The dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has been a long and controversial one. China claims to have historical evidence showing sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. However, Japan claims it has territorial sovereignty based on agreements, such as the Potsdam Proclamation, and has administrative rights over the island recognized by the United States. The underlying issue is there is no international agreement that grants sovereignty to either nation. This research specifically examines China’s perspective of territorial sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. Furthermore, this research examines it through historical evidence, international agreements, and Kelsen’s Theory of Law. Lastly, this research provides three courses of action China may consider, with a most optimal action identified.
First, it is imperative to understand the location and importance of the Diaoyu Islands for both China and Japan. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation explains “the Diaoyu Islands are an uninhabited group of islands situated in the East China Sea, approximately 90 nautical miles north from the Yaeyama Islands in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and 120 nautical miles northeast of the island of Taiwan.”The geographical location of the Diaoyu Islands holds a significant strategic advantage, as claiming sovereignty over these islands increases the strategic military location for that nation in the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, the Diaoyu Islands are home to important “shipping lines, offer rich fishing grounds, and lie near potential oil and gas reserves” (Viswanathan, 2015). The strategic location and these vital resources make it understandable why both nations want to claim sovereignty.
The international community continues to ask why China believes it has sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands? China responds by insisting the Chinese people founded and named the Diaoyu Islands. Historical documents show the Diaoyu Islands were utilized by China as early as 1372 for navigational aids and operational bases for fishermen, that Chinese people have always inhabited the islands, and the Dowager Empress granted an imperial edict to a Chinese herbalist who found rare medical herbs on the islands. Thus, China believes history has shown how the Chinese have inhabited and regularly utilized the land long before Japan came into the picture. Since the Ming Dynasty the islands have been included on official maps and the Qing Dynasty even included Taiwan as having jurisdiction over the islands. China believes Japan simply utilized its victory in the Sino-Japanese war in 1895 as a means to arbitrarily annex what it called the Senkaku islands.
China furthermore states it was forced to sign a dubious “treaty” that made no mention of turning over the Diaoyu Islands. China believes both the Cairo and Potsdam agreements betrayed their own vows of restoring China’s rightful territories, including the Diaoyu Islands. First, the Potsdam Proclamation of 1945 asserted the territories were to be returned to China. However, Japan subsequently argued that there was no specific mention of the islands in the proclamation. China also emphasizes that the U.S. has violated not only the Potsdam Proclamation but the Cairo Declaration, which reverted the Diaoyu Islands to China as well. China asserts these false disputes has gone on long enough. It also feels the Japanese have mocked China by building two lighthouses on the Diaoyu Islands, violating China’s sovereignty.
What other factors does China take into consideration when claiming the Diaoyu Islands? Interestingly, there is a domestic element to this international dispute that few in the West recognize. The citizens of China have questioned the legitimacy of the Chinese government regarding its attempted resolution of the Diaoyu Islands controversy. In an effort to continue positive financial relations with Japan, China has had to keep anti-Japanese protests, specifically by college students, to a minimum. However, this has created public unrest, leading people to question the legitimacy of the current Chinese government to protect national interests. China must determine how to keep the support of the people without increasing tensions with Japan all while maintaining what it considers its rightful claim on the islands.
Japan has strategically fought for sovereignty over these islands utilizing its own central government, U.S. forces, and other bargaining options. Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty with the U.S. in 1951, concluding that the Diaoyu Islands belonged to Japan without consent from the Chinese government. By 1972, a Japanese historian evaluating the data stated, “these islands are the territory of the People’s Republic of China, the only authority over the entire China.” However, China insists Japan has continued to illegally occupy surrounding islands with no acknowledgement or punishment from the international community. Kelsen’s Theory of Law concludes treaty rights and duties only apply to those contracting members. Therefore, under Kelsen’s Theory China is not bound by the San Francisco Treaty and does not need to recognize Japan’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. Furthermore, the San Francisco Peace Treaty was not in accordance with the Cairo Declaration or the Potsdam Declaration, making it legally a nonentity and invalid. Through these legal burdens of proof, China insists on an internationally recognized agreement with Japan in which Japan recognizes China’s rightful claim of sovereignty.
China is understandably frustrated because the only formal recognition of the Diaoyu Islands from the international community, despite all of this evidence and argumentation in favor of China, comes out on the side of Japan’s administrative control. Japan has continually argued the Potsdam Proclamation afforded sovereignty to Japan. However, China claims the Potsdam Declaration only rewarded sovereignty to the islands of “Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and minor islands.” There was no mention of the Diaoyu Islands within the Potsdam Declaration or the Cairo Declaration. In short, multiple agreements favoring China were made and subsequently ignored. Additionally, even changing the name to ‘Senkaku’ is another direct violation of Chinese sovereignty (and blatant anti-Chinese disrespect) and should only be used for the purpose of history, international law and jurisprudence. Finally, Japan and the U.S. entered a Peace Treaty involving Chinese territory without the involvement of China.
The Diaoyu Islands are also an intricate part of China’s strategic plan to gradually build forces to deter any enemy’s will to fight in the immediate maritime region. It is imperative to China’s strategic goal of expanding and maintaining its own international economic superiority. The Diaoyu Islands hold 40,000 km2 of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and access to the surrounding resources. Geological surveys conducted suggest there are 10-100 billion barrels of oil contained in the continental shelf. The islands hold over 11,700 square nautical miles of this petroleum potential. China therefore recognizes how these islands are crucial to gaining maritime power and economic leverage over the entire Asian maritime region.
Finally, to what degree is China willing to obtain these islands and how is China going to proceed forward? There are three potential courses of action to resolve this issue with Japan. First, China can set up a quarantine area around the Diaoyu Islands and create a forced separation. However, China must consider the U.S. military’s intervention on such quarantine activity. This could also create tensions between China and Taiwan because some of Taiwan supports Japanese claims. Second, China can try to strike a diplomatic deal with Japan in which China gets the islands. In exchange, China can give protection to Japan from potential North Korean attacks. This could enhance the relationship between the Chinese and Japanese military and turn tension into soft partnership. Third, China can take the Diaoyu Islands by force. However, if a conflict does erupt, then China must consider the consequences. The U.S. has a Security Treaty with Japan to intervene on its behalf in the event such a conflict arises. China prefers to utilize this option as a last resort.
Teo and Rose explain for China to maintain its goal of becoming a high-level power it must seek diplomatic solutions with Japan. Furthermore, the difference in political systems create structural contradictions, which influence Sino-Japanese relations. If resorting to physical conflict, this puts Chinese economic and geopolitical progression to a halt. The risk involved with taking the islands by force includes deteriorating economic/geopolitical relationships and the possibility of U.S. military involvement. At this time, China is unlikely to take such a bold risk.
In sum, China asserts history, diplomacy, law, geopolitics, and classical realist theories of power give it every right to claim sovereignty over the islands. China’s most optimal solution is to resolve this dispute through diplomatic means to protect its long-term political and economic strategies. But the rest of the world should recognize that the continuous progression of Chinese power on the global stage means that one day may come where it does not need to listen to the opinions of others, especially when those opinions seem to the Chinese to be against the national interests of China.
Who would bell the China cat?
If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.
China’s tit-for-tat response
The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”
Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20.
Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.
India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.
India’s main problem
Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.
Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.
The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is thrice the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.
Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).
India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”
It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.
History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.
Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell
While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.
In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world. No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development. Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.
Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.
Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’. More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report. It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.
The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.
People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps. Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’: The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful. Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat. Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.
Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates. Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.
Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless. Wake up at 5am. Make bed — it had to be perfect. A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am. Then to the classroom. Back to the canteen for lunch. More classes after. Then dinner. Then more classes before bed. At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted. You never see sunlight while you are there, they said. That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.
The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.
Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China. If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case. Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds. He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president. President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi. His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified.
An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China. Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era.
Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident
Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.
Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020
One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.
It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.
The LAC as an idea
Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.
The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.
In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.
Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.
What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?
One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.
The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.
For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.
Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.
The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.
By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.
Diplomacy is gone with the wind
All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.
The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.
India’s diversification of fronts
Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.
Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.
Economic ties, yearning to decouple
Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.
Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.
But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.
The broader picture
The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.
Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’
The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.
India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.
Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.
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