Not surprisingly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that the Senkakus are Japan’s sovereign territory and it cannot tolerate any challenge now or in the future.
In his paper Senkaku Island Issues and Japan-China Relationship, Sadaharu Kataoka of Waseda University in Japan predicted that “a speedy resolution of the long-standing dispute” over the islands is unlikely.
Lee Chao-shing (李昭興) from National Taiwan Ocean University stated in his paper Is it Possible to Solve the Disputes in the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Peacefully? that Taiwan has the best claim to the islands, with the most geological, geographical, historical and cultural evidence in support. However, the nation has recently become pragmatic in dealing with Japan over the Diaoyutais.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), founder of Democratic Pacific Union, said in her opening speech at the forum that Taiwan decided to put aside the matter of sovereignty and on April 10 signed a fisheries agreement with Japan. This is a new tack; it protects and enhances the rights of Taiwanese fishermen operating within a designated zone and extends their fishing area by 4,350km2.
In the spirit of problem-solving and peace, Lu also cited the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and called for demilitarization and the creation of marine preservation zones in the region.
Beijing is not pleased with the Taiwan-Japanese modus vivendi, nor does it welcome Lu’s proposal, as China has for years urged President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to join it in opposing Japan. Ma was compelled to say no to Beijing and emboldened to support the interests of Taiwanese fishermen, apparently due to US intervention.
It stands to reason that Beijing strongly dislikes the US meddling in its disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian states. Beijing sees the US as an outsider and a nonparty to these regional disputes, and has sought to exclude the US from participating in the conflict resolution process, but in vain. The US insists that freedom of navigation and overflight in the Asia-Pacific is vital to its national interests, and that China and its neighbors should resolve their territorial and maritime disputes peacefully without resorting to force or coercion.
US President Barack Obama’s last-minute cancelation of his trips to the APEC meeting in Indonesia and the East Asia summit in Brunei last month may have undermined the credibility of the US “pivot to Asia” to some extent. However, it is doubtful that Chinese leaders made much progress in winning the trust and goodwill of ASEAN leaders in Obama’s absence.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) was uncompromising on Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea as he reiterated in Bali the “indisputable rights” of China within the nine-dash line. Moreover, Li was audacious in warning countries not directly involved, including the US, Japan, Australia and India, to stay out of the disputes.
Most ASEAN members welcome the presence of external players, especially the US’ rebalancing, to offset China’s hegemony and to protect their own interests. Could and would ASEAN play a more active and stronger role to shape regional norms and help resolve the disputes in the South China Sea?
Hasjim Djalal, from Indonesia, made an interesting proposal in his paper The South China Sea in Legal Perspective. He suggested that the six ASEAN non-claimants to sovereignty in the South China Sea, including Indonesia and Singapore, act as “facilitators” to invite the four ASEAN claimants, including Philippines and Vietnam, to sit down and negotiate the matter with the two non-ASEAN claimants; Taiwan and China. Djalal called on the ASEAN chairman to take the initiative to put the “6+4+2 formula” into action.