East China Sea Dispute: Context, Claims And Issues – OpEd

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There are many issues in dispute between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Japan. The East China Sea (ECS) dispute has been politically and legally influenced and exploited. Both the countries are tied with this issue but not making any resolution. Their foreign policy is not productively dealing with the issue. Political stature of these countries is not holding the issue as per its demand. Their behavior is entirely diplomatic leading towards chaos for both the parties of dispute.

ECS territorial dispute is gaining an increasingly central role in China-Japanese relations. It is crucial to the political affirmation of both countries, for which the main sea routes crossing the ECS offer vital arteries for trade and energy imports. Tensions over disputed territorial claims in the ECS have escalated significantly in the past years – particularly (2009-2018), between the nations of China and Japan (Mattes, 2016). Natural resources and geo-strategic importance of ECS is the main cause of disputes among the two neighboring countries.

Japanese and Chinese both have attempted to resolve the issues through international law, but there are two different aspects of the dispute that need to be addressed under international law: the maritime delimitation of the continental shelf and the delimitation of the EEZ. Though this may sound deceptively simple, both issues fall under different legal systems (Wu & Zhang, 2010).

Aforesaid two nations have demonstrated their willingness, politically and militarily, to reinforce their respective, overlapping maritime claims in the ECS (Chansoria, 2018). The pervasive showing of arms and political threats being exchanged between China and Japan over this issue has consistently gripped world news headlines over the past many years.

In context of the ECS, Chinese policy is based on strategic prevention that include diplomatic, armed forces, trade and industry, geographically, and scientific and technical mechanism of state power. China’s conception is still extra extensive and takes military and non-military mechanisms of state power (Wu & Zou, 2015).Within Japanese domestic politics, the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands is not disputed: all major political parties consider the islands to be Japanese territory (Deans 2000; Hirano 2014).

In 1968, following the discovery of nearby underwater natural resources in the 1960, the islands that were previously considered unimportant to either nation became incredibly valuable and sparked competing claims. Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the ECS were unclaimed when Japan asserted her rights over them in 1895 (Pan, 2007). The Japanese sovereignty on the island is legally based on the 1895 terra nullius principle in terms of current international Law. On the other hand, China claims that historical records prove the area has been it’s since the era of Ming Dynasty (Arai, 2015). Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, occupied by Japan, claimed by China (Wiegnad, 2015) are relatively close to the Chinese mainland (Scoville, 2015).

This territorial dispute in the ECS between China and Japan are increasingly becoming a flashpoint in East Asia (Kim S., 2012). Political and bilateral relations between China and Japan have been tainted for several decades due to this dispute (Wiegnad, 2015). Japan and China need to stabilize their bilateral relations on Senkaku dispute, but Japanese policy is based on her alliance with the US (McDevitt & Lea, 2013). Overlapping maritime claims between China and Japan in the ECS has been a longstanding issue. 

The dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu in the ECS regarded as one of the most complicated territorial conflicts of the world today. China and Japan are the dominant political and economic forces in the Asia Pacific region. China clearly seems intent on challenging the status quo of Senkaku/Diaoyu island, and it may even to some extent have successfully done so, in that the Japanese position that there is no dispute to negotiate over seems less viable than ever. The dispute over the islands has become intense since the Japanese government declared the purchase of the islands from a private owner in 2012. After that the imposition of an ADIZ was the hottest Chinese move to assert its claim before the end of 2013, but it remains to be seen how much it will really change. It is also true that all other states neighboring the ECS (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) already had such zones. Japan’s at its closest is only 81 miles away from China’s coast and thus extends over China’s EEZ (Jacobsen, 2014). 

In the recent years the conflict over the Senkaku Island has assumed different connotations and global importance, involving in a conflict the two biggest economies in Asia, with the passive involvement of US. China and Japan have the most important economy in Asia. The relations between the ideologies and the economies are covering a particular role in the Senkaku Island issue.

Senkaku/Diayou islands in the ECS are also very beneficial for China and Japan from the economic perspective (Metraux, 2013). This island chain has several rich resources of oil and gas, there is also a key shipping International maritime route with surrounded rich fishing grounds (Reinhard, 2014). The ECS, against this background, is important not just for China and Japan but also for the outside powers from India and Australia to the United State (US) and South Korea because what happens there will impinge on the power equilibrium in the Asia-Pacific and on the international maritime order (Chansoria, 2018).

ECS border demarcation disputes have ramifications for China and a few nations around the region in SCS (Reinhard., 2013). Chinese have a strong conduct with regards to their center’s national eminence, amid the regional question in the South and East China Seas (Zhao S. Q., 2016). Small incidents happened when in September 2010, conflict between China and Japan on a China’s fisherman inductions in the zone near Senkaku Islands confirmed strains over this regional issue. Chinese increasing energy quest has provoked solid enthusiasm for resource cause from the continental shelf that keeps running under the East China Sea (Smith, 2012)The question is raised here whether China or Japan have similar thoughts about legally safe position on disputed inhabited islands (Pan, 2007). China has shown firmed stand on their traditional stance by blacklisting Japanese products in the consequence of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island struggle in 2012 (Kilian, 2015). Determination of island regional issues can benefit significantly from a basic evaluation of how other little islands, additionally challenged, have had their status determined in non-zero-total ways (Baldacchino, 2016).The historical backdrop of the Senkaku Islands inspection is additionally connected with China and further to the more extensive chronicled question about Japan`s past animosity against China.

Chinese policies are based on conducting flights over the disputed islands and entering in the Japanese ADIZ. Japan warns that China should stop its boats, naval or civilian, from entering the territorial waters around the island; otherwise an action will evoke Japan to increase intensity on the dispute. (Favel, 2010) China’s thoughts about strategic prevention are comparatively based on new weaponry system. Justice can be complex on the territorial issue from legal consideration; some components have answers of the questions on origin point of view which are the fair and offer possible ownership solution. Implementation and interpretations of UNCLOS and policy of “Acquisitive Prescription”, reflect on the Treaty of San Francisco Peace refers to Japanese control over the Senkaku/Diayou dispute (Drifte, 2016). Some Chinese authors describe that international law is based on narrow perception when it reflects the Shimonoseki’s Treaty in 1895 and is unrelated to the control of Japan (Lin, 2016).Huge supplies of both oil and gas and control of these resources might be of vast use to the victor in this clash, but future economic benefits are only part of the story (Metraux, 2013). Sovereignty of these islets might influence about 40,000 km of nearby Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as shown in Figure-2 vicinity and natural resources (oil and gas) control  also confer ownership to both parties (Pan, 2007) 

The Japanese consider actual and potential Chinese power, in the form of the world’s biggest economy, largest population and growing armed forces, as more formidable than its own power and a threat to its regional status. Consequently, the Japanese have sought to balance against Chinese power by steadfastly defending their sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Whilst the Chinese have dozens of maritime disputes with numerous neighbors in the South and East China Seas, the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute receives the most attention and remains the most likely to escalate into conflict (Lee-Brown, 2014, p. 30).

Both, Japan and China are anxious due to demand of great need of supplies of oil and gas control and these resources may be of a huge use to the victor in this Senkaku dispute (Metraux, 2013). Other aspects of this kind highlight the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute like a contest for sites of economic and tactical significance (Koo M. G., 2009). The naval force of China is creating a submarine base near the Senkaku which is of great concern from Japanese point of view (Metraux, 2013). Regular Chinese surveying activities rankle the Japanese over the ECS, while Japan claims territorial belongings calls its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). On the other hand, not only the US carves up Japan’s concerns on the East China Sea dispute but also the rising of Chinese maritime and air capacities (Smith, 2012). Japan has also reinforced its navel force in the last several years. According to naval expert James Hardy, US support Japan navy as supplied the aircraft caries and offensive firepower which is highly equipment of war (James H. , 2013). 

An incident happened on 11th September 2012, when Japan government purchased the islands from its private owners. On the same day, riots occurred in 52 cities in China against the purchase. People began to attack Japanese cars, Japanese shops. The dispute has become more intense because Chinese people were unhappy with this act of Japan. They have announced to refuse to buy Japanese goods.  In the light of above mentioned description about Senkaku/Diayou territorial dispute, it seems that both nations will take this issue as long as they can resolve it. They consider their sovereignty on line on this dispute island, due to get beneficial purpose and illustrate their stability in the region. 

Chinese government’s main security concern is maritime, its military buildup is concentrated in the naval field and Beijing is seeking to convert its fleet from a green-water into a blue-water navy with the acquisition of destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers. This, in part, accounts for the constant intrusion of Chinese vessels and warships in the EEZ in waters near to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea. Since 2012, the number of skirmishes involving the Chinese and Japanese naval forces intensified considerably, reaching their zenith with the unilateral declaration of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone over the disputed Senkaku Island in November 2013. As a direct result of this, between 2014 and 2016, Japan intercepted a record number of Chinese aircraft close to its territorial waters, above all in the vicinity of Okinawa, where, in September 2016, Japan’s Air Self-Defense force detected more than 40 Chinese bombers (López i Vidal, 2017, p. 7).”

Politically, Chinese policy is based on strategic prevention include diplomatic, armed forces, trade and industry, geographically, and scientific and technical mechanism of state power.  China’s conception is still extra extensive and takes military and non-military mechanisms of state power (Wu & Zou, 2015). China declares the opening of air traffic limitations in November 2013 building on the ECS, ADIZ binding the largest part of the East China Sea as shown in Figure.2. The act has been become an attempt from China to force Japan to acknowledge that dispute between Beijing and Tokyo (Baldacchino, 2016) Cold politics and hot economic existing paradox provide a narrow understanding about china’s behavior towards Japan on the Island. Furthermore, Japan’s thought that fails to explain China’s rational behavior on the sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diayou as it matters is necessary for maritime security and economic interest (Jash, 2016). China’s expanding interest for energy which has provoked solid enthusiasm for resource cause from the continental shelf that keeps running under the East China Sea. Additionally, the rising numerous Chinese nautical offices, and also the non-military personnel offices arrange the collaborations in the ECS amongst Japanese and Chinese interests (Smith, 2012).

Sovereignty is at the heart of the dispute. Both sides vehemently claim sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the surrounding waters  (Reinhard, 2014). The core meaning of sovereignty is “supreme authority within a temtory,a state that has sovereignty must have authority, meaning a specific right to rule, or “legitimacy.”  Sovereignty encompasses “territoriality,” or strict borders, which must be recognized by outsiders (Natzke, 2014). By this standard, neither China nor Japan has a strong case for ownership. Until Japan annexed the Senkaku/DiaoyuIslands in 1895, neither country effectively administered them, nor distinctly marked them as part of their country or territory. Neither did either country settle people on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands or prepare to defend them. Because of the uncertainty surrounding knowledge of the historical ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, both nations have put forth explanations as to why they were originally theirs.

At last but not the least, China’s every actions will affect world politics in the next decade. China with largest population and GDP causes fear for the world. Chinese assertive policies also look a horrible dream. Chinese foreign policy is very complex and need to understand. China is showing its assertive behavior from India, ECS. China’s OBOR project will provide rapid access of China to Europe, Middle and Africa. These all Chinese actions stimulate the scholars of the world to find the answer of this simple question that what does China want? The answer can be found through the China’s unique way of thinking about the world (Brown, 2017).

*About the authors:

  • Imran Altaf: MS Scholar at Jilin University, Changchun China, a student of International Relations at School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University. Research interests include China and Neighboring Countries Issues , Information Sharing, etc. Can be reached via email [email protected].
  • Nabel Akram: Master of hilosophy in political science and Former Research Assistant at University of Management and Technology Lahore.
  • Komal Tariq: Master in International Relations and Senior Teacher of Social Studies in The Educators.

Imran Altaf

Imran Altaf is a MS Scholar at Jilin University, Changchun China, a student of International Relations at School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University, with research interests include China and Neighboring Countries Issues , Information Sharing etc

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