Monday, August 08, 2016

Pinnacle Islands Dispute: Crisis or Opportunity? #Senkaku #Diaoyutai

The long running dispute over the islands has escalated, with Chinese coast guard and "militia-fishermen" vessels entering Japan's claimed contiguous zone. But could it be leveraged into a gambit to both blunt tensions over China's claims and moderate her behavior? US policy influencers seem to think so

Jesse Johnson outlines the objective of China's move: 
While similar tactics by China have been noted before in Japanese waters, including near the Senkakus, Saturday’s mass of vessels was one of the first in many years. 
In April 1978, just months before Tokyo and Beijing inked a peace and friendship treaty in October that year, hundreds of fishing vessels entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus, stoking concern in Tokyo. Though China’s then-vice premier, Deng Xiaoping, said the incursions had been “incidental,” and that China “would never engage in such incidents,” Japanese officials feared such actions would return in the future. 
... between April and November 2014, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats believed to be coral poachers were spotted in the Pacific Ocean around the Ogasawara Islands about 1,000 km south of Tokyo, ... which openly flew the Chinese flag, were likely dispatched with Beijing’s tacit approval to gauge the Japan Coast Guard’s response... 
“In that case, Japan detained a few boats and fined the skippers,” said retired U.S. Marine Col. Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo. “However, the Japanese were basically helpless when faced with the fishing armada.” Newsham said this served two purposes: to gauge the Japanese response and to inflict psychological damage. “The Chinese demonstrate that anytime they want, they can ‘flood the zone’ and establish dominance — while daring the Japanese to do something,” he said. 

Santanu Roy-Chaudhury with the implications of Chinese success:
If China manages to successfully claim sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, it could be hazardous for Japan. Apart from losing an economically important area that is rich in fish and potentially rich in oil and natural gas, there are many security concerns. Control over the islands by China will establish its hegemony over the East China Sea and military build-up on the islands could cause major problems. The Chinese could also use the islands to block trade routes. 
The proximity of the islands to Taiwan would also prove dangerous as the two countries have been extremely hostile towards each other. Control of these islands could also potentially pave the way for an invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese who still denounce any declaration of an independent Taiwan, and maintains its claim over the country. Though Taiwan was initially only interested in maintaining fishing rights they had held in the waters around the Senkaku islands, the emerging security threat from China has bolstered their rights for territorial sovereignty over the islands. 
Even though the United States does not take a stand on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, they would much prefer the islands to remain under Japanese control.xvi China’s control of the islands could potentially block American fleets, ending American dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and providing the Chinese navy a freer hand in conducting its operations in the region.

The US remains on the sidelines of the dispute, but has engaged in considerable wishful thinking that it could become an opportunity for moderating regional tensions as well as China's assertiveness generally. Michael O'Hanlon:
Moreover, thinking in terms that Thucydides might advise, Japan should in fact want to lock China into a more cooperative relationship going forward.  If being willing to compromise on the Senkaku/Diaoyu gave China some sense of historical satisfaction, and if the very terms of the accord required China to renounce any further territorial ambitions at Japan’s potential expense, the price to be paid for sharing these small islands would be quite modest.  To be sure, if a Japanese concession whetted China’s appetite for more assertiveness, the effect could be counterproductive—which is why it is essential that point 1 in our 6-point plan be included in any agreement.  China would in fact be committing itself to stabilizing future behavior under this approach, and that is a crucial part of the whole idea.  This accord, viewed in such terms, could therefore be viewed not just as win-win diplomacy but as the creation of a canary in the mine.  China would be making a promise about its own future behavior that the world could then use to gauge the character of its future foreign policy, and to hold it accountable, and to respond accordingly if China went back on its word.

Ryan Scoville on how the recent South China Sea arbitration may give that wishful thinking longer legs:
One of the big takeaways from the South China Sea arbitration is that the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands are mere “rocks” under (UNCLOS) because they “cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.” ... It also means that the separate question of sovereignty over the islands themselves is suddenly much less consequential than it might have been: whoever has title over the land now enjoys a diminished package of maritime rights ... 
... Simply put, the UNCLOS tribunal’s exposition and application of 121(3) strongly suggest that the Senkaku Islands are rocks. This is a setback for Japan, which has the superior claim to title, but might help to deescalate tensions between China and Japan by substantially reducing their legal incentives to contest each other’s claim. 
This strikes me as a major development in its own right. China and Japan have contested sovereignty over the Senkakus in part because of the marine resources surrounding and the hydrocarbons reportedly lying beneath the islands. If sovereignty is unlikely to carry with it an exclusive economic zone or rights to the continental shelf, then the parties simply have less incentive to contest title in the first place...

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