Essay about Japan

Modern Japan

These days, the relations between China and Japan are tense. The territorial dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea complicates the relations between these countries. For many decades, China and Japan cannot divide the disputed Diaoyu Islands since both of them consider that these islands belong to them. Moreover, there are other parties involved in this argument. Firstly, Taiwan also claims the island’ territory. The United States is also involved in the conflict as an ally of Japan. Although there have been many negotiations and meetings relating to this problem, the issue remained unresolved. In such a way, the Senkaku islands are still a disputed territory. The dispute over the Senkaku Islands remains one of the most difficult conflicts between Japan and China.

The Senkaku Islands (in Chinese cartography, the Diaoyu Islands) are the archipelago located in the East China Sea. The Senkaku Islands include five uninhabited islands and three reefs with a total area of about 6.32 square kilometers. They are located in the southern part of the East China Sea, 175 kilometers north of the Ishigaki Island (the Ryukyu Archipelago, Japan), 190 kilometers northeast of Taiwan, and 420 kilometers to the east of mainland China. Apparently, almost the entire territory comprises rocks unsuitable for human life. These days, the Senkaku Islands are controlled by Japan. However, both Taiwan authorities and the Chinese government challenge this right of Japan.

In fact, each party tries to prove their rights to the islands by providing historical and legal evidence for the Senkaku belonging. “On the issue of sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, each side has made its arguments grounding its position in international law”. The history of the Senkaku Islands is closely connected with the Kingdom of Ryukyu and the island of Taiwan. It is associated with the fact that due to various historical versions, the Senkaku was attributed to the Kingdom of Ryukyu and then considered simply adjacent islands to Taiwan. In one form or another, China ruled Taiwan and neighboring islands from 1281. With regard to the Kingdom of Ryukyu, during the period of the Chinese Ming Dynasty and Qing Manchu dynasty, the kingdom was a vassal state of China. During 500 years, the King Ryukyu received the investiture from the special representative of the Chinese emperor. Apparently, this practice continued until the last quarter of XIX century when it was finally determined the status of the kingdom. In 1872, the king was deposed by the Japanese who thereupon furthered an active economic and military development of new areas. In 1879, the Ryukyu Kingdom was included in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Following this, on one of the Senkaku Islands, the support base of Japanese fishing vessels was created that existed until the end of the Pacific War. In the same period, the Japanese authorities of the Ryukyu Islands practiced to rent them to the natives. China reacted rather calmly to the fact of the inclusion of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the Empire of Japan and the subsequent ban of the Japanese authorities on sending another mission with a tribute to China. Beijing believed that although the Kingdom of Ryukyu was the nominal vassal, it was not essential for the defense of China and, therefore, did not deserve to spend any efforts to preserve it.

The Taiwanese version lies in the fact that in the early XVII century, the Dutch missionaries settled in Taiwan. They were engaged in the resettlement of the mainland Chinese to develop farming and agriculture on the island. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, its followers had settled on the island, ejected the Dutch and transformed Taiwan into the base of the resistance of Qing dynasty. In 1683, the Qing government suppressed the resistance of oppositionists, seized Taiwan, and established control over both the island and all the adjacent islands along the perimeter of the adjacent waters of the East China Sea. In fact, this control lasted until 1895.

Talking about the Japanese version, it is younger. In the work “Territorial Disputes among Japan, China, and Taiwan concerning the Senkaku Islands,” it is stated that “From a Japanese perspective, the Senkaku Islands were first discovered by Japan in 1884”. After the creation of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, its authorities began to seek the approval of the central government to put under the jurisdiction the Senkaku Islands and several other islands. After consulting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Internal Affairs, it was recommended to postpone this issue. Apparently, similar unsuccessful attempts were repeated by the authorities of Okinawa in 1890 and 1893. However, in January 1895, when the central authorities more carefully studied the problem, it was established that the uninhabited Senkaku Islands were outside the jurisdiction of China. Thus, according to international law, the islands were considered “no man’s land”. In this regard, in 1895, the Government of Japan made a decision about the formal inclusion of the Senkaku Islands in the territory of Japan.

For a long time, the issue of territorial jurisdiction of the archipelago was considered secondary. The author Hui-Yi Tseng states that “The newly-established Communist China had not drawn heavy attention to the Diaoyu Islands dispute before the 1970s”. China did not express any objections with respect to the territorial sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. The conflict related to these islands originated in 1969 when the UN Commission published information on the large oil fields discovered in the area of the Senkaku Islands. In such a way, the territorial controversy between Taiwan, China, and Japan on the Senkaku Islands is associated not so much with the sovereignty over the islands, which do not have a particular economic value, but with the right to develop the resources in the area of the archipelago. In the earlier stages, sovereignty over the islands was not disputed as confirmed by the Chinese and Japanese sources. The conflict began only after the assumptions about the presence of oil near the Senkaku Islands.

In April 1895, as a result of the Sino-Japanese War, the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed, according to which, China ceded to Japan Taiwan, the Penghu Islands, and all adjacent islands. However, the Senkaku archipelago was not mentioned in this agreement. In the postwar period, the Chinese and Taiwanese representatives started arguing that the Senkaku Islands also were included in the statement “the adjacent islands”. In 1943, at a conference in Cairo, participants of the anti-Hitler coalition decided that at the end of the war, all the territories annexed by Japan from the Chinese would be returned to the Republic of China. After the signing of unconditional surrender, the Chinese government announced that Taiwan was its province.

In accordance with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, which was signed by Japan and the majority of the allied states, Japan renounced all rights and title to the island of Taiwan and the Pescadores. It is worth noting that like in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Senkaku Islands were not mentioned in the Treaty of San Francisco. In addition, the contract did not specify in whose favor the refusal was performed. The authors Seokwoo Lee and Hee Lee affirm that “Further, the Sinkaku Islands were not mentioned specifically in any international agreement”. In accordance with Article 3 of the Treaty of San Francisco, the Senkaku Islands were placed under the administrative control of the United States as part of Okinawa. The islands were used by the US Army as a testing ground for the bombings. The provisions of the agreement were sharply condemned by Beijing. Nevertheless, in relation to the Senkaku, there were no complaints. Restoration of the administrative rights of Japan over Okinawa and all the islands in the Ryukyu archipelago, including the Senkaku, took place after the signing of the US-Japan agreement on the return of Okinawa.

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The approval of the Japanese control over the islands which coincided with the publication of the results of oceanographic expeditions in the East China Sea indicating the presence of rich oil and gas reserves on the shelf of the area led to the aggravation of the dispute between Japan and Taiwan over the Senkaku belonging. The presence of hydrocarbon reserves on the shelf was not perceived as news by Japan. Before World War II, Japanese geologists were literally fascinated by the oil potential of the East China Sea. The Japanese experts during the war in the Pacific conducted offshore drilling of the Senkaku Islands and found the presence of natural gas there. In 1968, scientists from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan conducted studies of the bottom of the East China Sea, which showed that the north-east of Taiwan in the district with a total area of 200 thousand square kilometers is a rich oil field. Earlier, Japan had taken an active and profound interest in studying the shelf of the East China Sea and specifically the shelf of the group of the Senkaku Islands. In 1967, a study was published, which emphasized that the shelf of the East China Sea was an extremely promising but little explored shelf in the world. As a result, oil news eventually led to the fact that countries in the region began to assert their sovereign rights to a potentially rich in oil and gas shelf of the East China Sea. In support of their claims, each of the parties was based on international law which did not give specific answers to complex questions of differentiation of offshore zones. Moreover, competing sides unilaterally began the development of the offshore zone.

The activation of the Beijing’s position was determined not only by the oil factor but also the US-Japanese agreement on the transfer of the Ryukyu Islands, including the Senkaku, to Japan. The agreement included the transfer of all administrative, legislative, and judicial rights, and, thus, it was evidence of the US recognition of the jurisdiction of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

Therefore, it is necessary to specify the position of the United States which sought to stay over the dispute due to the interest in maintaining and strengthening its military and political positions in the region and in the confrontation with the Soviet Union. Hereby, it endeavored to deepen the US-Japan alliance, preserving the US-Taiwan contacts, as well as the establishment and development of US-China relations. At that time, the position of non-involvement of the United States was in a cautious attitude toward the return of the Senkaku Islands to Japan in accordance with the agreement on the transfer of the Ryukyu Islands. Washington stressed that the inclusion of the islands did not mean the support for Japan in its territorial dispute with China. Thus, when the United States received the islands from Japan as a result of the occupation, they were returned to Japanese administration despite their controversial status.

In the XX century, the parties could not find a solution relating to the Senkaku Islands. It is worth mentioning the diplomatic relations between China and Japan were established in 1972. In 1978, the treaty of peace and friendship was signed between the countries. Naturally, this important event was preceded by long and intense negotiations, which was inevitably connected with the disputed islands. However, the issue was not resolved. Thus, after the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, the parties agreed to postpone the debates for an indefinite period. Japan and China considered that cooperation and development were more important than territorial disputes.

The dispute escalated once again in the 90’s, when in 1996, in connection with the Chinese military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, Japan had fears that China would seize the Senkaku Islands. Moreover, taking the Convention on Law of the Sea, China and Japan included these islands in their economic zone. It led to the construction of the top offshore platform by China for the extraction of minerals in 2003. In 2005, Japan also began to issue licenses for oil and gas in the area of the archipelago of the Senkaku Islands. In fact, China saw these actions as a provocation. In 2008, China and Japan signed an agreement on joint development of the East China Sea. However, after the arrest by the Japanese guards of the Chinese boat on the disputed territories, the situation escalated again. In March 2011, China began to develop its gas fields near the Senkaku Islands. In 2010, a Japanese patrol ship and a Chinese fishing schooner encountered near the Islands.

However, the captain of the Chinese vessel was detained by the Japanese side. After this incident, relations between Japan and China have sharply deteriorated. Hereby, the two sides exchanged notes of protest. After this incident, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the action of the US-Japan agreement on cooperation and security in 1960 also applies to the archipelago Senkaku. It means that in the case of the conflict between China and Japan due to the Senkaku Islands, the United States would be on the side of Japan. Thus, Hillary Clinton has actually confirmed that the United States in this dispute supports Japan. In such a way, Japan is a key ally in the Asia-Pacific region. At the beginning of November 2010, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to host the US-Japan-China trilateral dialogue to resolve the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands. However, China rejected the proposal claiming that China and Japan should resolve the conflict without the involvement of third parties.

It is obvious that commenting on the Sino-Japanese territorial dispute, the United States openly supports Japan, and, thus, it tries to increase its presence in the region. In addition, Japan is a key ally of the US. However, China is a potential enemy particularly in connection with its rapid growth. In addition, this intervention helps improve US-Japanese relations that have significantly deteriorated due to the reluctance of the US to transfer its military base from the Japanese island of Okinawa. Consequently, it leads to the US desire to take part in the settlement of this conflict. For the United States, the existence of this conflict is certainly beneficial as its presence does not give an opportunity to Japan to improve its relations with China. In such a way, it is one of the arguments in favor of maintaining the alliance with the United States. In the context of the Constitution, which prohibits declaring war on another state and the underdevelopment of the armed forces, Japan is not able to resolve the territorial dispute in its favor without assistance in the event of an armed conflict with China. Therefore, the country is forced to be dependent on the military alliance with the United States.

The parties still cannot find the solution to the problem. The foreign Minister of China has accused Japan of stealing the Senkaku Islands from China. According to the Chinese government, Japan’s actions are completely unacceptable and illegal. China strongly urges the Japanese government to stop any activities that violate China’s sovereignty and take concrete measures to improve the mistakes and return to the path of negotiation to solve this issue. Thus, Beijing has expressed disappointment with the behavior of Japanese Prime Minister, who has stated that in Japan, there are no plans to change its position on the Senkaku Islands.

China also has an ally in the dispute over the islands, namely Taiwan. The dispute accelerated when the Japanese government bought three out of five Senkaku Islands from a private owner. In such a way, these islands were nationalized by Japan. Afterward, Taiwan actively intervened in the conflict over the Senkaku Islands. In 2012, 40 Taiwanese fishing boats escorted by 12 patrol ships sailed to the disputed islands and entered firing from the water cannons with Japanese vessels. In fact, sea battle lasted more than an hour. The commanders of the Taiwanese patrol ships stated that the ships were in Taiwanese waters and engaged in legitimate activities. After a long exchange of fire, which ended without casualties, the Taiwanese fleet sailed in international waters. It is worth noting that this situation happened with the tacit approval of China. The action had an emphasized demonstrative character and did not pursue any aggressive goals. The fishing association of Taiwan announced that its ships would continue to sail around the Senkaku Islands as Taiwan as well as China considered that Japan illegally maintains the Senkaku Islands. The Chinese government believes that in the case of the open conflict, Taiwan will be on its side.

Japan and China have close economic partnership. In such a way, “The islands did not become an obstacle in the negotiations between Tokyo and Beijing on establishing diplomatic ties”. The debates over the Senkaku Islands risk worsening the economic ties of the countries. Moreover, it will lead to mutual losses. However, it is dangerous to make compromises and stop a diplomatic confrontation between the authorities of the two countries due to the rise of nationalist sentiment. In China and Japan, many citizens express active dissatisfaction with the low position of the government while defending the national interests in relation to the Senkaku Islands.

The dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands lasts between Japan and China for several centuries. Beijing considers these uninhabited rocky islets, which are under the jurisdiction of Tokyo, the native Chinese territory. According to the Chinese government, Japan maintains the islands illegally. China insists that the islands were incorporated into the Chinese empire about 600 years ago. However, Japan claims that it occupies the islands since 1895, and until that time, they did not belong to anybody. The territorial dispute has primarily an economic nature. The country, which will own this archipelago, will have considerable reserves of oil and gas lying in the continental shelf of the East China Sea near the Senkaku Islands. Hitherto, the agreement between Japan and China on the issue of the ownership of the Senkaku Islands has not been achieved. The Senkaku problem remains unsolved due to excessively rigid positions of the conflicting parties and their unwillingness to make concessions. There is a reason to believe that the conflict will not be resolved soon.

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