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PacNet #57 – The Senkaku Dispute and the US-Japan Security Treaty

During the last two years, Japan has experienced major setbacks in each of its three territorial disputes with neighbors – the Senkaku/Daioyutai Islands dispute with China/Taiwan, the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute with the Republic of Korea, and the Northern Territories/Kurile islands dispute with Russia. Although Japan’s relative decline as an economic power and political turmoil under Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) governance laid the ground for the bold assertion of claims by Japan’s neighbors, each dispute is qualitatively different from the others. The Senkaku dispute in particular requires a slight but immediate and carefully calibrated revision to US policy. Failing to do so risks emboldening China to militarily occupy the islands. The new reality of a China-occupied Senkakus would force the United States into having to weigh its alliance with Japan against a war over the islands. The US should instead act proactively through diplomatic preemption.