Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Understanding Maritime Jurisdictional Disputes: The East China Sea and Beyond

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Understanding Maritime Jurisdictional Disputes: The East China Sea and Beyond

Article excerpt

Chasing submarines, putting F-16s on alert: It S the stuff of Hollywood Co d War thrillers, but in a maritime boundary and island sovereignty dispute in the East China Sea, it's all too real. (1) In the last 12 months, tensions between Japan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) over their maritime boundary--and among Japan, the PRC and Taiwan over ownership of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands--have escalated dramatically. (2) The recent downturn in relations over the oil-rich region began in November 2004 when a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance plane detected a "foreign" submarine submerged off the Sakishima Islands, approximately 75 miles south of the disputed area, and within Japan's declared exclusive economic zone (EEZ). (3) The following day Japan announced that it had two destroyers and a surveillance plane in the region, which had been trailing the still unidentified sub through the night. (4) Although the submarine evaded capture, the PRC acknowledged that it had been one of its submarines and apologized to Japan for the incident. (5) At the same time, diplomatic problems surrounding the publication of a new Japanese school textbook have acted further to enflame the situation by bringing additional public attention to the tensions that exist between the PRC and Japan. (6) Newspaper headlines such as "Japan stokes China sea dispute" and "China's power hunger trumps Japan diplomacy" give some indication of how these issues are being reported globally. (7)

The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands sovereignty issue complicates the maritime dispute over where to draw the boundary line between Japanese and PRC waters. The islands lie between latitude 25[degrees]58' North, longitude 123[degrees]41' East and latitude 25[degrees]44' North, longitude 123[degrees]29' East. (8) Little more than rocky outcrops, the five islands are completely uninhabited and of little intrinsic value. However, the possible presence of oil deposits nearby has made their contested sovereignty increasingly problematic. As Ji Guoxing states succinctly:

   The controvers[y] involve[s] two dimensions: territorial
   sovereignty over islands, and relevant jurisdictional rights and
   interests in maritime demarcation. The territorial disputes are a
   legacy of history, and the demarcation disputes are mainly due to
   differing interpretations of the law of the sea. (9)

The dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands originated in 1895, when the Japanese Diet declared sovereignty over them. (10) However, it remained dormant until the late 1960s, when a report prepared by the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, under the auspices of the United Nations, suggested that large hydrocarbon deposits might exist in the waters near the island group. (11) According to Seokwoo Lee, the report stated that the "shallow sea floor between Japan and Taiwan might contain substantial resources of petroleum, perhaps comparable to the Persian Gulf area." (12) As a result, the PRC became increasingly interested in asserting a claim to the islands and in their possible effect on the position of its maritime boundary with Japan. The situation was exacerbated in 1972 when the nearby Ryukyu Islands (which had been placed under U.S. trusteeship by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty) were returned to Japan. (13) Japan argued that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were included in this transfer. However, the PRC protested that since the islands had not been identified as belonging to Japan in the 1951 treaty, they could not be "returned" to them.

Current tensions over the maritime boundary and the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands can be traced to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the continuing rise of the PRC to fill the power vacuum left in East Asia. (14) As the PRC has begun to assert itself in the region, it has sought to establish maritime claims, arguing that the boundary with Japan should be set at the natural prolongation of the continental shelf. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.