Posts Tagged ‘Takeshima’

Japan to assert greater control over privately owned land on remote islands

November 26, 2017


The government will soon begin contemplating steps to enhance control over all privately owned land on remote islands to bolster national security and protect resources within the nation’s territorial waters, a source with the government said.

The government plans to set up a panel in fiscal 2018 starting next April to discuss land registration by owners who have neglected to do so, and imposing restrictions on land sales to foreign people in such areas, the source said Saturday.

The government is concerned that leaving land out of its control could raise security concerns or other issues, such as foreign people setting up bases from which to engage in fish poaching.

According to the Cabinet Office, there are about 480 remote islands along the perimeter of the nation’s border, excluding the South Korean-held group of islets in the Sea of Japan called Takeshima by Japan and Dokdo by South Korea, and the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Of those islands, the government — beginning early next fiscal year — plans to look at 98 with privately owned land and will determine how many have lots whose owners are unknown, the source said.

Many of those 98 islands are in the Pacific Ocean or within the administrative boundaries of Kagoshima or Okinawa prefectures.

The source said the ownership of land becomes uncertain when those who inherit remote properties fail to complete land registration procedures. In some cases, the registered land owner has remained unchanged for 100 years.

The acquisition of land on remote islands by foreigners is also a concern for the government. In 2013, ruling party lawmakers questioned the purchase by a South Korean company of land near a Maritime Self-Defense Force facility on Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture.

During parliamentary deliberation in October 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the acquisition of land in sensitive areas by non-Japanese is “an important issue concerning national security.”

Under the national security strategy decided in 2013, the government vowed to “proactively engage in the protection” of remote islands near national borders to ensure Japan’s “territorial integrity.”

As of the end of last March, the government had declared 273 uninhabited islands as national property.

Territorial issues concerning far-flung islands first began to gain national prominence after Tokyo’s dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands blew up in 2010, when a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japan Coast Guard boats in the waters near the islands.

In 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government effectively nationalized the uninhabited islands by purchasing three of them from the private Japanese owner.

China and Taiwan, however, also claim the islands, which they call Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.


China, South Korea expresses deep regret as Japan leaders pay tribute at wartime shrine including convicted war criminals

August 15, 2016



Monday, 15 August 2016 07:12 GMT
Most Popular

* New Defence Minister avoids Yasukuni visit, PM sends offering

* Emperor expresses “deep remorse” over war

* South Korea expresses “deep concern and regret” (Recasts with South Korean reaction, details, paragraphs 1, 4-6, 14)

By Kento Sahara and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO, Aug 15 (Reuters) – South Korea expressed deep regret on Monday after dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited a shrine for war dead, which Seoul and Beijing see as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime militarism, on the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two defeat.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering but did not personally go to the Yasukuni Shrine. Visits to the shrine outrage Japan’s Asian neighbours because it honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with war dead.

Ties between China and Japan, Asia’s two largest economies, have been strained in recent days after a growing number of Chinese coastguard and other government ships sailed near disputed islets in the East China Sea.

Territory disputes and historical issues also periodically chill relations between Japan and South Korea.

“(We) express deep concern and regret that responsible political leaders … are again paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine that glorifies the history of the war of aggression,” South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said a morning visit by South Korean lawmakers to a disputed set of islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, was “extremely regrettable” and that Japan would protest strongly.

Abe has not visited the shrine in person since December 2013, sending ritual offerings instead.

“He told me to come and my visit was out of respect to those who gave their lives for the country,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, an aide in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who gave the offering in Abe’s name as LDP president rather than premier.

New Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, who has been accused by China of recklessly misrepresenting history after she declined to say whether Japanese troops massacred civilians in China during World War Two, was visiting troops in Djibouti and unable able to go to the shrine as she has in the past.


Emperor Akihito, speaking at a ceremony honouring victims of the war, expressed “deep remorse” over the conflict fought in the name of his father, Hirohito. He first used the phrase at the memorial service last year on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. Some saw it as a subtle rebuke to the conservative Abe, who favours a less apologetic tone.

“Reflecting on our past with a feeling of deep remorse, I earnestly hope the ravages of war will never be repeated,” said Akihito, 82. The emperor hinted in a rare video address last week at wanting to abdicate in a few years.

Abe vowed at the same ceremony that Japan would work for world peace.

“Going forward, and sticking to this firm pledge while facing history with humility, we will make every effort to contribute to world peace and prosperity and the realization of a world where everyone can live without fear,” he said.

Among the roughly 70 lawmakers who visited the Shrine were Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi and Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa. (Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Takaya Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Nataly Pak in SEOUL; Writing by Elaine Lies and Linda Sieg,; Editing by Paul Tait)


Tuesday, August 09, 2016 12:12 PM

Hiroshima Marks the 70th Anniversary of Atomic Bomb ( Source- Getty images)

Hiroshima Marks the Anniversary of Atomic Bomb 

Tokyo :The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Tuesday marked 71 years since its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with its mayor lauding a visit by US President Barack Obama to Hiroshima earlier this year.

A bell tolled as thousands of people, including ageing survivors and relatives of victims, observed a minute’s silence at 11:02 am (0732 IST), the exact moment the of the blast.

The attack came three days after the US dropped the first ever atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which ultimately killed 140,000 people.

Some 74,000 people died in the initial explosion, while thousands of others perished months or years later from radiation sickness.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue lauded Obama’s landmark May visit to Hiroshima — the first ever by a sitting US president. “Knowing the facts becomes the starting point for thinking about a future free of nuclear weapons,” Taue said, calling on other world leaders to visit his city.

Japan — A young girl looks at candle-lit paper lanterns with written message at Nagasaki Peace Park on the eve ahead of the 71st anniversary activities.

Local officials and those who survived the bombing called for strict adherence to Japan’s post-war tradition of pacifism and were critical of the Japanese government. “The government of Japan, while advocating nuclear weapons abolition, still relies on nuclear deterrence,” the mayor said, calling it a “contradictory state of affairs”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his address in Nagasaki, called on world leaders to honor the global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. “We must not allow a repeat of the horrible experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that happened 71 years ago,” Abe said.

Abe has moved to extend the scope of Japan’s military and deepen the nation’s alliance with Washington in the face of threats from China’s expanding military strength and unpredictable North Korea. North Korea last week test fired a ballistic missile that landed in waters off Japan’s coast for the first time.

First Published: Tuesday, August 09, 2016 12:01 PM

Japan PM picks nationalist Tomomi Inada as defence chief

August 3, 2016


© AFP | New Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada answers questions from reporters in Tokyo on August 3, 2016

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday picked a close confidante with staunchly nationalist views as the new defence minister, a move likely to raise concerns in China and South Korea.

Lawyer-turned-politician Tomomi Inada, 57, was formerly policy chief of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and shares his hawkish views on Japan’s 20th-century history.

She becomes the second woman to oversee the defence ministry after Yuriko Koike, who served briefly in 2007 and was elected governor of Tokyo on Sunday.

Inada, a four-term lawmaker who replaces Gen Nakatani, was named to the post as part of a partial cabinet after the LDP’s big win in upper house parliamentary elections last month.

Her appointment came on the same day North Korea, a major security headache for Japan, fired a ballistic missile that landed just 250 kilometres (155 miles) off its coast — hitting Japanese-controlled waters for the first time.

Inada, a mother of two, has a history of irritating Asian neighbours such as China and South Korea.

She has been a regular visitor to Tokyo’s contentious Yasukuni war shrine and has played a leading role in an LDP study group launched last year to review Japan’s history, reportedly taking up controversial issues such as the Nanjing massacre and the Tokyo war crimes trials.

In 2011 she and two other conservative Japanese politicians had planned to visit Ulleung island, the closest South Korean territory to the Seoul-controlled Dokdo islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), which are known in Japan as Takeshima.

They flew to a Seoul airport to push Tokyo’s claim to the disputed islands and refused to fly back home for hours after their entry to South Korea was denied.

Japan is also embroiled in long-running territorial disputes with China and Russia.

Inada appeared to take a careful approach in initial remarks Wednesday.

“I will give my utmost in order to ensure peace and security by cooperating with nations that share interests and values,” she told reporters, specifically citing Japan’s security alliance with the United States.

Asked whether she planned to visit the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, she declined to give a straight answer, saying that such a decision is a “matter of the heart”.

In the cabinet revamp announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe left most key posts untouched. Fumio Kishida, the foreign minister, and Taro Aso, finance minister and deputy prime minister, were among those keeping their jobs.

Abe also tapped Suga, his right-hand man, to stay on.

Besides Inada, other new picks include Hiroshige Seko for economy, trade and industry minister and previous environment minister Tamayo Marukawa as the minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

South Korea, Japan resume annual defense talks

August 6, 2015


Seoul (AFP) —South Korea and Japan Wednesday resumed their annual defense dialogue, after last year’s meeting was cancelled due to diplomatic strains over historical and territorial disputes.

Seoul’s defence ministry said the bilateral meeting — held every year since 1994 except for 2014 — began in Seoul between delegations led by Yoon Soon-Gu, director general of international policy at Seoul’s defense ministry, and his Japanese counterpart Atsuo Suzuki.

The officials discussed North Korea as well as Japan’s recent moves to revise its pacifist constitution, a defense ministry spokesman said.

Seoul reacted negatively to Japan’s proposal for the signing of new bilateral accords on military information and logistical support, he said.

South Korea also expressed concern about the possibility of Japan exercising the doctrine of “collective self-defense” around the Korean peninsula without its consent.

Tokyo is trying to expand the role of its military so that it can come to the aid of allies who are under attack.

Ties between the Asian neighbours have been in the doldrums for several years, with South Korea insisting that Japan apologize and make amends for abuses during its 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.

In particular, it wants Tokyo to address the issue of Korean women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

Japan insists the issue of the so-called “comfort women” was settled in a 1965 agreement that restored diplomatic ties.

The two countries are also at odds over ownership of the sparsely populated Dokdo islets — known as Takeshima in Japan — that sit in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Recent moves by Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to strengthen his country’s military and expand its role have been watched extremely warily in South Korea.

Time For China To Embrace Our Best Asian and International Practice: Dispute Settlement By Rule of Law and With Arbitration if Necessary

June 10, 2015

States in South and South-east Asia have settled disputes through the international legal process. China should do likewise, and consider consensual methods such as mediation.

The Straits Times

China has refused to participate in an arbitration launched by the Philippines regarding their disputes in the South China Sea. Japan has refused to acknowledge that it has a dispute with China regarding Senkaku/Diaoyu. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) has rejected Japan’s offer to refer their dispute over Dokdo/Takeshima to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the grounds that there is no dispute. These developments may give the impression that Asians are against submitting their disputes to the international legal process. Such an impression would be incorrect.

Situation in South-east Asia

THE countries in South-east Asia have a positive track record of referring their disputes to the international legal process. Let me briefly discuss some of the most important cases.

  • The Preah Vihear case

The first case submitted by two South-east Asian countries to the ICJ was the dispute over the temple, Preah Vihear, between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia brought the case to the court in 1959 and, in 1962, ICJ awarded sovereignty over the temple to Cambodia.

However, the court was not asked and therefore did not demarcate the boundary between the two countries, around the temple or rule on the ownership of the land around the temple. This omission would lead to misunderstanding and border skirmishes between the two countries.

In 2011, Cambodia surprised everyone by applying to the ICJ and requesting the court to interpret its 1962 judgment. In particular, Cambodia requested the court to declare that it had sovereignty over the vicinity of the temple. The court agreed to accept the case and found that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole promontory on which the temple is located. The judgment has been accepted by the two countries and peace has returned to the Cambodian/Thai border.

  • The Sipadan and Ligitan case

Indonesia and Malaysia had a sovereignty dispute over two islands, Sipadan and Ligitan.

The two governments agreed to refer the dispute to the ICJ in 1998. In its 2002 judgment, the court awarded sovereignty over the two islands to Malaysia. Although Indonesia was very disappointed with the judgment, it has accepted it.

  • The Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh case

In 1847, the British government in Singapore took possession of the island known as Pedra Branca, in Portuguese, and Pulau Batu Puteh, in Malay. The British built a lighthouse on the island in 1850 and it was inaugurated in 1851.

From that time until 1979, no one had disputed Singapore’s (as a successor to British) sovereignty over the island. However, in 1979, Malaysia published a new map which, among other things, claimed the island as Malaysian territory.

Although Singapore was in possession of the island, it was willing to acknowledge that there was a dispute and suggested referring it to the ICJ.

In 2003, the two governments submitted the case to the court.  In its 2008 judgment, the ICJ awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh to Singapore, sovereignty over Middle Rocks to Malaysia and the low-tide elevation, South Ledge, to the state in whose territorial sea it is located.

  • The Myanmar-Bangladesh case

Another Asean country, Myanmar, had a dispute with its neighbour, Bangladesh, on their maritime boundaries.

When years of negotiations proved unsuccessful, the two governments agreed in 2009 to refer their dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The parties requested the tribunal to draw their maritime boundaries, with respect to the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. In 2012, ITLOS delivered its judgment which was accepted by both parties.

Situation in South Asia

THE positive attitude of the Asean countries is shared by the countries of South Asia. Let me cite a few examples.

Bangladesh has settled its maritime- boundary dispute with Myanmar through ITLOS. In 2009, Bangladesh initiated arbitral proceedings against India, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, concerning their disputed maritime boundary. India agreed to participate in the arbitration. Last year, the Arbitral Tribunal issued its award which has been accepted by both parties.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been difficult since the painful partition of British India in 1947 into the two countries.

One of the difficult bilateral issues is how the waters of the Indus River would be shared between them.

Due to the facilitation of the World Bank, the first prime minister of India, Mr Pandit Nehru, and General Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan, signed a treaty on the Indus River. In the event of a dispute which cannot be settled by negotiation, they agreed to refer the dispute to international arbitration.

In 2010, Pakistan invoked the treaty and referred a dispute with India, over the building of dams by India, to arbitration. In 2013, the Arbitral Tribunal ruled that India has the right to divert the waters of Kishenganga River, subject to a minimum flow which India must release into the river. Alternative ways to settle disputes THE above survey shows that Asians in South-east Asia and South Asia have referred some of their disputes to arbitration or adjudication. Five Asian countries, namely, Cambodia, India, Japan, the Philippines and Timor Leste, have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of ICJ. Almost all Asian countries are parties to UNCLOS.

Some Asians, especially in North-east Asia, are however reluctant to submit their sovereignty disputes over territory to either arbitration or adjudication. They do not like the fact that the legal process is adversarial and the outcome is a zero-sum game.

I would therefore like to suggest the following alternative methods of dispute settlement: fact-finding, mediation, conciliation and joint development.

  • Fact-finding

In some cases, a dispute between two states is primarily about the facts and not about the law. The Land Reclamation case between Malaysia and Singapore is such an example.

In that case, Malaysia alleged that Singapore’s land reclamation activities in the Strait of Johor had intruded into Malaysian territory, caused damage to the marine environment and adversely affected the livelihood of Malaysian fishermen.

After launching arbitral proceedings against Singapore, Malaysia applied to ITLOS for provisional measures against Singapore. In its 2003 judgment, ITLOS rejected Malaysia’s request for provisional measures. Instead, the tribunal ordered the two governments to establish an independent group of four experts to verify the facts.

After a year-long study, the four experts submitted an unanimous report largely exonerating Singapore. The report was accepted by both governments. The two sides were able to negotiate an amicable settlement based on those findings of fact.

  • Mediation

Mediation is consensual in nature and it results in a win-win outcome.

An example of a successful mediation is the settlement of the protracted dispute between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement.

Following the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the two sides approached the former president of Finland, Mr Martti Ahtisaari, to mediate in their dispute. In a Nobel Prize-winning performance, Mr Ahtisaari succeeded in brokering a peace agreement in 2005.

  • Conciliation

Conciliation is also consensual and yields a win-win outcome.

Three of my good friends, Mr Hans Andersen of Iceland, Mr Jens Evensen of Norway and Mr Elliot Richardson of the United States, were members of a conciliation commission established by Iceland and Norway to settle a dispute over their continental shelves.

Mr Richardson was appointed by Iceland and Norway as the impartial chairman. The commission was able to make a proposal acceptable to both parties.

  • Joint development

Many years ago, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proposed that countries should put aside competing legal claims and concentrate instead on jointly developing the resources in the disputed territory and sharing them.

The fact that joint development can work is demonstrated by an agreement between Malaysia and Thailand to jointly develop the gas resources in the disputed area of their continental shelves in the Gulf of Thailand and sharing the benefits. The joint development between the two countries started in 1979 and has been a great success.

The Asian way

IN CONCLUSION, I wish to make three points.

First, Asians want their region to be peaceful, stable and prosperous. They want the rule of law to be strong and for all disputes between states to be settled peacefully, in accordance with the law and not on the basis that might is right.

Second, with the exception of China, Asians do not have a negative attitude towards settling their disputes by arbitration or adjudication. China should therefore reconsider its position in order to conform to the best Asian and international practice.

Third, in addition to arbitration and adjudication, we should also consider several consensual, win-win, methods of dispute settlement, such as fact-finding, mediation, conciliation and joint development.

The writer is chairman of the governing board of the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore.

Top diplomats set to meet to discuss China, Japan, South Korea summit

March 12, 2015

SEOUL Thu Mar 12, 2015 4:25am EDT

South Korea’s Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Lee Kyung-Soo (C) leads Japan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama (L) and China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin during the tenth Republic of Korea-Japan-China Trilateral Senior Foreign Officials’ Consultation at a hotel in central Seoul March 11, 2015.  Credit: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

(Reuters) – The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea are preparing to meet this month for their first talks in nearly three years, in a bid to resolve tension over Japan’s wartime past and discuss a three-way summit.

Japanese media reported that the foreign ministers would probably meet in Seoul on March 21 and 22, while China’s foreign ministry said it would be late March. South Korea said a ministers’ meeting is planned for this month, without confirming the dates.

“If the trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting is held soon, it will undoubtedly give us the opportunity to re-establish the groundwork for trust-building and common prosperity,” South Korea’s deputy foreign minister Lee Kyung-soo said.

Lee hosted a meeting of his counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday, saying their goal was to make “preparations for a successful foreign ministers’ meeting, upon which we may pave ways for the next step of trilateral cooperation”.

The last three-way summit was held in Beijing in May 2012.

An “initial consensus” on the foreign ministers’ meeting had not been reached easily, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

“China pays great attention to this foreign ministers’ meeting, and hopes it can be arranged in a spirit of proactively promoting cooperation, yet not avoiding problems,” Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Japan’s ties with China remain frosty despite Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time last November on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Abe has yet to have a formal two-way summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, although they sat down with U.S. President Barack Obama a year ago on the sidelines of a nuclear summit to discuss responses to North Korea’s military threats.

South Korea has accused Japan of trying to “undermine” an apology issued in 1993 to Asian women forced to work as wartime sex slaves in Japanese brothels, known as “comfort women”, by conducting a review of it last year.

Both South Korea and China have been angered by visits by Japanese government ministers, including Abe, to the Yasukuni Shrine, which they see as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Ties have also been strained by territorial rows.

China and Japan claim ownership of a tiny group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.

South Korea and Japan also have a separate dispute over islands that lie between their mainlands, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Clarence Fernandez)

The Island Dispute No One Is Talking About

February 23, 2015


While the South China Sea and Senkaku Island disputes are all the rage these days, South Korea and Japan’s conflict could be equally consequential.

By Galen Carpenter
The Nation

Acrimonious territorial disputes between East Asian nations involving largely uninhabited islands are nothing new, and they have received an abundance of attention from foreign policy officials and the news media. But nearly all the attention has focused on China’s quarrels with Vietnam, the Philippines, and other neighbors regarding the South China Sea, or on the even more dangerous confrontation between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Yet there is another nasty dispute that threatens the serenity of the region: the continuing feud between Japan and South Korea over two islets, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea. The quarrel may seem petty, primarily involving control of fishing waters, but given the damage that it is doing to bilateral relations between two prominent U.S. allies, it is a worrisome situation.

The territorial spat between Tokyo and Seoul has gone on for more than six decades. Just months after Japan signed a peace treaty in 1951 with the United States and other nations that it had fought in World War II, South Korea delineated a sea border that incorporated the two islands. Seoul proceeded to establish formal administrative control three years later. Japan objected, noting that it had officially claimed the area in 1905. That assertion probably intensified the irritation of South Koreans. It is impossible to understand the extent of the emotions on both sides without taking into account the troubled history between Japan and Korea. Koreans still fume about the humiliation of Tokyo’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and the often brutal colonial rule that followed. From the standpoint of South Koreans, the Japanese claim to Dokdo is simply another manifestation of that exploitive imperial land grab.

As noted, the two countries insist on different names for the islets. Indeed, they cannot even agree on the name for the body of water surrounding the rocks. To Japanese (and most of the world), it is the Sea of Japan, but South Koreans insist on calling it the East Sea.

Although the dispute over the islands has existed for decades, it has noticeably intensified over the past ten years after Tokyo explicitly laid claim to the territory in its annual defense reports. Seoul was angered by that move, but Japanese leaders were even more upset in 2012 when then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak became the first South Korean leader to make an official visit to the islands. Tokyo was sufficiently miffed to recall its ambassador from Seoul.

China’s Encirclement Could Spark War

October 11, 2014

By Anthony Fensom
The Diplomat

Growing tensions in the East and South China Seas have raised the risk of a “miscalculation” spilling over into a regional conflict. Amid confrontations between various Asian nations over disputed islands and territory, the power shift from West to East is seen having potentially explosive consequences.

The Diplomat’s Anthony Fensom spoke to Christian Wirth, a research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University Asia Institute, on the region’s maritime disputes involving China, Japan, South Korea and other nations and how they might be contained.

Analyst: China’s Encirclement Could Spark War
Image Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

The East, South China and Yellow Seas are seeing a number of confrontations currently, sparking fears of a new “Cold War” in Asia. Is this an accurate description and how real is the threat of war?

We associate the Cold War with a confrontation between two economically and socially isolated blocs, while now we have a huge country, China on the one side, and a de facto U.S.-led grouping on the other. But both are economically deeply interdependent. So if we’re talking about the conflict escalating beyond the crisis we’ve seen between Vietnam and China, or China and the Philippines for example, we would be talking about some involvement of the U.S. and its armed forces.

This could either be a clash such as during the 2001 Hainan Island incident, when a Chinese fighter jet hit a U.S. plane, or an instance where a U.S. ally gets into trouble with China and is seen as in need of being backed up, something which Washington is not really keen on getting involved in. But there might be some circumstances where Washington, for the sake of maintaining its reputation as a reliable ally and its power position in the Western Pacific, might not be able to stay out of such struggles.

The danger is that tensions are being ratcheted up, step by step. By having this overall tension heightened, there’s an increased likelihood of a small spark in one of the existing disputes igniting a bigger crisis. I’m not alarmist on certain clashes or the rise of China itself, but what we should be more concerned about is a general ignorance of increasing levels of fear. There seems to be a belief on all sides that as long as you keep up and increase deterrence, everything will be stable and safe, but that’s a risky calculation. To think that deterrence will decrease the likelihood of miscalculation and that nothing will happen, to me that is wishful thinking.

Given the economic importance of the region’s shipping lanes, how could tensions be reduced? 

It is the very essence of great power status that the more powerful an actor is, the more it can influence the overall situation and keep tensions down. So the biggest responsibilities lie with the U.S., followed by China and Japan, which need to take action to improve the situation. I think apart from being aware of the subjective insecurities that the other side feels, it would be helpful, for instance, if the U.S. would refrain from stoking additional Chinese fears through military surveillance around Hainan and the South China Sea, not the least because the ensuing unhealthy dynamic inevitably empowers hardliners in Beijing.

In terms of the law of the sea, yes, it might be true that the U.S. stance is justified and the U.S. Navy has the right to navigate the seas; however, what is at stake is not just the interpretation of legal principles, but an overall political atmosphere, which allows those governments involved in stand-offs over maritime territories to move toward cooperation and compromise. It would, for instance, increase the basic level of tension even more if the Chinese started to conduct the same military surveillance that the U.S. does in the South China Sea around Hawaii and naval bases on the U.S. West Coast.

On the Chinese side, what’s concerning is in the general stance on the South China Sea. The Chinese government should work toward putting its sweeping, unclear territorial claim into the terms of the existing law of the seas in order to make it manageable and amenable to negotiations. The way it stands now, it’s an unclear claim, so it’s very difficult to get a handle on it and this causes more insecurity on the part of the weaker claimants.

At the same time, in Northeast Asia, the tensions between China and Japan are the responsibility of both sides, too. The Chinese side could help to improve the situation by not just keeping up its top-down level of engagement but also by making sure that non-governmental communication can continue even during diplomatic crises. Due to the Chinese system, we have seen a near-complete breakdown of governmental and non-governmental communication and exchange during the 2010 and 2012 controversies. Even Chinese academics were discouraged from traveling to Japan. In times of crisis, in particular, you should have academics continue talking to each other, and have student friendship exchanges proceed.

On the Japanese side, leaders could help the Chinese government to keep nationalism at bay by not provoking anti-Japanese sentiments among people in China (and South Korea) through controversial statements on wartime history. The current government in particular, could do a much better job in this respect. It would also be helpful for the Japanese side to acknowledge that there exists a maritime territorial dispute between China and Japan – that would certainly alleviate the worst of the tensions we’re seeing at the moment.

You have suggested the United States, China and Japan should work together to resolve these issues?

Yes, but there’s a conundrum here, as you have these deep historical animosities between China and Japan. The three governments need to have this situation be stable, but the question is what stability really means. Certainly, part of this stability is provided by the presence of the United States, which has shaped international relations throughout the postwar period. But that U.S. presence, if it remains unchanged, also freezes the current situation.

So, on the one hand, you have the U.S. military presence potentially preventing armed conflict, but on the other, by freezing the status quo, also complicating a resolution of conflicts through reconciliation. And that’s a troublesome issue.

We’re talking about very small steps: when you have, for instance, Japanese initiatives for improving regional cooperation, these regularly cause considerable anxiety, not just in Washington but also among conservative circles in Tokyo. Fears that the U.S.-Japan alliance might be in danger, that Japan might move too close to Asia, and that an Asian or regional bloc might emerge, are always around the corner. These fears should be acknowledged and alleviated. Even if Sino-Japanese relations were to significantly improve, I don’t see Japan becoming part of an Asian bloc or ever getting close to China.

Looking at the Japan-Russia dispute over the Northern Territories/Kuril Islands, will this ever be resolved?

Unlike in 1956 when the Soviet Union and Japan were close to implementing an agreement, the U.S. is not opposed any more, if Russia and Japan were to find a compromise. But what’s still the same is that you have this East-West dividing line that cuts across the disputed islands. Whereas it was the Cold War split that inhibited a resolution in the past, negotiations are now complicated by the fact that Japan has to make a strong stance against Russia with regard to Ukraine, but that’s not everything.

In Japan, the conviction that ultimately all islands should be returned seems to persist. You could see that in the 2000-01 negotiations. Then, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the Japanese side the two smaller islands Shikotan and Habomai. The Japanese side, however, has consistently tried to come to an agreement where it gets more than two islands – eventually all four. You’ve also had over recent years Japanese leaders like Taro Aso suggest there could be a compromise where Japan gets three islands. But such proposals, even when made by powerful rightwing politicians like Aso, caused a considerable backlash and had to be abandoned.

That’s why I’m pessimistic about any significant change as there seems to be reluctance on the part of Japan to compromise. What will be necessary is to acknowledge that Japan lost the war and that, therefore, it can’t claim all four islands back. That seems to be really difficult to do.

How about the dispute between Japan and South Korea over the island of Takeshima/Dokdo?

I don’t see that being resolved anytime soon either. The only way to handle the dispute is to keep it low profile. While the Koreans will never give the islets up, Takeshima did not mean that much for Japan until 2005. Until rather recently, most people were not even aware that the dispute existed. It would be wisest for the Japanese side to shelve it and keep it away from the public sphere.

How might the current disputes impact on important economic ties?

The dispute between South Korea and Japan is quite unlikely to escalate that much. But during the crises of 2010 and 2012 between Japan and China, there were implications – we had anti-Japan riots and boycotts in China. Even though these were contained and/or co-opted by the Chinese government, there would be far greater negative consequences for economic ties if tensions were to increase. When nationalist currents and emotions run high, there’s not much space left for rational calculations about economic costs and benefits.

China and Japan are Australia’s top two trading partners, making any dispute between them a lose-lose situation for Australia. How might the Australian government approach such disputes?

To safeguard Australia’s economic and political interests, it would be very wise for Canberra to proceed on a path similar to the one pursued in the 90s, when Australia was leading in the creation of APEC and other regional bodies…having this enmeshment of not just China but all the regional powers, that’s one way to create stability and it would be quite a good way for Australia to play a leadership role.

There’s nothing to be lost by doing that, as opposed to Australia joining one side of a deepening rift or conflict, which would potentially be costly on the economic side and defense side. You might know where you belong to and have your allies, but in a confrontation among great powers, these allies don’t really provide you with sustainable economic growth and real stability.

All of China’s rivals deny having a “containment” policy toward China. How do you see the situation?

Containment as it happened during the Cold War was different to what we’re seeing now – there’s no real or de facto containment, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the Chinese view on the current security environment. When leading think tank experts tell you: “Look there’s fires all around us, what are we supposed to do?”, then, that is not a good sign.

I think that’s the real danger – when you have the leadership of a country feeling encircled, isolated, that’s where rationality calculations change. You will see more assertiveness, aggressiveness even. Leaders will be prone to miscalculations because they can’t see the overall situation.

One example is the 1969 conflict between China and the Soviet Union where the Chinese leadership was extremely concerned and thought a nuclear attack by the U.S.S.R. was imminent and left Beijing for the bunkers. Of course that’s an extreme case during the Cold War, of a China not really connected to the outside world. But that’s the danger of what I would call “ideational isolation,” and that’s what we should try to prevent.

How do you see the outlook for these maritime disputes over the next five to 10 years?

I’m rather pessimistic – I think these maritime disputes will continue to be big issues. I don’t think it’s possible to really shelve them, especially not in the East China and South China Seas. This is because the political situation has changed. The disputes are now out in the public sphere and foreign ministries are no longer in control of managing them.

We need to do more than just engage in crisis diplomacy. There might be instances where some of the claimants might reach agreements on joint development, but overall I think maritime disputes will be of great concern. The question then is what else do we have – is there going to be anything to balance these negative dynamics with?

Then, there are two wildcards. One is China’s economic situation. If that changes, what’s going to happen to the “power shift” and how would a bigger economic crisis, such as commonly occur, affect China’s political stability and foreign policy?

The other is North Korea, because we’re not sure how stable that regime really is and what the new leadership might do next. We can, for instance, see negotiations between Japan and North Korea on the abduction issue, which is quite interesting.

All of the relationships among Northeast Asian governments, if they change, might alter the dynamic at least in the sub-region. While that makes the future of East Asia more uncertain, it also offers great opportunities if handled pragmatically.

South Korean navy holds rare live fire drill near disputed islands; Ignores Japan’s protests

June 21, 2014


Republic of Korea Navy Gumdoksuri fast-attack missile craft RoKS Park Dongjin fires a Hae Sung SSM-700K anti-ship missile during an exercise near Dokdo/Takeshima on 20 June. Source: PA Photos/AP Photo/Yonhap

SEOUL, June 20- The South Korean navy held a rare live fire drill near a set of disputed islands on Friday, brushing off angry protests from co claimant Japan, which called the exercises “deplorable”.

The defence ministry said the drill around the Seoul controlled islets, called Dokdo by the South and Takeshima by Japan, were part of the military’s “regular” national defence training.

The islands called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan

The navy and coastguard have staged joint exercises near Dokdo many times, but a live fire drill is rare and it prompted an angry response from Japan.

“Japan can never accept the drill given its position on Takeshima, and so we strongly demanded that the South Korean government stop its plans,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said the decision to push ahead with the exercises was “extremely deplorable”.

Seoul dismissed the Japanese protests out of hand.

“This is a military drill to bolster the defence of the Republic of Korea, so any outside demand or interference is not a subject for consideration,” ministry spokesman Wi Yong Seop said.

“The drill is now being carried out as scheduled,” Wi said.

A total of 19 naval ships and aircraft were involved, including a light destroyer and a Lynx anti submarine helicopter.

A Navy spokesman said the exercise was playing out defence scenarios against a variety of potential antagonists, “including North Korea”.

Earlier this week, North Korean state media released pictures of leader Kim Jong-un overseeing a naval drill from the turret of a submarine.

The Dokdo Takeshima islands have been the subject of a bitter and decades-old territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan.

The row escalated in 2012 following a surprise Dokdo visit by then South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.

Relations between the two neighbours are currently at their lowest ebb for years, with Washington viewing the rift between its two main Asian military allies with growing alarm.

The tensions are largely linked to Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Many South Koreans believe Japan has failed to properly atone for abuses carried out during the occupation.

The live fire drill came as Japan began a controversial review of its landmark 1993 apology over the use of many South Korean and Chinese women as wartime sex slaves for its troops.

Japan is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over a separate set of islands in the East China Sea.

The Japanese coastguard said two Chinese coastguard vessels had encroached Friday within the 12 nautica mile band around one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.


U.S. Asian Allies Question America’s Commitment: “Obama made a lot of people ask, ‘What are you talking about,’ when you say the U.S. ‘is not here to confront China?’”

May 4, 2014


China says it wants what America’s Asian allies have —  and they mean it.




By Donald Kirk

President Obama’s much-hyped “pivot” to Asia is leading to misunderstandings between what America’s Asian allies expect and what the U.S. is likely to do in case serious trouble blows up in the seas and small islands claimed by China all around its periphery.

The possibility for misunderstanding is most obvious in the Philippines where the U.S. and the Philippines signed a ten-year “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) for U.S. troops to rotate in and out of Philippine bases. The pact could bring U.S. forces back to the Philippines in large numbers for the first time since the Philippine Senate in 1991 refused to renew the lease for two of the largest U.S. overseas bases.

Quite aside from leftist protests and questions about whether the agreement violates the Philippines constitution, the most serious misunderstanding focuses on how the U.S. would respond against Chinese encroachment on Philippine territory far out in the South China Sea.

“Expectations are not matching,” says Carlos Conde, a long-time journalist now representing Human Rights Watch in the Philippines. “Filipinos before Obama came were made to think this would be a chance for American to restate its commitments. A lot of Filipinos expect more. They think China is a bully. That’s how the Philippine government has managed the conversation.”

In fact, it’s quite possible the Americans will take an active role if China were to attempt to take over all the Spratly Islands. China already controls several of them. In keeping with its claim to the entire South China Sea, China also challenges not only the Philippines but also Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan, that is the anti-communist Republic of China, for control of the rest of the Spratlys.

In Manila U.S. military  officers and diplomats are talking to Philippine officials about setting up facilities on small islands near the long southwestern Philippine island province of Palawan, the closest jumping off point to the Spratlys. That idea remains non-publicized for now while the spotlight shines on the return of much larger U.S. forces to Subic Bay, once America’s largest overseas naval base, and Clark, the largest overseas U.S. air base.

The U.S. encounters a misunderstanding of quite a different sort in the wake of Obama’s pledge while in Tokyo to live up to its treaty obligation to defend Japanese territory — including, of course, the islets known as the Senkakus to the Japanese, the Diaoyu to the Chinese, in the East China Sea.

The obvious question is whether the U.S. would really like to go to war with China if the Chinese carried out a lightning strike, as some believe possible, to loosen the Japanese grip on the Senkakus. Both Japan and China claim the islands are within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones though they’re closer to the nearest islands in Okinawa prefecture than they are to mainland China. (They’re slightly closer to Taiwan, which also claims them but not too loudly.)

Less obvious is what Obama’s commitment to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe really means when it comes to a couple of other small disputed islets known as Dokdo to the Koreans and Takeshima to the Japanese. They’re out there in what’s known as the East Sea in Korea and the Sea of Japan in Japan, and the Koreans firmly hold them with a police garrison permanently posted on one of them.

Dokdo Islands Dokdo Islands, aka Takeshima (KOREA.NET )

Actually, Dokdo/Takeshima are no more than a pair of enormous rocks whose only civilian inhabitants are an aging couple that runs a post office. Fishermen (and tourists ferried over on day trips) come and g0  but don’t live there. To the Koreans, they’re of symbolic significance as reminders of Korean defiance of Japanese rule, which lasted for 35 years until the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Koreans most definitely are not going to consider the Japanese claim, which the Japanese refuse to relinquish.

So there you have it. The Americans just wish the whole Dokdo dispute would go away and refuse to get involved. Still, Obama’s assurance of U.S. support of Japan under its treaty obligation has raised eyebrows — and provoked commentary — in Korea, also bound to the U.S. in a defense treaty. Some days, Dokdo is of such emotional significance as to vie for headlines with the North Korean nuclear issue.

And that’s to say nothing of Japan’s claims to islands seized by Soviet army troops off northern Hokkaido in the last week of World War II.  Latter-day Russia under President Putin seems no more inclined to consider returning any of them than did the old Soviet regime, but nobody expects anyone to go to war for them.

So which is more likely to explode into open conflict first — the Spratlys or the Senkakus? The betting would probably be the latter while China engages in diplomacy all around the South China Sea. In the Philippines, though, U.S. forces under the new agreement are eager to “preposition” much needed materiel in case of they need supplies in a hurry.

That’s something they were unable to do under a Visiting Forces Agreement under which the U.S. has had a small rotational force in the southwestern city of Zamboanga since 1999 advising Philippine forces in pursuit of Islamic terrorist groupings.  That’s a conflict that percolates on and on. The other day Philippine marines killed a couple of dozen Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in a battle on a remote mountainside in the Sulu archipelago — an even unnoted outside the Philippines.

But what will the U.S. do about the specter of the much greater fear of China? “Obama made a lot of people ask, ‘What are you talking about,’ when he said the U.S. ‘is not here to confront China,’” says Carlos Conde. “The U.S. pivot to Asia has to do with China. It’s in the interests of the U.S. to be prepared in case something goes wrong.”

This is the center of the ocean area in dispute between China and Japan.

Above: Subic Bay, once a key U.S. Navy port in the Philippines. Cubi Point airfield is at center left.

China views the South China Sea and East China Sea as vital areas with “must have” resources. And China also wants to control the maritime domain to protect the free movement of what it needs from the sea — even in a crisis or war.

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.


The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.