japan, under prime minister shinzo abe, has started to tap its own nationalism and plans have been announced to change its national defense force into a more active army. this change may be beneficial not for just balancing the military power dynamics in east asia, but may also allow japan to contribute more to international peacekeeping efforts (and other foreign conflicts unfortunately.) given japan’s history with china, china’s uneasiness over a military buildup in japan seems understandable, however, china must understand the uneasiness with which its asian neighbors and the world looks on its large standing army. furthermore, chinese aggression and imperialism extends back centuries toward japan and other asian neighbors. contemporary chinese and japanese governments are not those that existed a century ago. japan’s military shift seems only natural - other than china’s recently “aggressive” stance, japan’s proximity to north korea and its involvement in international diplomacy, finance, and conflict legitimize its need for a strong military.
as the u.s. professes to shifting its focus to the pacific, and the world’s third largest economy takes to building a larger, outward looking army, china understands its must further build the image of itself as an international power. it must continue to strengthen itself economically. it must build diplomatic relations and situations with other countries that will not be taken advantage of. if china maintains uneasy relations with its neighbors, if it remains slightly “aggressive,” other countries will have to act gingerly, to allow china more room to maneuver. china’s behavior is a long strategy set to provide it more room for favorable negotiation.