A centuries-old conflict between China and Japan about the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands seems to come to a head over the past few years. A conflict over territory and resources between two nations expands on a global scale and involves more and more parties.
The conflict in the East China Sea between Japan and China goes back more than 100 years. Basically, both nations claim rights about an area in the sea, which contains natural gas and oil fields. But as global conflicts are by nature, it is way more complex.
Throughout history, different countries were included in the dispute through territorial claims in order to gain power within that region, which has lots of natural gas and oil resources as well as it includes main trading passes. In the following, I will present the historical events briefly to give an overview of the conflict.
In 1895 the Sino-Japanese war ended with signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which China cedes territories to Japan. The Treaty didn’t specifically mention the islands mentioned above.
After the 2nd World War Japan had to give back all claims seized through war, which was stated within the declaration of Kairo in 1943 and the declaration of Potsdam in 1945. As it was not mentioned within the Treaty, to which country the two disputed islands belonged before, the affiliation is still not solved up to today. It got even more tensed after an UN-report stated in 1969 that there is a high probability of oil and gas resources in the disputed area.
China started to claim rights over the islands and the US intervened on Japan’s side, because of a US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty from 1960. The US took a neutral position in the whole conflict in order to normalize relations with China which hopes to end the Vietnam war. But they still played a role in the background by supporting ASEAN countries and Japan in order to hold their own stability within that region.
After years of several smaller military and civil incidents over the gas field, Japan and China finally signed a Joint Energy Development Agreement in 2008. It says that both countries agreed on exploring the fields jointly, which was a major step towards a cooperation on the energy the resources.
Closely to a peaceful solution, in 2009 China began to build a rig unilaterally. Japan threatened to bring China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the tensions arose again. Since the agreement was made little has been done to increase resource developments jointly.
On the contrary, over the last decade, the situation has become even more tensed. The US took a greater part in it, the Philippines and other ASEAN countries got involved as well. Through the neighbouring conflict in the South China Sea it seemed nearly inevitable not to expand the heat from this dispute in the whole area.
After Japan purchased the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from a private owner in 2012 in order to protect their sovereignty, the largest Anti-Japanese protests happened in China since the 70s. The economy between China and Japan dropped immensely and both countries increased their military budgets again.
Soon Japan offered military aid for the conflict in the South China Sea towards the Philippines and China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone which requires all non-commercial air traffic to submit their flight plans prior to entering that area. If not, immediate military action would be performed.
After, the US signed a ten-year military pact with the Philippines in 2014, who are in conflict with China as well because of some other disputed islands, called the Spratly Islands.
In 2016 China snatched and later on returned a US Navy underwater drone. In 2018 the tensions increased even more after a Chinese and a US warship nearly collided. The US secretary cancelled his trip to Beijing and Trump said, President Xi Jinping may not be a friend anymore.
Since January 2019 more than 200 Chinese ships were seen near the island of the Philippines. What started to be a territorial conflict between two nations at the end of the 19th century is nowadays a global dispute about resources and trading passes in the Pacific. The conflict includes decisions from past wars like the 2nd World War and the Vietnam War and involves the current conflict in the South China Sea. It includes old and new Treaties and it includes way more interests than only from China and Japan.
As the border of the East China Sea and the South China Sea are close might there be a possibility of a conflict which spreads even further?
Or will there be an opportunity to find a solution? Would both conflict partners sit together and open up towards a possibility to solve the conflict? And which higher global authority could support the parties in solving the conflict? What could be the function of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS in this conflict?
Wouldn’t there be a possibility to fix by law, which regions belong to which country if the official 200 nautical miles from each coast is overlapping?
After so many countless years of experiences with conflicts about territories in human history, shouldn’t there be an official global institution which would have the function to solve a conflict like this?