Diaoyu Islands

Beijing gives UN baselines for Diaoyu Islands, spurring tension with Japan

Official move signals shift in policy of negotiation with Japan over sharing resources

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 9:38am

Beijing has submitted its baselines for the Diaoyu Islands to the United Nations - a significant step that puts its territorial dispute with Japan firmly on the international stage - as it sent six surveillance ships to nearby waters in the East China Sea.

China's permanent representative to the UN, Li Baodong, filed a copy of a document detailing the sea baselines of the islands - tantamount to formally demarcating China's territorial waters in the area - to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday. The move was seen by mainland analysts as a major shift from Beijing's long-standing policy of seeking joint exploitation of resources with Japan through negotiation.

Zhou Yongsheng, a Japanese affairs expert at China Foreign Affairs University, said: "The long-term principle of 'setting aside disputes and seeking joint exploration' is being amended."

He said submission of the baselines, which were announced by Beijing on Monday, meant that Beijing was using legal means to declare its sovereignty, and might take tougher actions in the waters.

"It has an international legal basis to take actions now, especially when Japanese ships sail into the waters," Zhou said. The submission was followed by a brief stand-off between six Chinese surveillance ships and Japanese coastguard vessels near the Diaoyus - known as the Senkakus in Japan - early yesterday morning.

China Central Television repeatedly played footage yesterday of a Chinese marine surveillance officer aboard one of the ships radioing the Japanese vessels to demand they leave. "The actions of your ships violate China's sovereignty and rights," the officer said. "Any unilateral act from your side regarding the Diaoyu Islands and affiliated islands is illegal and invalid. Please stop any infringing acts. Otherwise, your side will bear the consequences caused by your actions."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the deployment of the ships was meant to "demonstrate China's jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands".

Japanese media said all the Chinese ships left by 1.20pm yesterday. Japan also summoned China's ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, to lodge a protest yesterday morning.

Beijing stepped up pressure on Japan on various fronts. Jin Biao, general manager of brand management at dairy giant Yili Group, said on his microblog that some CCTV channels were temporarily suspending Japanese companies' advertisements. A senior editor with Beijing TV said they were told not to show any programmes related to Japan and "not to socialise with Japanese people".

Publishing houses in Beijing were also told to stop cultural communications with Japan. Japanese consulates in Hong Kong and major mainland cities have issued safety warnings to Japanese nationals ahead of planned anti-Japanese protests this weekend and on Tuesday.

A Japanese official dismissed China's submission of baselines as just "paperwork". "It does not change the situation one bit because the baseline has already been reported [by Japan in 1996]," a spokesman for the Japanese foreign ministry's international legal affairs bureau said yesterday.

Dr Jonathan Holslag, of the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said the baselines did not necessarily signify sovereignty. "You first need to have sovereignty recognised before you can submit baselines," he said. "Without an agreement on who owns the islands, this is all legal shadow boxing."

Additional reporting by Julian Ryall in Tokyo, Keith Zhai, and Amy Nip