China-Japan: Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands Conflict
ANALYSIS, 16 Aug 2010
In March 2009 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso twice referred the Senkaku Islands [Diaoyu Islands] as Japan’s territory, saying they were protected under the Japan-U.S. security treaty. He made this statement during his trip to the United States as well as in the Parliament, the first time a Japanese prime minister had made such a remark.
On 02 March 2009, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and adjacent islets which have been China’s inalienable territory since ancient times”.
On 02 February 2009 media reported that Japan’s Maritime Safety Agency stationed for the first time PLH (patrol vessels large with helicopter) in the waters of Diaoyu Islands, saying that the action was aimed to defend against “invasion” from Chinese marine survey ships. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said “The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been China’s inalienable territory since ancient times. China has undisputable sovereign rights over them. Any action by the Japanese side to strengthen actual control over the islands constitutes an infringement upon China’s territorial sovereignty, which is illegal and invalid, and should be stopped immediately.”
Sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands is disputed. The Senkaku Islands (the Chinese call them the Diaoyutai, which means “fishing platform” in Chinese), claimed by both China and Japan, are oil-rich and near key international shipping routes.
The People’s Republic of China (China) is the world’s most populous country and the second largest energy consumer (after the United States). Rising oil demand and imports have made China a significant factor in world oil markets. China also surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest petroleum consumer in 2003. Japan is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer and was the second largest energy importer (after the United States).
The Tiao Yu Tai islands (called “Senkaku” in Japanese) are a group of eight uninhabited islands on the continental shelf, separated from the Liu Chiu islands by a deep underwater trench. These eight uninhabited islands and barren rocks have a land area of only 6.3 square kilometres. The islands are approximately 120 nm northeast of Taiwan, 200 nm east of the Chinese mainland, and 200 nm southeast of Okinawa. Most of the islets are clustered around the largest island, Uotsuri/Diaoyu, which covers roughly 8 hectares.
While Japan claims the islands as official Japanese territory since 1895, China asserts that historical records detailing the discovery and geographical feature of these islands date back to the year 1403. For several centuries they have been administered as part of Taiwan and have always been used exclusively by Chinese fishermen as an operational base. It was not until the latter half of 1970, when the question of the development of petroleum resources on the continental shelf of the East China Sea came to the surface, that the Government of China and Taiwan authorities began to raise questions regarding the Senkaku Islands.
In 1969, a report by the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) indicated the possibility of large reserves of oil in the vicinity of the Diaoyutai Archipelago. This report set off a political dispute between Taiwan, China and Japan which has been going on now for over thirty years.
Japan has objected to Chinese development of natural gas resources in the East China Sea in an area where the two countries Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims overlap. Japan claims a division of the EEZ on the median line between the countries’ coastlines. About 40,000 square kilometers of EEZ are in dispute. China and Japan both claim 200 nautical miles EEZ rights, but the East China Sea width is only 360 nautical miles. China claims an EEZ extending to the eastern end of the Chinese continental shelf which goes deep into the Japanese EEZ beyond the median line.
According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the stipulation, should act according to the fair principle development negotiations, seeks means which both sides both can accept. When there is disagreement on the demarcation of EEZs between any countries, the law stipulates that the parties concerned should avoid anything that could undermine an eventual agreement. China’s gas field drilling near the median line between the two countries is regarded by Japan as an obvious infringement of the spirit of this law. Tokyo’s proposal, which has not been accepted by Beijing, has been to divide the sea equally between the two countries, which would put China’s Chunxiao claim only three miles from Japanese territory. China’s offers to jointly develop the oil field have been rebuffed.
A major China-Japan military conflict seems improbable. In 2003 bilateral trade between China and Japan reached an all-time high of $120 billion. However, with continued robust growth in China’s economy and resultant energy requirements, the discovery of greater oil reserves than previously thought in the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands could enflame the century-old dispute with Japan over sovereignty of these territories.
Conservative politics in Japan and a rising nationalist tide in China could further polarize the parties. Both China and Japan would probably realize that their best interests lay in avoiding military conflict, so this should be a limiting factor to a violent resolution.
However, Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute., notes the politics of escalation on both sides [International Herald Tribune, May 20, 2005].
“Last year, there were reportedly some 47,000 demonstrations in China. Nearly all took place outside Shanghai and Beijing and were aimed at local – not central – authorities. China’s provincial officials therefore have good reason to capitalize on anti-Japanese sentiment and to channel growing social discontent toward Tokyo. … Local officials are now competing against one another to over-supply China with nationalist fury at Japan.
While in Japan “The faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party loyal to the party’s secretary general, Shinzo Abe, is positioning itself for a post-Koizumi era in Japanese politics. They’ve discovered that reinvigorating Japanese nationalism at China’s expense is an effective way of containing the growing popularity of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and a lot easier than tackling economic reform.
“China-bashing is simply a winning formula in Japanese domestic politics. That’s part of why Japan has now expressed a clear interest in Taiwan’s security, pushed the envelope on territorial disputes with Beijing, and aligned its position on North Korea’s nuclear program more closely with Washington’s.”
Source: World Security
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Aug 2010.
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