Hot Spot: East China Sea
Currently there are disputes between the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and South Korea over the extent of their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the East China Sea. There are also disputes between the PRC, Japan, and Republic of China (ROC) over the sovereign of the Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Islands in the East China Sea. These two disputes have been a major issue in foreign relations between the PRC and Japan.
The Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands Issue
The Diaoyutai islands, or "Senkaku" in Japanese, are a group of eight uninhabited islands on the continental shelf, separated from the Liuqiu (Okinawa) islands by a deep underwater trench. These eight uninhabited islands and barren rocks have a land area of only 6.3 square kilometres. The islands are approximately 120nm northeast of Taiwan, 200nm east of the Chinese mainland, and 200nm southeast of Okinawa. Most of the islets are clustered around the largest island, Diaoyu/Uotsuri. Two outlying islets, Huangwei Yu/Kobi-sho and Chiwei Yu/Akao-sho, are located 31km and 108km from Diaoyu/Uotsuri Island respectively.
Historically, the Diaoyutai Islands were regarded as a part of Taiwan, and have been used exclusively by Chinese fishermen as a base for fishing. In 1895, after being defeated by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Qing Dynasty of China ceded Taiwan to Japan under the Shimonoseki (Maguan) Treaty. As a part of Taiwan, the Diaoyu Islands were also claimed by Japan. When Japan was defeated in WWII in 1945, Taiwan was returned to the Republic of China under the 1943 agreement of Cairo and Potsdam Declarations, which stated that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Although the relevant documents did not specifically mention the Diaoyutai Islands, the general consensus of China was that the Diaoyutai Islands, as a part of Taiwan, should also be included in the package. However, the ROC government did not immediately claim the sovereign of the Diaoyutai Islands. These islands came under the control of the United States after WWII, and were used occasionally as bombing practice targets by the U.S. air forces based at the Liuqiu (Okinawa) islands.
Japan argued that it had carried out thorough surveys on the Senkaku Islands as early as 1885. The results of these surveys confirmed that the Senkaku Islands had been uninhabited and showed no trace of having been under the control of China. Based on this confirmation, the Government of Japan made a Cabinet Decision on 14 January 1895 to erect a marker on the Islands to formally incorporate the Senkaku Islands into the territory of Japan. Japan regarded the Senkaku Islands as neither part of Taiwan or Pescadores (Penghu) Islands, which were ceded to Japan under the Shimonoseki (Maguan) Treaty that came in effect in May 1895. In Japan’s view, the fact that the Senkaku Islands were placed under the U.S. administration after WWII as part of Okinawa, rather than being returned to the ROC as part of Taiwan, and the fact that China expressed no objection to the status of the islands clearly indicated that China did not consider the Senkaku Islands as part of Taiwan.
The issue of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands remained quiet throughout the 1950s and 1960s, until ECAFE (United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) suggested possible large hydrocarbon deposit in the waters off Diaoyutai in 1969. in 1970, the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, which included the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa to be returned to Japanese rule. The treaty was immediately challenged by both the PRC and ROC, but the islands have been effectively under the administrative control of the Government of Japan since then.
In September 1970, a ROC navy gunboat planted the ROC flag on the Diaoyutai Islands. In December, the PRC intervened in this dispute, stating that the Diaoyutai Islands (and Taiwan) were China's territory and that exploitation of the area by foreign countries would not be tolerated. At first the U.S. government appeared to support the Japanese claim. However, because the U.S. government wanted to improve relations with the PRC, it then took a neutral stance over the dispute. The U.S. claimed that its involvement could, "...in no way prejudice any underlying claims... The United States...considers that any conflicting claims are a matter for resolution by the parties concerned." Since this time, the U.S. government has avoided involvement in the dispute.
Since the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese rule, the Japanese government has repeatedly sent its naval forces to eject Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen from this area. A crisis occurred in 1978 when the Japanese right wing political group Nihon Seinensha (Japanese Youth Federation) erected a lighthouse on Daioyutai in an attempt to legitimise Japanese territorial claim over the islands. The event raised angry protests from Chinese communities all around the world. However, this was over-shadowed by the signing of the Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty in October 1978. Both Chinese and Japanese government had agreed to shelve the issue for future resolution.
EEZ Disputes in the East China Sea
The dispute between the PRC and Japan concerns a disputed region of about 40,000 square kilometres in the East China Sea. Under the United Nation's Law of the Sea, both the PRC and Japan claimed 200 nautical miles EEZ rights, but the East China Sea width is only 360 nautical miles. The PRC claims the disputed ocean territory as its own EEZ due to its being part of PRC's natural extension of its continental shelf, while Japan claims the disputed ocean territory as its own EEZ because it is within 200 nautical miles (370km) from Japan's coast.
The PRC recently discovered that there exists an undersea natural gas field in the East China Sea, part of the field lies within the Chinese EEZ while the remaining lies on the disputed EEZ between Japan and the PRC. In 2006, the PRC set up the Chunxiao gas field, which is located more than 4km inside the Chinese side of the EEZ boundary claimed by Japan and is within China's own EEZ, to extract the natural gas. Japan maintains that although the Chunxiao gas field rigs are on China's side of a median line that Tokyo regards as the two sides' sea boundary, they may tap into a field that stretches into the disputed area. Japan therefore seeks a share in the natural gas resources.
Since the return of Okinawa in 1970, the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and Japan Coast Guard have repeatedly ejected Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen from the Diaoyutai/Senkaku water. Following Japan’s declaration of an EEZ around the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands in June 1996, incursions by Chinese oil exploration-related vessels, warships and ocean research vessels into the disputed water have increased.
In July 1996, the Japanese Government allowed the right wing political group Nihon Seinensha to establish a new lighthouse on the northern islet of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Silands. This has sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests, especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan. There have been attempts by Chinese protesters to enter the Diaoyutai/Senkaku waters and land on the islands. The PRC also lodged a vigorous protest.
During 1997 protest vessels from Hong Kong and Taiwan have continued to take actions such as venturing close to the islands. Chinese protestors landed on Diaoyu Island after clashing with Japan Coast Guard in September 1998. The ship used by the protestors, "Bao Diao Hao", was sunk after a collision with the Japan Coast Guard vessel in September 1998.
In 2003 China together with Taiwan asserted their claims to the Japanese-administered Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands with increased media coverage and protest actions. On 22 June 2003 there was an attempt by protestors or some group from China and Hong Kong to land on the Senkaku Islands using a small fishing vessel. The vessel did not reach the Islands themselves and nobody got onshore. The protestors were later ejected by the Japan Coast Guard.
On 12 November 2003, at around 8am, a JMSDF P-3C spotted a Chinese Ming class diesel-electric submarine heading west on the surface of international waters 25 miles east of Kyushu Island. The submarine, hoisting a PRC national flag, sailed through the Osumi Strait between Kyushu and Tanegashima. The information was confirmed by Chinese authorities the next day, when Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the submarine's appearance in waters near Japan was "routine maritime training".
On 15 January 2004 patrol boats from the JMSDF allegedly attacked two Chinese fishing vessels in waters near the disputed Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands.
On 23 April 2004 a member of a Japanese right-wing group rammed a bus into the Chinese consulate in Osaka, western Japan, to protest China's claims to the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands.
In July 2004 Japan started exploring for natural gas in what it considers its own EEZ in the East China Sea as a step to counter China's building of a natural gas complex nearby.
On 9 July 2004 a group of Chinese held a demonstration outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing to protest Japan's "illegal oil exploration activities” in the East China Sea. The protesters, organised by Beijing-based organisation known as the Patriots Alliance Network, shouted slogans for about an hour, during which two embassy staff members came out to take the group's written statement.
On 19 July 2004, PRC authorities in south China stopped 10 people from setting out for the Siayutai/Senkaku waters in another attempt to land on the islands.
A 1,040t survey ship of the Chinese PLA Navy was spotted on 21 July 2004 in the EEZ some 40km west of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands, and a 3,536-ton Chinese government maritime research ship was found the same day in the EEZ some 340km southwest of Okinodaito Island in Okinawa Prefecture.
Beijing announced on 19 October 2004 that it would engage in bilateral discussions with Japan to discuss conflicting claims over East China Sea oil exploration. The Japanese government suspects the gas wells being tested may cut into Japan's EEZ, and has demanded that China provide such information as the area covered by the projected deposits.
On 10 November 2004, a PLA Navy submarine, believed to be a Han class SSN, spent two hours submerged in Japanese waters, near Taiwan. The incursion prompted Japan's maritime forces to go on alert for only the second time since the end of WWII. Japan mobilised its maritime forces and chased the sub with destroyers and a patrol plane as it zigzagged submerged toward Chinese waters.
On 16 November 2004 Japan said China admitted the mystery submarine was one of its own, Tokyo says Beijing told it the submarine was on a training mission, and for "technical reasons," it ventured into Japanese waters.
On 13 April 2005 Japan announced it had decided to handle applications of the enterprises the right to oil and gas test-drilling in the waters east to the ''median line'' of the East China Sea. Chinese Foreign Ministry responded that "In defiance of China's legitimate proposition, the Japanese side attempts to impose its unilaterally claimed 'median line' on China. The Chinese side has never accepted and will not accept it. Japan's action constitutes a severe provocation to the interests of China as well as the norms governing international relations. China has lodged a protest to the Japanese side, and reserves the right for further reaction."
On 9 September 2005, a JMSDF P-3C spotted a fleet of five PLA Navy vessels near the Chunxiao Gas Field in the East China Sea. The fleet included a Russian-built 8,000t Sovremenny class destroyer, two 2,000t class frigates, a 23,000t replenishment oiler, and a naval surveillance vessel. The fleet left the region after circling around the gas field. The incident embarked an official protest by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On 8 December 2008, two China Marine Surveillance vessels, the 1,100-tonne “Haijian 46” and 1,700-tonne “Haijian 51”, were spotted by a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat at about 6km southeast of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands. These vessels remained in the Japan-claimed territorial waters for about 9 hours before they left. Despite Japanese protests, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liu Jianchao, claimed that China had the right to patrol the waters of the Diaoyutai Islands, since “the islands have always been a part of China’s territory”.
In February 2009, Japanese media reported that the Japan Coast Guard had deployed its PLH (patrol vessel large with helicopter) patrol vessels to the Diayutai/Senkaku Islands, suggesting that the action was aimed to defend against “invasion” from Chinese maritime survey ships.
Last update: 18 February 2009