Yonaguni: Dilemmas of a Frontier Island in the East China Sea

'Yonaguni: Dilemmas of a Frontier Island in the East China Sea', The Asia- Pacific Journal, October 1, 2012, Gavan McCormack

Troubled Seas: Japan's Pacific and East China Sea Domains (and Claims), The Asia- Pacific Journal, September 3, 2012, Gavan McCormack

Forty years after they were "normalized", relations between Japan and
China are so abnormal that events planned to celebrate the anniversary in September had to be scrapped.

Tension rises throughout the East China Sea and especially in the vicinity of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands where Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese fishing and coastguard vessels jostle, each insisting that the islands and their adjacent waters are their own sovereign territory. National, and to some extent global, attention focusses on an "Okinawa problem" that has, until recently, been almost entirely seen in the context of the main island of Okinawa, where the "world's most dangerous base," Futenma Marine Air Station continues to sit in the middle of Ginowan City 16 years after its promised return, where works on a projected new base to replace it at Henoko in Nago City to the north remain blocked, and where plans to introduce the highly controversial tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft have roused the entire prefecture to fierce united protest. Yonaguni opens a new front in the contest between the agenda that the governments of Japan and the United States attempt to impose and local aspirations for an order of peace and cooperation that would finally supplant Cold War confrontation.

On 24 September 2012, a special session of Yonaguni Island's Town Assembly voted 3:2 against a proposal to conduct a town plebiscite on the question of whether or not to host a Self-Defense Force facility. The storm that raged over that decision showed at microcosmic level the way in which the Obama administration's "pivot" to Asia was affecting local communities in the Northeast Asian region. Yonaguni was assuming - if the town assembly's controversial decision to host a SDF facility is carried out - the role of front line in an emerging East Asian Cold War. To China, the Japanese decision to implant a military force within the first Chinese maritime line of defense, and in the closest Japanese island territories to the contested Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, will inevitably be seen as a challenge. Few< islands faced choices of such moment.

Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor in the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of the Asia-Pacific. He is also coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal - Japan Focus which was in 2008 awarded the Inaugural Ikemiyagi Shui prize for promotion of international understanding of Okinawan issues. He first wrote about territorial problems in these seas in 1973, in a chapter on "Senkaku" in his Japanese Imperialism Today (with Jon Halliday). For his most recent work analysing current territorial problems in the Pacific and East China Seas, see his "Troubled Seas: Japan's Pacific and East China Sea Domains (and Claims)," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 10, Issue 36, No. 4, September 3, 2012

In 2012 he and MIT historian John Dower featured in Japan's NHK special New Year program, "Kantogen" discussing the outlook in post-Fukushima Japan.

His most recent book is the just published (co-authored with Satoko Oka Norimatsu) Resistant Islands - Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012, distributed in Australia by InBooks and currently being translated into Japanese, Korean and Chinese for publication early in 2013).

Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute