China, Japan see no way out in sight
While China and Japan will begin to talk about the joint development of oil and gas resources based on the 2008 Principled Common Understanding in the East China Sea, their differences over the interpretation and application of Article 74 and 83 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will not be ironed out easily.
The two sides also interpret differently the legal effect of the Principled Common Understanding they issued in June 2008.
In addition, China will continue to challenge the position held by Japan on the legal status of Okinotorishima and the Diaoyutai Islands, in particular, based on the interpretation and application of Article 121, paragraph 3 of the convention.
It is expected to see more conflicts between China and Japan over fishing rights in the overlapping or disputed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East China Sea.
China is sending more vessels and planes to the East China Sea, in particular in the waters or in the air near the disputed islands, to conduct regular patrolling activities, which will certainly invite counter-actions from Japan.
It is also believed that more survey activities will be undertaken by China in support of its claim to the outer continental shelf in the East China Sea in accordance with Article 76 of the UNCLOS, which again will give rise to disputes between Beijing and Tokyo.
At the same time, it can be expected to see more twists between China and Japan in the process of deliberation by the UNCLOS of Japan’s submission for its claim to the outer continental shelf in the Western Pacific that is related to Japan’s claim that
Okinotorishima can have the EEZ and continental shelf in accordance with Article 121 of the convention.
Finally, while it has never been confirmed, it seems that implicitly China has drawn a number of so-called “red lines” in dealing with the issues concerning sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands.
A Japanese act will be considered crossing the red lines when it allows its people to land or move to live in the Diaoyutai Islands, deploys military forces on the islands, builds structures or military facilities there, or begins to explore and exploit resources in the area surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands.
As far as Taiwan is concerned, the September 2010 incident and the March 2011 disaster have created both a policy challenge and an opportunity for Taipei to handle the sovereignty and maritime disputes in the East China Sea.
The challenge is concerning the possible cooperation between Taiwan and China in response to Japan’s moves in the disputed waters.
Ten days after the fishing boat collision in September 2010, King Pu-tsung, Kuomintang secretary general, stated in Tokyo that Taiwan will not cooperate with China in dealing with the Dioyutai issues.
This was followed by a talking point sent by the Taiwanese government’s Information Office to foreign reporters in Taipei in early October 2010, in which Taiwan stated that Taipei will not handle the dispute jointly with China.
If this position is held, it is very likely to see Taiwan being continuously excluded from the negotiation process between China and Japan that aims to jointly develop oil and gas resources in the East China Sea.
However, it might lead to a positive direction for the development of a better Taiwan-Japan relationship.
YH Song is a research fellow at the Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.