The recent struggle over islands in the East China Sea marks a foreign-policy test for Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe.
For anyone who hoped that 2013 would bring an end to the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyutai in China), the initial weeks of the year have brought disappointment. Following the appearance of Chinese surveillance planes over the island, Japan dispatched F-15 fighter jets on January 10 to shoo them, only to be met by similar Chinese aircraft the next day.
If this disagreement sounds familiar, that's because both countries have tussled repeatedly over this issue in the last five years. Like a bad television show, no episode is distinguishable from any other; an intrusion occurs, government ministers protest, civilians demonstrate, military tensions rise, and finally, after much hemming and hawing, cooler heads prevail and the crisis fades. That is, until tensions spark again and the whole process repeats itself.
This time, however, the squabbling seems more serious than usual. What explains the difference? The basic facts surrounding the dispute haven't changed. Both China and Japan view the archipelago as an integral part of their national territory and, of course, wouldn't mind finding out if the rumors of huge oil and gas reserves in the surrounding waters are true. China thinks Japan has refused to return all of the territory it took during its imperial era, while Japan feels China's territorial claim is little more than a naked power grab.