East-South China Seas, Islands–Solutions?

EDITORIAL, 21 Apr 2014

#321 | Johan Galtung, 21 Apr 2014 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Nanjing University Conference

A Chinese proverb: better than giving a starving person a fish is teaching her to fish. So, not only solutions but how to solve conflicts: in the East China Sea between China and Japan over Diaoyu-Senkaku and between Korea and Japan over Dockdo-Takeshima; and in the South China Sea between China-Taiwan and Philippines-Vietnam-Malaysia-Brunei over the Nansha-Spratly islands. However, China-Taiwan can here be seen as one party with the same claims, and China has agreed to deal with ASEAN-Association of Southeast Asian Nations collectively, not with only four of the ten member states bilaterally. In short: China vs ASEAN.

The goals in these bilateral conflicts–conflict=incompatible goals!–is state sovereign rights not over mainlands but is-lands– essentially over their EEZs, exclusive economic zones 200 nautical miles from the coast base–to exploit live and non-live resources; fish, hydrocarbons, minerals. And sovereignty over a 12-mile zone–with air space–excluding others, their shipping lanes and flights.

BUT, the island has to support human settlement, (“land dominates sea”). Most do not–they are even reefs (one has the iconic name “Mischief Reef”)–some underwater when the tide is high. Hence the planting of flags, stationing of troops, naval exercises to establish claims. Wikipedia lists occupation of 15 islands, 34 reefs and seven banks-shoals by the four parties (not by Brunei).

For most of history they were terra nullius, belonging to nobody. But with fish, resources and shipping ever more demanded and the UN Law of the Sea of 1982 even offering EEZs, claims flourish. Of two types: positive “this is ours”, and negative “it is not yours”.

Thus, as long as Diaoyu-Senkaku belonged to a private Japanese family it was essentially terra nullius; but in 2012 the Japanese government purchased the islands and they became state property. China reacted immediately. One solution: re-privatize the islands.

For bilateral conflicts peace theory offers five outcomes:

either │(1)                                                  (5) both-and

│                               (4) compromise

│(3)                                                      (2) or



(1)-(2)–either mine or yours–is the typical state system outcome in sovereignty conflicts. For that the states have two instruments:

military: by might, fight it out, the winner decides the outcome;

juridical: by right, decide by legal means who is right and who is not.

The two methods allocate all to one, nothing to the other, the loser.

(4)–compromise–is the outcome of the third instrument of the state:

diplomacy: by compromise (in-between), trading (you win that conflict, I the other), ambiguity (I interpret to my advantage, you to yours).

(3)-(5)—-neither-nor and both-and require another, rare, instrument:

creativity: by a new reality that accommodates all legitimate goals.

Important, but abstract: now from peace theory to peace practice.

In East China Sea unilateral possession leaves a festering wound. But compromises might work: dividing the island(s); time-sharing, 5-10 years each; or live resources to one, non-live to the other. Neither-nor worked for a long time, and might work again, as re-privatization.

Much more creative is both-and, shared ownership, also by an East Asian Community–the Chinas, Koreas and Japan–with a distribution profile for the proceeds like 40-45% to China, 40-45% to Japan or Korea, and 20-10% to the EAC. Such profiles would be heavily disputed, but transformation of the conflict to %s adding up to 100 should help.

But that vision is far from political reality when Japan reopens the traumas from 35 years colonial aggression against Korea and 15 years military aggression against China–with the Nanjing massacre. Hence, maybe first with Korea, inviting Japan to join when feeling ready.

In the South China Sea the both-and solution for the Spratlys would be ownership by an overarching China-ASEAN entity; with a more complex distribution profile. Several umbrellas exist, like Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. With and without the USA that in 2010 announced ‘strategic interest’ in the South China Sea, including free navy passage. That should be challenged and likened to free passage of slave ships and drug trade, except for self-defense in the 12-mile zone. For East Asia only.

China in 1955 claimed the Spratlys and “the whole of the South China Sea as Chinese territory based on its nine-dotted-line claim which encroaches into the territories claimed by other coastal states” (Arujunan Narayanam, in A Just World), and used force against Vietnam. But China signed the 1997 Kuala Lumpur Joint Statement of Heads of States-Governments for peaceful settlement of disputes; and the 2002 Phnom Penh Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Points 5 and 6 mention trust, restraint and “settlement by juridical means”. But adjudicating ambiguous and contested history-geography may be [1] impossible and [2] undesirable, leading to nothing new.

From 500-1500 AD South China Sea was a Chinese lake used for the Silk Lane by ship, far more important than by road; then conquered by Portugal-England. A 500-year old claim, or longer, is not law. But UN accepted a 2000-year old claim by Israel–up to a point: 1967. The West had treated the Jews atrociously. And China atrociously.

China’s yin-yang both-and philosophy opened for communism and capitalism, for growth and distribution, and should easily accommodate sovereignty and shared sovereignty. Immensely creative Deng Xiaoping said: “Our generation is not wise enough /for the South China Sea/; the next generation will certainly be wiser”. That means this decade.

Noiseless electric scooters pass by, once a vision-today reality. So also one day an SCSC, a South China Sea Community by and for peace.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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6 Responses to “East-South China Seas, Islands–Solutions?”

  1. Alberto Portugheis says:

    The fish is very important to everybody, because it feeds us and it makes money. But for rulers, arms are more “productive” than fish and keep more people occupied; this is why Johan, you write: “Hence the planting of flags, stationing of troops, naval exercises to establish claims.”
    In fact “solutions” to politicians means to politicians the opposite to what it means to us. We seek ways of avoiding the use of military power and they only dream armed conflicts.

    I don’t blame them. If I was the President or Prime Minister of a country, I’d have no option than to act the same way as all those Presidents and Prime Ministers I criticize.

    Furthermore, being in charge of a country that does not produce and sell arms, bombs, air-fighters, etc, etc, makes no difference whatsoever. Presidents and Prime Ministers who import Toys of Death also benefit MUCH MORE than if they imported fish.

  2. satoshi says:

    Allow me to raise three main questions, among others, as mentioned below:

    The first paragraph of Article 33 (Chapter VI Pacific Settlement of Dispute) of the UN Charter provides some several ways of resolving an international dispute in the peaceful manner: “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”
    – Why do China and Japan not act in accordance with the above paragraph of Article 33?

    The first paragraph of Article 35 in the same chapter in the UN Charter stipulates, “Any Member of the United Nations may bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34, to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly.”
    – Why does China or Japan not bring their dispute to the attention of the Security Council and/or of the General Assembly? (It is reported that the Japanese government denies the existence of the dispute with China over the Senkaku/Dioayu Islands. If that is the case, let Japan prove, in front of UNSC and/or of UNGA, if there is no dispute with China over the Islands. Also, let China prove, in front of the same UN organ(s), if there is a dispute with Japan over the same islands. And then, let the international community, including UNSC and/or UNGA, respond to or judge the arguments of these two parties.)

    The second paragraph of Article 33 stipulates, “The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.”
    – Why does the Security Council not call upon the parties (i.e. China and Japan) to settle their dispute by the paragraph on of the same article? (Besides, China is one of the permanent Members of the Security Council. Is there any reason for China dare not to bring about the case to discuss at UNSC ? Or does China deem unnecessary to call upon Japan to settle their dispute at UNSC in accordance with the above mentioned second paragraph of Article 33?)

    • Johan Galtung’s reply:

      The UN Charter does not have a good understanding of conflict solution–no negative and positive transcendence–only who should do it.


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  4. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Johan,

    I admire your faith in the United Nations !!!!!!! your gentle criticism stops at”The UN Charter does not have a good understanding of conflict solution…..”, a comment I could never make.

    To me the UN Charter has “PERFECT” understanding of conflict solution. However, the Charter also has perfect understanding of “HOW NOT TO FIND SOLUTIONS”.

    The UN organisation (I call it Club) was founded in 1942. They 3 years to complete the destruction of Europe and beyond, before they called it a day. That is, a temporary stop to what the warmongering actors or comedians (known as “politicians”) of Round 2 of the International Armed Games (officially known as World War II) started on a succession of smaller Armed Games the world over.

    Today, thanks to the UN, we have over 200 Games of War being played all over the place.

    How much better the world would be WITHOUT United Nations.