FEATURED | China, Japan and the East China Sea Conundrum
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IndraStra Global

FEATURED | China, Japan and the East China Sea Conundrum

By Amrita Jash
Editor-in-Chief, IndraStra Global

FEATURED | China, Japan and the East China Sea Conundrum

Image Attribute: Haijing 2901, China Coast Guard Ship 
Source: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

"A stable China-Japan relationship is the requisite to avoid any form of confrontation in the East China Sea."

On August 1, China upped the ante against Japan by holding live-fire navy drills in the East China Sea. This Chinese showdown of force comes in the aftermath of July 12, when the Arbitral Tribunal on the South China Sea arbitration decided in favor of Philippines and rejected China’s claims based on the “nine-dash line” map and specified that it has “no legal basis” and also pointed that Beijing’s “historic rights” do not comply to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that, there is “no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.” Against this invalidation of its claims, with its stakes facing a threat in the East China Sea, China’s military drills exemplify Beijing’s strong determination to claim its sovereignty against Japan.   

In the recent months, a string of incidents has renewed the tensions over territoriality and maritime rights between China and Japan in the East China Sea. What is worrisome is the increasing military shadowboxing between China and Japan in the East China Sea. China is rapidly militarizing by stepped up incursions through deploying Chinese armed navy vessels into the contiguous zone of disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands as well as fighter jet incursions into the Japanese airspace. This has been reactively responded with Japan’s counter militarization through increased fleet presence and heightened intelligence gathering and reconnaissance through radar installations and others. Therefore, though most attention delves on the South China Sea dispute, the East China dispute is more volatile than it seems.   

Here, it is important to note, that unlike power disparity among South China Sea’s disputed claimants, East China Sea is a tug of war between two equal actors- China and Japan. Both are strong in their positions- economically, militarily and with their deep-seated nationalist spirit.  

There is a clash of claims between the two over: first, the sovereignty of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands- which China claims based on historical linkage as annexed by Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895, while Japan makes legal claims based on terra nullius. And second, on the demarcation of the maritime border where exists an overlap of 81,000 square miles on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).   

To resolve such a dispute, the judicial settlement is the ideal way. However, in the case of China and Japan, arbitration is outlawed given the different approaches of each side to the dispute. While China is adamant on challenging Japan’s administrative control of the islands and the surrounded waters, Japan sees an absence of any dispute on the territoriality of the islands given its legal control on the islands as part of its legal annexation and thereafter, recovered through the 1972 Okinawa revision agreement. Furthermore, the dispute is also mounted by their clash of material interests in the East China Sea given the rich reserves of hydrocarbons and fisheries stock as well as overlapping Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZs). Also, the tension is greatly fueled by the Chinese and Japanese popular nationalist sentiments. With time, these factors have made the East China Sea dispute complicated, protracted and a difficult case of peaceful resolution. In this case, both large scale economic interdependence between China and Japan as well as diplomatic efforts have failed to mitigate the tensions.   

In this systemic dynamics, the recently ramped up tensions in the East China Sea call for greater attention. This is so, as the spiraling militarization is increasingly escalating the accidental risks of unintended military confrontation and political miscalculations between China and Japan. Although no one country will prompt a war like situation, but the pressing circumstances are building a warlike temperament around the East China Sea. In this scenario, the security indexes for both China and Japan as well as Asia-Pacific regional architecture are at an alarming high. A disequilibrium in China-Japan relations will automatically change the regional status quo in the Asia-Pacific.  

The East China Sea dispute has evolved to become a perpetual anathema in the China-Japan relations. Wherein, a way forward to making a resolution seems difficult. The problem exists in the trust deficit between the two countries, which heavily weighs down the relationship. There is a mutual suspicion and deep-seated distrust between the two countries, which significantly hinders any reconciliation process. These perceptual gaps leave less room for negotiation or mediation, and thus, makes the East China Sea an issue of perpetuity in China-Japan relations.  Given these critical fissures in the management of the East China Sea problem, both China and Japan should act proactively over reactive posture to dispel any form of military calamity. The rising security concerns are not just limited to China and Japan but will also entrap the United States and other regional actors into the power play. Hence, with heavy costs involved, both China and Japan should take deliberate constructive measures to avoid an uncalled tragedy.   

The need of the hour lies in securing the existing status-quo in the East China Sea by maintaining peace and stability between China and Japan. The militarization of the disputed waters needs to be toned down by denying any form of actions and reactions that up the ante. In doing so, both China and Japan need to adopt a top-down approach by making frequent diplomatic and security talks in order to maintain the checks and balance in the East China Sea. Most importantly, both countries need to collaborate on building a functional and effective crisis management mechanism to ward off any kind of mishap that will incur unnecessary costs. Hence, before any form of collateral damage over sovereignty and maritime rights in the East China Sea, it stands wisely for both China and Japan at this critical juncture to take an inch forward in avoiding a tragedy.

About the Author:

Amrita Jash (TR RID: K-5665-2015)is the Doctoral Candidate in Chinese Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is also the Editor-in-Chief at IndraStra Global, New York. She can be followed on twitter at @amritajash and also at her official website.

Cite this Article:

Jash, A. "FEATURED | China, Japan and the East China Sea Conundrum" IndraStra Global Vol. 002, Issue No: 08 (2016) 0031, http://www.indrastra.com/2016/08/FEATURED-China-Japan-and-East-China-Sea-Conundrum-002-08-2016-0031.html
ISSN 2381-3652 | https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3704790

AIDN0020820160031 / INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652 / FEATURED | China, Japan and the East China Sea Conundrum / Amrita Jash