Abe playing an unwinnable game
Japanese PrimeMinister Shinzo Abe was reported to have instigated G7 to denounce China on the South China Sea disputes. And he managed to do it. On Thursday, the G7 leaders expressed their “concerns” about tensions between China and some other Asian countries over resources in the East China sea and South China Sea, “warning against any use of force”.
At the just-concluded Shangri-la Dialogue, or Asia Security Summit, Abe claimed Japan was striving to maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific region in particular and the world in general, and criticized China for “not complying” with international laws to resolve the South China Sea disputes.
Japan is not a party to any dispute with China in the South China Sea. So, is Abe trying to shift the focus from the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea to win the international community’s support and isolate China on the world stage? The fact is, despite his schematic move, Abe cannot deny that it’s Japan that has violated international laws and challenged the existing international order.
As for the East China Sea dispute, the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation clearly state that Japan should return all Chinese territories that it had occupied before and during WorldWar II, which included the Diaoyu Islands. The surrender treaty that Japan signed on Sept 2, 1945 clearly states that Tokyo will honor all the stipulations in the Potsdam Proclamation. This means China legally regained its sovereignty over its lost territories, including the Diaoyu Islands, way back in 1945.
But Abe claimed at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that the Diaoyu Islands are Japanese territory since they are under Japan’s actual control. What Abe doesn’t want to accept is that actual control is not accepted as evidence of sovereignty over a territory.
China discovered the islands, and was the first country to name and exercise jurisdiction over them, and it has enough evidence to prove that. Although the islands were forcibly annexed by Japan from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1895, they were to be returned to China afterWorld War II. So, China’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands has been continuous and peaceful.
In fact, Japan has no right to object to the Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea that China established out of security concerns. Since the width of the East China Sea is less than 400 nautical miles (740 kilometers) and coastal states are entitled to a continental shelf of at least 200 nautical miles, it has given rise to the Sino-Japanese dispute over continental shelf boundary delimitation.
According to the UN Convention on the Lawof the Sea, states should resolve disputes over overlapping exclusive economic zones and continental shelf boundary delimitation through international agreements. The UNCLOS advises that, if the disputing countries cannot reach an immediate agreement, they should avoid taking unilateral actions to escalate the dispute.
However, in contravention to the UNCLOS, Japan unilaterally drewa median line to resolve the Sino-Japanese overlapping continental shelf delimitation dispute, assuming that China’s continental shelf is only 200 nautical miles wide despite the fact that China’s continental shelf is much wider and stretches up to the Okinawa Trough.
Besides, Japan has repeatedly criticized China’s Chunxiao oil and gas field for bypassing the median line, which China has never recognized, let alone accepted.
As far as the South China Sea issue is concerned, when disputes arise in applying the UNCLOS, the disputing countries should try to resolve them through negotiations, and when bilateral efforts fail, they can invite a third party to act as mediator, conciliator and even arbitrator. Since neither China nor any of the other disputing countries have invited Japan to mediate, Abe has no right to poke his nose in the issue.
Japan has not only proclaimed itself to be a mediator and criticized China, but also echoed the US criticisms against China. This is a blatant violation of all international norms, not least because the disputing parties in the South China Sea are capable of resolving their disputes peacefully through talks.
Instead of trying to meddle in other countries’ affairs, Japan should reflect on its militarist past and apologize for its wartime crimes in Asian countries, especially China. By trying to act as an uninvited mediator, Japan has lifted a stone only to drop it on its own feet, for Abe’s ploy to revive Japan’s militarism by playing up the “China threat” theory is definitely not going to work. The author is an assistant professor at theHainan Provincial Party School.