China and Japan, two major powers in East Asia, have been engaged in long-term island disputes. In early July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines in the arbitration and denied China’s historic and economic rights over almost all of the South China Sea.
Japan said the ruling is binding on the parties concerned in the South China Sea and they should adhere to the arbitration verdict, comply with the international law and peacefully resolve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM11) held in mid July in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expressed that China’s territorial sovereignty and marine rights would not be affected by the arbitration ruling under any circumstances, and told Japan “not to interfere”.
In fact, Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea. Rather, it has been engaged in long-term disputes with China over the Diaoyutai Islands, as Taiwan calls it, also known as Diaoyu Islands to China and Senkaku Islands to Japan. Taiwan, Japan and China all claimed sovereignty over the disputed islands.
In September 2012, Japan “nationalised” the Diaoyutai Islands, thereby causing tensions to rise in this region. People in China rallied in front of the Japanese embassy to launch an anti-Japanese movement. Dozens of cities in China staged protests against Japanese stores, products and even burned down Japanese cars. The protests lasted for weeks before coming to an end.
After that, in November 2013, China unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, which included the skies over the Diaoyutai Islands. China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea also overlapped with Japan’s ADIZ that has existed for years. Regional tensions rose as a result.
Even more recently, China believes that the “Okinotori”, a Japanese uninhabited atoll with a total area of some eight square metres, is not an island, and therefore not entitled to claim a 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone. However, Japan refuted and claimed that it is an island, and is entitled to claim the territorial rights.
It is worth noting that Japan supports the South China Sea verdict and calls upon China to comply, but refuses to bring the Diaoyutai Islands dispute for international arbitration. However, it is quite unlikely for China and Japan to send the islands disputes in the East China Sea for international arbitration.
As for how the disputes will be resolved, the whole world is watching closely.