The State Oceanic Administration announced Tuesday that China's marine surveillance fleet has expelled a number of Japanese vessels illegally sailing in waters around the Diaoyu Islands. This is the first time it has made such an announcement.
This is a milestone in efforts to overthrow the so-called "practical control" of the Diaoyu Islands by Japan since the escalation of the crisis. When compared to events two years ago when Chinese fishing boats were detained in the waters around Diaoyu, and an event in August when activists from Hong Kong landed on the islands to claim China's sovereignty and then were arrested, the situation surrounding the Sino-Japanese territorial dispute has fundamentally changed. Chinese law enforcement vessels have a foothold in the waters around Diaoyu and are expanding their activities to safeguard Chinese sovereignty.
The Japanese government's "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands has been put on the back foot as China has commenced regular patrols in these waters and repeatedly entered the 12 nautical mile radius around Diaoyu. China, in fact, has won room to regain the management of Diaoyu. Though there is still a long way to go, China has effectively fought against the arrogance of Japan, forcing it to accept China's new stance over the Diaoyu Islands.
China successfully countered Philippine provocations over Huangyan Island earlier this year and consolidated control over the island. In the Diaoyu issue, China also launched a firm counterattack. China's actions will influence the international attitude toward China's resolution to safeguard its sovereignty.
Notably, the perception toward China's rise hasn't deteriorated because of the Diaoyu issue. This shows that the world accepts that China is making moves to safeguard its legitimate interests. As long as China maintains its peaceful development path, the world can tell right from wrong and that China maintains a firm stance in territorial disputes
This victory has taught Japan a lesson, and sent a warning to Vietnam and the Philippines. Countries must think twice before they provoke China. The anticipation of punishment may deter future hostile actions toward China. Japan may escalate the tension as it reacts to China' progress in the Diaoyu issue and if this occurs, China will need to dedicate more resources to securing its position.
An overly ambitious goal in reclaiming lost territory is not realistic at this time. The country hasn't the hard or the soft power to solve all its territorial conflicts quickly. Every step needs to be in accordance with the country's comprehensive interests. Fortunately, China is gaining more advantages.
The Diaoyu Islands aren't the only issue at stake. This should also serve to remind Japan that Tokyo needs to understand China and the situation in the Asia Pacific.