MANILA — Vietnam expressed its concern over Japan’s ongoing territorial clashes with China and South Korea at last week’s meeting of the ASEAN Maritime Forum in Manila, sources said Saturday.
In a statement at the forum’s opening session Wednesday, Vietnam (openly a China’s lackey by sentencing Vietnamese who oppose China’s illegal occupation of Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago to long jail terms ), which is involved in several sovereignty disputes (only in words) in the South China Sea, described Japan’s recent territorial flareups with China and South Korea as “complicated developments.”
While the statement only mentioned “southeast and northeast parts of the region,” a Vietnamese delegate confirmed later that these include the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China and Taiwan, and the South Korea-administered Takeshima Islands in the Sea of Japan, which Japan argues are an inherent part of its territory.
“We share the common belief that the parties concerned must, now more than ever, act with restraint and settle their disputes by peaceful means and fully respect international law, especially the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Vietnam told the forum. “The same goes for the South China Sea.”
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan all have overlapping claims to various islands, reefs and outcroppings in the South China Sea. Over the last few years, both the Philippines and Vietnam have aggressively asserted their territorial claims in the area, particularly against China.
“We must work together so as not to allow disputes and differences to escalate into conflicts, but to ensure their peaceful settlement and to uphold respect for international law and the 1982 U.N. convention, including its provisions related to exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf of coastal states,” Vietnam said.
While China recognizes the provision allowing coastal states to claim a 200 nautical mile economic zone, it argues this does not mean the sovereignty claims of other countries can be disregarded.
Beijing bases its claims mostly on what it claims are historical records.
The ASEAN Maritime Forum was followed by the inaugural meeting of the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum on Friday, which in addition to envoys from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, was attended by delegates from China, Japan, the United States, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and Russia.
Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio, who chaired both forums, said at the end of the second meeting that the “delegates recognized the importance of universally recognized principles of international law, specifically (the U.N. convention), in providing a rules-based framework for maritime security and cooperation in the region, as well as for addressing conflicting claims.”
Japan Produces Documents Revealing Sizeable Holes in Chinese Senkaku Ownership Claim
Maybe Jackie Chan was wrong after all?
Amid the reports of demonstrations, mob violence and damage to property in the name of protest over the rightful ownership of the Senkaku islands, it has been difficult to focus on the facts and keep a clear head.
Yesterday, however, the Japanese government took a step towards legally resolving the dispute, producing official documentation that refutes the Chinese government’s claim over the islands, and suggesting that the Chinese side is “contradicting” itself.
In a statement released yesterday by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign affairs, it has become clear that, up until the 1970s, China had not once attempted to claim ownership of the Senkaku islands, nor contest Japan’s claim to them.
As well as this, the official Chinese documentation presented by Japan suggests that China once recognised the archipelago as Japanese territory.
“Despite claims from China that its people have been using the islands as fishing sites for generations, it is clear that the islands were recognised as a part of Japan long ago,” a spokesperson said yesterday, adding “Until 1970, not a single claim for the islands was made.”
Producing a copy of a document written and distributed by the former Chinese Communist Party in 1953, the Japanese Ministry point to the opening of the article, in which the Senkaku islands are clearly identified as a part of the Okinawa archipelago, or “Ryukyu”, and thus under Japanese rule.
“This clearly demonstrates that the Chinese government is contradicting itself,”said a Japanese government spokesperson, possibly while punching the air like a tennis player who had just won a tense rally.
The Chinese government has yet to respond to the statement.
We’ll have more on this story as it unfolds.
Time to make a sea change in policies
Heated tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in recent weeks threaten to ruin one of the world’s most dynamic regional economic regions.
Peripheral territorial claims by Taiwan and South Korea are adding to the mêlée. This could mar the thriving transnational movement of goods and capital and threaten the prosperity of all these nations.
Trade among Northeast Asian countries and the investment of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – the four parties slugging it out for the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyutai islands in the East China Sea and the Takeshima/Dokdo islands in the Sea of Japan – amounts to billions of dollars. The Chinese State-owned newspaper People’s Daily has warned Japan that it may face “another lost decade” – a reference to Japan’s two decades of zombie economic growth since the 1990s. Open calls in China to “play the economic card” and hurt Japan are vitiating the atmosphere. China’s export restrictions on rare earth minerals to Japan in 2010 were linked to political animosities over control of the islands. That episode revealed how tenuous the $345-billion worth of annual bilateral trade between China and Japan can become when politics overtakes economics.
Japan is economically more dependent on China, and this disadvantage places the onus on the former to be more accommodative. However, Japan happens to be China’s biggest source of incoming foreign capital. A pullout of Japanese investments will be disastrous for the Chinese, who are struggling to cope with lowered economic growth prospects in a power-transfer year, when a new dispensation takes over from President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. It is a classic lose-lose situation.
Realising that the unbridled hyper-nationalistic fervour in both nations is getting out of hand, Japan’s influential business lobby, the Keidanren, is pressing the government in Tokyo to “get economic relations back on track” with Beijing. But with elections due in 2013, where nationalist candidates are tipped to score well, Japan has no firewall against unexpected anti-China vigilantism by patriotically motivated citizens.
The Chinese Communist Party is also facing a Frankenstein moment, as its citizens’ venting their spleen against Japan has far exceeded the State-sanctioned anti-Japanese nationalism, which serves domestic political goals. Having nurtured the narrative of Japan as enemy and historical wrongdoer, China is now scrambling to also cool down the climate.
The wild cards in this face-off are activists in Taiwan and Hong Kong, who have provoked the Japanese navy in attempts to snatch back islands “stolen” from China. The fracas has unleashed a historical ‘Greater China’ nationalism which is not confined to mainland China.
For concerned observers from outside the region, the fact that South Korea is engaged in its own island dispute with Japan is leaving no strategic lever to address the problem. If all pro-western States like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were on the same side against China, there would have been a rough parity with which China could have been compelled to compromise. But its absence means that straightforward solutions are elusive.
The Northeast Asian dilemma mirrors what is occurring in Southeast Asia, where China is engaged in a long battle of nerves with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea. Here, too, the US has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to forge a united front to ward off China. But it has wound up in internal contortions. The last Asean summit ended with the Philippines accusing Cambodia of acting under Chinese influence and Cambodia alleging that the Philippines was playing “dirty politics”.
How long will politics impede the obvious trend in Northeast and Southeast Asia towards further economic integration and freer exchange of goods and capital? The deep, psychologically embedded grievances and grudges in these regions over pre-World War 2 crimes cannot be wiped out. But they can certainly be kept on the back burner through conscious decisions of policymakers and the business communities in all the countries involved.
External ‘resident powers’ in the region like the US must also reflect on how their words and deeds, whether intentional or not, may be adding fuel to the fire. China perceives that the US is emboldening its allies to become adamant, a charge that Washington should take cognisance of, even as it pursues its power games in East Asia. Responsible behaviour is easier preached than obtained when the masses are enraged and vandals are rampaging. But economic sense should ultimately prevail.