Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Peaceful dispute resolution ideas

By Parris Chang 張旭成

The International Forum on Marine Peace and Sustainability hosted by the Democratic Pacific Union, National Taiwan Ocean University and several other organizations was held in Keelung on Oct. 20 and Oct. 21. Twelve papers by experts from Taiwan, Japan, China, the US, Australia, France and Indonesia were presented at the forum, which was also well attended by members of Taiwan’s diplomatic community.

The two-day conference covered many important and timely topics, and the participants analyzed and debated the issues and solutions from theoretical, historical, legal, economic and strategic perspectives.

In A Comprehensive Mapping of Conflicts in the South and East China Seas: Implications for Conflict Resolution and Regional Stability, Dennis Sandole of George Mason University provided a theoretical overview of the conflicts and the approaches to conflict resolution.

In Maritime-Dispute Resolution: Examples of Success and Failure by Australian David Falvey and Cases of International Settlement on Disputed Islands by Wong Ming-hsien (翁明賢) of Tamkang University, the speakers used cases of maritime dispute resolution as examples of both success and failure to explain requisite factors and conditions essential for successful and peaceful settlement.

Why are China and Japan sliding toward armed conflict over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkakus in Japan — five small, uninhabited islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan?

Ironically, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) turned down then-US president Franklin Roosevelt’s offer at the 1943 Cairo Conference to return the islands to China’s control after the end of World War II.

When Japan proposed to amicably settle the dispute with Beijing in 1972 and 1978, on both occasions then-Chinese leaders Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) said that they preferred to put the dispute aside and let the leaders of future generations deal with the matter.

However, history does not remain stationary. China’s perspective changed in the wake of the discovery of gas and oil, and the strategic importance of the islands has also been transformed along with China’s rise in economic and military power, as Beijing pursues maritime expansion and acquires new geo-strategic interests.

Japan’s domestic political dynamics are intertwined with its dispute with China. In September last year, the Japanese government nationalized three of the Diaoyutais in an effort to mitigate Chinaese anger and protests over then-Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s ploy to buy them.

The move backfired and provoked violent protests throughout China, which heightened tensions between the two countries. Since then, Chinese coast guard vessels have sailed into the waters around the Diaoyutais dozens of times and Chinese military planes have flown toward the islands almost daily to challenge Japan’s claim of sovereignty.

The escalation of the Sino-Japanese dispute risks involving the US, Japan’s key ally. Washington says that the US is neutral on the issue of sovereignty, but in reality it sides with Japan. On many occasions, US officials have emphasized that the US-Japan Defense Treaty covers the islands. Furthermore, several joint US-Japan maritime exercises in Guam and the waters around Okinawa demonstrate the determination of the allies to stop China from changing the “status quo” in the East China Sea.

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