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Mainstream, VOL L, No 49, November 24, 2012

Northeast Asia Island Conflict

Saturday 1 December 2012, by Harish Chandola


Japan has got embroiled in disputes over islands with China, the Russian Federation and South Korea. These disputes, historical in nature, have become acute recently, with no settlement in sight. The latest is between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets in East China Sea, which the Japanese call Senkaku islands, close to their Ryukyu islands, near Okinawa and north of Formosa (Taiwan).

Territorial dispute also broke out between Japan and the Russian Federation in July this year over the ownership of the Kuril Islands, which Japan calls its northern territories, where the Russian Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, landed on July 3, drawing strong condemnation from Japan. The islands are administered by the Russian Federation and claimed by Japan.

South Korea also entered into a conflict with Japan when its President, Lee Myung Bak, landed on August 10 on Dokdo, which the Japanese call Takashima. This led Japan to threaten that it would take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. In July Japan laid territorial claims on Dokdo in a defence white paper, trigerring strong protests from South Korea.

Japan has thus suddenly run into many territorial disputes with its neigbours. It aappears that Japan has sped up the pace of exploring the ocean resources in recent years, especially after Yoshihiko Noda became the Prime Minister last August. He stressed in a recent speech at Waseda University that Japan’s top strategy for reviving the country should be ocean exploitation. He said Japan owns an exploitable ocean area 12 times that of its land territory and pointed out that the ocean area under Japanese control is the sixth biggest in the world, while the area of deep sea at a depth of 5000 metres under Japan’s jurisdiction is the largest worldwide. Japan’s decision to focus on ocean resource exploitation will make it maintain a tough stance on the disputed islands.

Noda and his Democratic Party of Japan are comparatively weak domestically, especially in matters of the country’s economic recovery. He wants to show his trength in the diplomatic field by demonstrating his administration’s achievement in making territorial claims to win support in the coming Japanese elections.

THE dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands broke out in April 2012, when a Right-wing Japanese politician, Shintaro Ishihara, the Governor of Tokyo, initiated a scheme for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to “purchase” the Diaoyu Islands and launched a high-profile fund-raising campaign for collecting public donations for the purpose. The Japanese Goverenment then, on September 10, 2012, spoke of the “purchase” of the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated Nan Xiaodao and Bei Xiaodao islets and the implementation of the so-called “nationalisation” of these islands. China strongly opposed the Japanese attempt to purchase Chinese territory.
Then two Chinese ships arrived in the waters around Diaoyu and affiliated islets and started patrolling, to demonstrate China’s jurisdiction. On Ausust 15, seven Chinese activists were detained by the Japanese authorities for landing on the island. Then on August 19, 150 Japanese lawmakers and members of Right-wing groups went to the waters surrounding the Diaoyu islands to mourn the Japanese soldiers who died in Wold War II. These events have rapidly heightened tensions in northeast Asia.

China maintains the Diaoyu islands were under its sovereignty since the time of its Ming Empire, in 1368, and also during the Qing Empire from 1644 onwards. It says the book, Shun Feng Xiang Song (Voyage with a Tail Wind), published in the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1403-1424 AD), recorded the names of the islands that Chinese voyagers passed during their trips from Fujiann to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, including the “Diaoyu Islet” and “Chikan Islet” (known as “Chiwei Islet” now). Chouhai Tubian (an illustrated Compendium on Maritime Secutity), compiled by Hu Zongxian, the Governor for war against pirates in the Ming Dynasty, marked the coastal islands that were under the jurisiction of the Ming Dynasty for naval defence, which included the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets. China possesses a number of historical documents to prove its sovereignity over the Diaoyu Islands.

From a geographical perspective, the Diaoyu Island and its afffiliated islets are separated by the Okinawa Trough, as deep as over 2000 metres, from the Japanese Ryukyu Islands to the east. A map of China’s east coast from Hong Kong to the Laodong Bay, compiled by the British Navy in 1877, identified the Diaoyu Islands as being affiliated to China’s Taiwan and distinctly separated them from Japan’s Nansei Islands, or the Ryukyu Islands.

In January 1895, as the Chinese Qing Dynasty’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese war was all but cetain, the Japanese Government occupied the Diaoyu Islands and “incorporated” them into its Okinawa Prefecture. In April 1895 by signing the unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan forced the Qing Dynasty to cede “the island of Formosa (Taiwan), together with all islands belonging to Formosa, to Japan. In 1900 the Japanese Government renamed the Diaoyu Islands as Senkaku Islands. The Treaty of Peace with Japan, commonly known as the Treaty of San Francisco, was igned by Japan, the United States and other countries on September 8, 1951, agreeing to place the southwestern islands south of the 29th paralllel of north latitude under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority. In December 1953 the Ryukyu Government (of Japan) under the United States’ trusteeship, issued a proclamation defining its geographical boundary lines, with the Diaoyu Islands being clearly included.
On September 18, 1951, the Chinese Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, made a solemn statement on behalf of his government that the Treaty of Peace with Japan, signed in San Francisco, was illegal and invalid and could not be recognised by China as China was excluded from its prepa-ration, formulation and signing. On December 30, 1971, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that the signing of the Okinawa Revision Agreement would not be tolerated and it was illegal for the United States and Japan to include the Diaoyu Islands in territories reversed to Japan.

Though maintainig that China has indisputaable historial evidence to support its claim, it has said that a solution should be sought through diplomatic negotiations on the basis of respecting facts.

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