ISLAND DISPUTES BETWEEN JAPAN AND CHINA
The Okino Tori Shima islands, 1,118 miles south of Tokyo, consists of two rocks which barely pierce the water during high tide. Although the islands themselves are worthless, owning them gives Japan exclusive fishing and mining rights to more than 154,452 square miles of ocean that surround around them. Rich cobalt and manganese deposits may lie in the seabed offshore and the waters are teaming with fish and squid that help feed Japan's voracious appetite for seafood.
The Law of the Sea states the islands must be above sea level. To maintain their claim on the islands, which are only 27 inches above sea, the Japanese government spent several million dollars to build a wave absorbing barrier to keep the islands from being eroded by the sea.
The South China Sea in which the islands lie is important to Japan. About 70 percent of Japan’s imported oil passes through the South China Sea. China claims most the South China Sea.
Senkaku Islands, Japan and China
Senkaku Islands map Both China and Japan claim the fish-rich and potentially-oil-rich islands—known to the Japanese as the Senkaku Islands, to the Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands and to the Taiwanese as the Tiaoyutai Islands— between Okinawa and Taiwan in the East China Sea..
There are five Senkaku islands. Together they cover about 5.6 square kilometers. About 250 people live on Uotsurijima. In the 1940s one of the islands contained a Japanese fish processing plant. The Japanese claim on the Senkaku islands dates back 1895 when the Meiji government incorporated the islands into Okinawa prefecture. The Japanese say no counter claims or protests were made. Under the Francisco Peace Treaty signed in 1951 the islands were included in the territories of Japan.
Chinese claims that Japan stole the islands during the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95. In their readings of San Francisco Peace Treaty Japan formally lost all of the territories it acquired after 1895.
Maps published in China and Taiwan in the 1960s clearly show the islands as Japanese territory. There was little interest in the islands until a geological surveys released in 1968 and 1972 reported their might be oil and minerals around the islands. Also at stake are the fishing rights.
In 1971, Taiwan and China both officially claimed the Senkaku Islands as theirs. During the U.S. occupation of Okinawa, the Senkaku Islands were used for military drills by U.S. forces. When the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972, the Japanese also claimed the Senkaku Islands.
When Japan and China signed a joint communique in 1972, the issues of the islands was not raised. When China and Japan signed a peace treaty in 1978, vice-premier Deng Xiaoping said the dispute over the islands "will be shelved until the next generation comes up with a solution." Also in 1978, the ultra-rightist group Nihon Seinen Sha (Japan Youth Federation) set up a makeshift lighthouse on the largest of the islands. After of period of time the same group returned to the island to rebuild the lighthouse and seek official recognition.
China enacted a law in 1992 claiming the East China Sea as its territory. It also claims the continental shelf off its shores, which stretch to near the Okinawa island chain, as its territory.
Senkaku Island Dispute Heats Up
Senkaku Islands map In 1996, ultra-nationalists erected on a lighthouse (actually a thin aluminum beacon about 15 feet high) on the main Senkaku island. By this time four of the five islands were technically the private property of two Tokyo businessmen active in ultra-nationalist politics. Beijing was upset by Tokyo's tolerance of the actions by the ultra-rightists.
The people of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong were all unified in their disgust with Japan. In Hong Kong in 1996, protestors took to the streets and burned a Japanese flag. One Hong Kong teacher told Newsweek, "Our dream is that the Beijing navy would sail in from the left, the Taiwan navy would sail in from the right and we would take the Japanese together as a strong national force."
In September 1996, a freighter with 18 protestors from Hong Kong and Taiwan was turned back from the islands with the lighthouse by Japanese coast guard ships. Four protestors jumped into the water to symbolically claim the seas around the island for China. One of the protesters, 45-year-old David Chan, drowned in the choppy seas.
In March 2004, seven Chinese nationalists land on Senkaku. They were arrested by Japanese police and coast guard personnel that arrived by helicopter. The seven were detained for a couple days and deported. The incident got quite a bit of press coverage in Japan and stirred up nationalist sentiments. In Beijing, a few dozen people held ani-Japanese demonstrations outside the Japanese embassy.
There have been many “encounter” between Chinese fishing boats and Japan Coast Guard ships around the islands. Japan’s forces regularly board many China vessels they deem to have entered Japanese territorial waters.
China has also been angered by textbooks that show disputed island in the East China Sea as belonging to Japan.
Natural Gas in Waters Between Japan and China
Senkaku Islands map There are large undersea natural gas fields in waters claimed by both China and Japan in the East China Sea about halfway between Okinawa and the Chinese mainland. The Chunxiao and Tianwaitian natural gas fields lie in China’s exclusive economic zone. The Chunxiao field covers 8,500 square miles and holds up to 9 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet China’s needs for seven years.
The area is near a group of disputed islands claimed by Japan and China known as the Senkaku to the Japanese, Diaoyu to the Chinese and Tiaoyutai to the Taiwanese. The actual line of demarcation of the boundary of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) between China and Japan is a matter of dispute. Japan wants to make a deal but China seems more intent and trying to get away with as much as it can without actually violating international law. China so far has drilled only waters in its EEZ but it has angered Japan because these areas are so close to the disputed border.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea each coastal nation controls a an economic coastal zone that extends 200 nautical miles (230 miles, 375 kilometers) from the shoreline. The distance between Okinawa ad China is about 400 miles. Japan advocated a median line between the two countries. China advocates setting its economic border on the eastern extension of the continental shelf, a concept that pushed the border 50 miles of f the Okinawa archipelago. It seems unlike the two countries will ever agree on the line.
An area of 400 square kilometers, or 150 square miles, lies at the heart of the dispute. Japan has suggested that Japan and China tap the gas fields together. Thus far China has rejected these offers. Japan has also demanded that China make pubic its survey and drilling results because two of the three major gas fields that China found are believed to extend into territory claimed by Japan. Beijing has reportedly awarded exploration right to Chinese companies to explore blocks that extend into Japan’s EEZ.
Four main natural gas fields from north to south (Chinese name in parentheses): 1) Asunaro (Longjing); 2) Kusunoki (Duanqiao); 3) Kashi (Tianwaitian), closest to the Chinese mainland; 4) Shirakaba (Chunxiao)
Drilling for Natural Gas in Waters Between Japan and China
Senkaku Islands map, areas claimed by Japan and China In June 2004, China began developing the Chunxiao site. It is now aggressively drilling at Chunxiao and Tianwaitian while Japan has yet go beyond doing geological surveys partly because the most promising areas for oil and gas are in disputed areas. China has gas production platforms less than a mile west of waters claimed by Japan. Japan claims that this platform is sucking gas from a deposit that extends over Japan’s side of the line.
In 2004, China began laying 291-mile gas pipeline between Shanghai to Chunxiao. Ironically $120 million for the $1 billion project came from Japanese ad.
Japan has earmarked $125 million to search for oil I the disputed area. In March 2005, the Japanese hired a Norwegian seismic ship to do surveys for oil and gas, While it was doing so it was treated as a spy ship by the Chinese and followed by Chinese ships. Japan is spending $100 million for its own seismic ship.
In 2005, the Japanese government awarded the Japanese company Teikoku Oil right to drill for oil at three sites near the “median line” that Japan says divide the Japan’s and China’s EEZ. In July 2005, China called Japan’s plan for drilling “a violation.”
In September 2005, Japan urged China to stop developing the disputed gas fields and called for joint exploration. In March 2006, China proposed that Japan and China jointly explore for oil and gas at one site the East China Sea together. Japan rejected the proposal. The site proposed by China is thought to be one that doesn’t contain much oil or gas. The disputed areas where gas has been found were not part of the proposal. Japan repeated its suggestion that the disputed areas should be jointly developed.
In October 2006, Chinese President Hu and Japanese Prime Minister Abe agreed to aim to resolve the dispute early with some of joint development. And promised to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”
China began production at the Chunxiao field in the first half of 2006. An official with CNOOC said China intends to “launch normal production operations on its own territory.” According to a CNOOC year end report for 2006 listed on its website production at Tianwaitian field was 113,267 cubic meters of natural gas a day and 42 barrels of oil a day. Production is believed to be much higher than that. No production figures were given for the Chunxiao, Canxue and Duanqiao fields.
Natural Gas Deal Between Japan and China
In 2008, China and Japan agreed to share the development of the Shirakaba and Asunaro gas fields. The agreement to develop the Shirakaba field was announced during a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Japan.
Japan has offered to provide much of the funding for joint development of natural gas deposits in the East China Sea. China is reluctant to a agree to joint development because it feels that such an agreement would invalidate China’s claim on the entire continental shelf.
In June 2008, Japan and China reached an accord on developing the natural gas fields in the East China Sea, with Japan investing in a gas field already operated by China (the Chunxiao field) and the two nations jointly exploring an area not yet developed (the Asunaro gas field, which China calls the Longjing field). An agreement was not made on the Asunaro field, in part because of South Korean claims in the area.
After the agreement was made Japan discovered that China was developing a natural gas field known as Tiawaitan to the Chinese and Kashi to the Japanese and lodged a complaint saying development of the site went against the sprit of the agreement. China responded by saying that it had the right to drill at the site.
Views of Japanese and Chinese
In the minds of Chinese, the Japanese never adequately apologized for the atrocities before and during World War II and they view the Japanese assertiveness in military matters as a threat and a reminder of the World War II era. Textbooks, newspapers and government-sponsored films in China emphasize China’s suffering after the 1935 Japanese invasion but mention little about how relations have improved and Japan has given China billions of dollars in aid.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin had personal memories of Japanese atrocities in the World War II era and was not bashful about lecturing the Japanese about them. His successor Hu Jintao seemed to be more intent on establishing better relations with Japan. His efforts were shot down by Koizumi and nationalist Japanese but have been welcomed with more open arms by recent Japanese prime ministers.
A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center before the 2008 Olympics found that 70 percent of the Chinese interviewed had an unfavorable impression of Japan.
In a poll by a Japanese newspaper, 57 percent of Chinese asked said they considered Japan "untrustworthy." Even so the Chinese seem to love Japanese commercial pop culture. Chinese children walk around with Hello Kitty and Pokeman bags. Young girls wear platform shoes and Casio G-Skok watches.
The number of Japanese that said they warm feelings toward China declined from 69 percent in 1988 to 32.4 percent in 2004. In a December 2004 Gallup survey, 71 percent of Japanese said they distrusted China. Even so China became very fashionable. Shanghai became a popular tourist destination. Food and fashion have clear Chinese influences. Four million people travel between China and Japan every year. After English, Chinese is the second most popular foreign language. Mandarin language classes had waiting lists.
See Japan Tourism
Image Sources: 1) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 2) 3) History Wiz 4) 5) 6) 7) University of Texas maps, 8) Getty Images
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011