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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 8:27am

Diaoyu Islands

The Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands located roughly due east of mainland China, northeast of Taiwan, west of Okinawa Island, and north of the southwestern end of the Ryukyu Islands. They are currently controlled by Japan, which calls them Senkaku Islands. Both China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the islands. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

China and Japan must remember the spirit of their 1978 peace treaty

Sonny Lo says China and Japan must ease dangerous tension over the Diaoyus by recalling their peace treaty pledge to put aside issues of sovereignty to co-operate for mutual benefit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 3:58am

The continuous escalation of tensions between China and Japan over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is worrying. While Japan took an unprecedented step in nationalising the islands last year, both sides have been engaged in a shouting match that culminated most recently in the Chinese declaration of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea covering the islands. If Japan and China continue to flex their military muscles, it would not be surprising to see military skirmishes break out one day, possibly as a result of an accident.

A number of factors have contributed to the situation.

The deterioration of relations has, to some extent, been fostered and sustained by the xenophobic media

Both Japan and China have been using ships and planes to patrol the disputed areas, without giving any concessions. Meanwhile, Tokyo refuses to admit that sovereignty disputes exist over the islands, a position contrary to that taken in 1978 when the Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty was signed and both sides agreed to put aside the islands' sovereignty dispute.

Since the Japanese government's nationalisation of the Senkakus, neither country any longer mentions the validity of Article 1 of the treaty, which states that both sides should conduct relations based on "mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence".

Nationalism in China and Japan continues to run high, with the media on each side pointing an accusing finger at the other. The deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations since last year has, to some extent, been fostered and sustained by the nationalistic and xenophobic media.

Then there is the fact that the intermediaries who could break the diplomatic deadlock remain relatively weak. They include a few individual politicians who are sympathetic to the other side, and businesspeople. There is an almost total absence of academic seminars by think tanks in both countries that could lead to dialogue and exchanges in wider society. In short, there is a dearth of middlemen who can help break the impasse.

The United States has been mishandling the dispute as well, leading to an escalation in tensions. Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton made remarks supporting Japan's nationalisation of the islands while reiterating the Washington security pact with Tokyo. Her successor John Kerry has made similar comments backing Japan.

America's position has triggered strong responses from China. Most recently, President Xi Jinping emphasised the importance of safeguarding national security in his recent speech at the party's third plenum.

Finally, both Japan and the US have underestimated the determination of China to uphold its security interests, especially at a time when Beijing has adopted a comprehensive definition of national security, which ranges from military consolidation to health crises, from environmental challenges to economic reforms, from internal governance to effective party rule, and from the realisation of the "Chinese dream" to the revival of the Chinese nation. Other countries observing China should not underestimate Beijing's political will to tighten its internal and external security. The word "security" appeared 23 times in the third plenum resolution and 14 times in Xi's explanation of the decision.

So, what should Japan and China do to avoid any military skirmishes?

First, military liaison should be established between the two sides. But for this to happen, both sides must encourage more dialogue and communications between, say, retired officers and generals.

Second, the search must continue for mediators. Not just government officials should be involved but also businesspeople who have invested in the two countries. Academics and think-tank researchers should be encouraged to explore solutions that aim to build trust.

Third, both countries should tone down their rhetoric. The Japanese right turn in domestic politics and the subsequent change in Tokyo's policy towards China have to be critically reassessed.

The mass media in both countries should perhaps re-examine their blind criticism of the other country. Otherwise, political prejudices on both sides will perpetuate deep distrust among most citizens.

In the final analysis, it is time for leaders of both countries to consider going back to the gist of the 1978 Sino-Japanese peace and friendship agreement, in which economic, cultural and human exchanges were considered far more important and valuable than any dispute over sovereignty issues.

Most importantly, Article 2 of the agreement states that neither side will seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. Both Japan and China should ideally uphold this important principle, even though the rise of China might have given rise to Japanese misperceptions that Beijing has been establishing its hegemony over Asia.

Ultimately, both Japan and China are regional powers in Asia that should coexist peacefully. Any military accidents over the controversial islands would be detrimental to the economic interests of not only the two nations involved but also America and all countries in Asia.

Tokyo and Beijing, with the support of Washington, must urgently search for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over the islands.

Sonny Lo is professor and head of the department of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education


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This article is now closed to comments

What a load of BS. The Japanese unilaterally privatizing the islands has shown that they officially will not honor their words in 1978 and recognize that sovereignty disputes exist, leaving China no choice but to respond. But of course China should just not response, because Americans and their Asian mistresses expects/demands so.
ANd all your other argument is pretty much full of BS AGAIN. Using China's deployment of the Liaoning as a bashing stick, what are you a Class A moron? The Japanese have just deployed their helicopter carrier which is pretty much a disguise for a Aircraft carrier, I don't c you the typical blind China bashing morons complaining about it? and no they commissioned to build that thing even before privatizing the islands so its not a response of the Diaoyu islands.
And the ADIZ as a provocation? yeah just like your typical china bashing mind, anything that China does will be deemed a provocation even though the Japanese have a similar zone in place long before China have.
This is how your funny mind works, "do what I say not what I do" if not we will smear you, we will curse you, etc.
The only bellicose acts in this situation is the Japanese privatizing the islands unilaterally.
O and another bellicose acts of bullying is Japan unilaterally again extending its ADIZ in 2010 to cover those of Taipei which Taipei objected to, but of course its never going make it to world news since it doesnt provide any China bashing value
lexishk: no sovereighty issue on Australia other than the one Australian [aka Brit first fleeters] should have accorded the local Aborigines, or those who survived the massacre. You were not personally responsible for that but you need to recognize that was the history. Or was that too far back for you to deem as nonsense?
There are no indigenous population in any of the SCS and DI, only disputes from other ASEAN nations, let that solve it peacefully among themselves, the USA and the UN should keep out of it!
By the way, should China put forward this position, we can fully expect the NYT and WP editorials, and the international tribunals to question validity of the Chinese history in the Yuan or Ming Dynasty about the South China Seas or the Diayu Islands?
FYI that version of the Chinese maritime history, is the only one anyone has for this part of the World!
Some of us in the world realise when GWB sent in the troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, he had the full backings of the House, the Senate, the media and the American's majority consent. 10 years on, many of these supporters realise they were manipulated politically, by propanganda to give their consent. So what went wrong?
For argument sake, say claims of sovereighty or rights must be justified with substance- then China has every right to do so because of
(a) ZhengHe and his armada already laid claims to all of South China Seas and the Diaoyu Islands in the Ming Dynasty when much of the ASEAN was not even populated much less differentiated by nationalities, another relics from the LN/UNfrom 19th century that needs overal-hauling.
(b) Progressively released by their colonial masters the ASEAN countries and Japan laid claims to seas and islands, unilaterally, and or according to some arbitrary UN definitions.
If a conflicts with b, China is necessarily the bully? Or is this what the editorials in New York Times and Washington Post say?
China doesn't help its cause by trying to claim practically all of the South China sea, including international waters and territorial waters of other sovereign nations. These are provocative and unreasonable acts. If China wants any credibility or friends on the world stage, it'd do well to behave more sensibly and remember what happened when Germany and Japan overreached 80-odd years ago. No one wants that again, and Asian neighbours and other world powers will do whatever is necessary to prevent it.
That's clearly BS when (a) Japan nationalises the island it assumes it has the sovereignty/rights to do so and (b) how that is perceived by China in the midst of the shouting-matches and (c) if China was the country to nationalise it, what fiasco that would have attracted from DC and Japanese Militant Rights?
The answers to abc above rightly justifies what China is doing in upping the ante politically. And good old US of A is obviously drooling for another proxy cold-war with such a eager patsy on its side, their intentions in trying to hold-back China and China's rise, is nakedly obvious.
I say the CIC ought be to activated to give USA the wake-up call, dump US$500B treasury bonds and see whether the USA realises how broke they really are, to be the hegemon/bully they've long been in East Asia?
The media has been rightly saying Chinese government need to work with its Asian neighbours. To be fair, has any media critiqued how USA should conduct itself in this part of the World?
If only: the first foreigners to shove a stake in Australian ground, hundreds of years before the British, were the Dutch. I guess Australia should cede its territories and government to Amsterdam? Take your nationalistic nonsense elsewhere.
Wipe the froth from your lips and take a deep breath.
Nationalisation of the islands by Japan made not one iota of difference to the longstanding sovereignty exercised by Japan over them. It is misleading to deploy in argument this event as if it was a fresh or provocative step by Japan, thus creating a patina of equal blame. All the provocation has come from China and the fresh declaration of the ADIZ by China and now the deployment of the Lianing are bellicose acts destabilising the region.


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