Washington DC Peace & Security Forum

Washington DC Forum: Security Cooperation in the East and South China Seas: Preventing Territorial Disputes from Spinning Out of Control

Summary: Territorial disputes have increased political and military tensions in the East and South China Seas especially in relation to small island territories claimed by nearby nations. The islands are close to key shipping lanes, fishing grounds, and oil reserves. Participants in the April 12, 2013 forum discussed approaches to reduce the tensions in the East and South China Seas.

Participants: Dr. Joanne Jawling Chang, Research Fellow, The Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica; Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs, UPF International-DC Office; Dr. Evan Ellis, Associate Professor of National Security Studies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University; Mrs. Susan Fefferman, Women's Federation for World Peace; Mr. Kenneth Freelain, Host and producer, International Definition TV Program; Mr. Jose Gonzalez, Research and Analysis Fellow, Just Consulting; Mr. David Jackson, Executive Editor, The Washington Times; Mrs. Gamila Karjawally, Program Director, Muslim Women’s Association; Hon. Annette Lu Hsiulien, former Vice President, Republic of China (Taiwan); Mr. Thomas McDevitt, Chairman, The Washington Times; Mrs. Phindile Ntshangase, wife of the ambassador of Swaziland to the US; Mrs. Nahlah Al Nusimi, wife of the Ambassador of Iraq to the US; Ms. Carol Hui-Ling Pan, Officer, Political Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative office; Mr. William Reed, President and Chief Executive Officer, Black Press Foundation; Dr. William Selig, Deputy Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF; Rev. Nikki Theodore, clergy; Mr. Bruce Wang, Senior Executive Political Officer, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative office; and Prof. Ruth Wedgwood, Chair, graduate program on international law, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Dr. Antonio Betancourt, Chairperson, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF: Distinguished guests: ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the UPF Office of Peace and Security Affairs here in Washington, it is an honor to welcome you to our monthly roundtable, on: “Prospects for Peace and Security in the East and South China Seas.”

A potential crisis of significant magnitude is linked to disputed islands and maritime boundaries in the waters of the East and South China Seas. Geopolitical and state sovereignty issues aside, these various islands are valued for several reasons, including fishing rights, shipping lanes, oil and natural gas reserves, and other resources. Among the disputed territories are the Spratley Islands, Paracel Islands, the Scarborough Shoal, the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, the Socota Rock, and others. The competing claims to sovereignty contribute to tensions in the region among many nations, including, China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and others. Were these tensions to trigger some wider or greater conflict, it would present a serious and troubling situation.

With Asia increasingly becoming the center of world trade, any significant clash related to these disputed islands would have regional and global implications of great political, military and economic import. The likelihood of such a clash has been on the rise in recent months. The insecurity posed by recent provocations from North Korea, coupled with its aggressive nuclear development program, only accentuates the problem.

Moreover, there are other recent developments that impact the overall context. These include the new leadership in China, Japan and both Koreas. Other powers also have interests in the Region, most notably the USA and Russia, the latter having experience with disputed territories of the Kuril Islands, and the former seeking to establish its own Pacific presence.

One important point of discussion will be whether the leaders of various nations can take steps to defuse the tensions now holding sway and begin talking with one another about practical steps to resolve the disputes?   One proposal for discussion it the possible demilitarization of the South and East China Seas. Another, originating from Japanese academics in Okinawa, is the creation of a shared livelihood space in the East China Seas.

We are privileged to have a distinguished group of Washington experts and scholars on these issues to attend today’s discussion. I would like to once again welcome as moderator for our roundtable, Dr. Alexandre Mansourov, currently Visiting Scholar with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and Senior Fellow with the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability. Dr. Mansourov, one of Washington’s most astute observers of Korean peninsula affairs, was also a professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, the Asia think tank of the U.S. Department of Defense. He was also moderator last December for UPF’s forum on the East China Sea dispute.

Led by the moderator, Dr. Alexandre Mansourov, the experts and participants discussed the historical background, the situation from political and geopolitical perspectives, and the policy implications to the United States

Proposal for Peace

Introductory Remarks, Hon. Annette Lu Hsieu Lien, former Vice President, Taiwan: The Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands are eight uninhabited islets located in the East China Sea. They are approximately 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland, 230 nautical miles west of Okinawa, and 400 nautical miles south of Japan. They were first discovered, named, and used by Ming China, knowing that they have been traditional fishing ground of Taiwanese fisherman for generations. The islands are divided by the Okinawa Trough. Geologically, the islands are made up of igneous rocks, and their chemical and geographic characteristics are the same as Taiwan’s Huaping Islet, and Pengjia Islet. It is the natural prolongation of Taiwan’s territory while the Ryukyu Islands belong to the Kirishima volcanoes.

Before 1960, China’s maps did not include the Diaoyutais in its territory. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping expressed his stand of not touching the Diaoyutais issue when signing the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The Diaoyutais did not become a hot potato until Japan nationalized these islets in 2012.

The Diaoyutai Islands are located west of the First Island Chain. Owning the Diaoyutais, China’s naval ships and aircrafts can have free access to the Pacific Ocean and directly challenge the U.S.-Japan Alliance. On the contrary, if the Diaoyutais become a military base of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, the East China Sea and Bohai Sea will be besieged and China’s coastal cities will face missile threats.

My proposal is for governments to agree to turn the Senkakus and the seas round them – along with other rocks contested by Japan and South Korea—into pioneering marine protected areas. As well as preventing war between humans, it would help other species.

For the resolution of international conflicts, I propose pursuing what I call the Three C’s: Peaceful co-existence, co-prosperity for industrial cooperation, and cultural exchanges. The Three C’s become one large C – Constructive Engagement. She quoted Aristotle who said, “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”


Dr. Joanne Jawling Chang, Research Fellow, The Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica: I agree with a recent statement by Kurt Campbell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The US had advised the Japanese government not to purchase the Senkaku Islands. He said the action would cause an escalation of tensions in the region, yet they went ahead anyway. Recently, Japan and Taiwan signed an agreement on fishing rights. Basically, the agreement puts aside the sovereignty issue and gives permission to the Taiwanese to fish in what Japan calls its Exclusive Economic Zone. We are hopeful that this agreement will serve as a model for the other nations. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou stand to benefit since (1) It prevents Taiwan and PRC from forming a joint front against Japan, and (2) It lowers bi-lateral tensions between the two nations, and (3) It brings an important boost to the popularity at home of Taiwan’s President.

Dr. Evan Ellis, Associate Professor of National Security Studies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University, U.S.A: I look at the question broadly in strategic terms and related of course is the increase of power of the PRC and increasing confidence in which the People’s Republic’s fifth generation of leadership, President Xi Jinping and his colleagues, look at the world. What strikes me most geopolitically is the contrast between the behavior of the PRC close to home in the South China Sea versus its much more deferential behavior on the international stage.

There is an historical trend that is important. Up until the most recent years, China was very deferential on the territorial issue and preferred to focus on maintaining goodwill. Japan has become very concerned by the increasing power and projection of China. Their aircraft carrier could not have gone without notice. I wouldn’t want to accuse Japan of provoking China, but many have suggested that Japan, or the previous government, was surprised that PRC reacted so strongly at this time. The critical issue is what will be the definition of the prevailing regimes that govern economic and political relations in the Pacific? There is a profound transition − the recentering of geopolitics from a U.S.-Europe “Atlantic Community” to a newly emerging “Community of the Pacific.”

I want to make a point about the strategic context. There are two conditions that are necessary before any proposal can have fruit. One, I’m not yet sure that the Chinese government feels that it needs or feels it is in its interest to negotiate. Second, is the question of the long-term future of the Taiwan-Chinese rapprochement. For the current debate to go from a two party to a three party discussion, the question of the long-term future of the Taiwanese- Chinese rapprochement must be dealt with, because of the role the PRC feels that Taiwan can strategically play between it and Japan.

Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs, UPF International DC-Office: I am not an expert by training, but as a Japanese by birth, I do have a certain sense of the situation. The Senkaku Islands were never an issue when I was growing up. Japan is trying very hard to please the other nations, including making major concessions on fishing rights to Taiwan, but at the same time, creating a unified alliance to protect itself from PRC aggression.

We need a new paradigm and a new way of thinking to bring about peace to every region. We are not interested in just a temporary peace, nor a plan that relies on an expensive and large military. Instead, we need new ways of thinking and creative ideas that bring together people from all sectors of society

Mr. David Jackson, Executive Editor, The Washington Times: One result of China’s growing economic power is that China’s neighbors are becoming increasingly concerned, for fear of increased military power. It could be argued that what Japan has done is a preemptive measure in advance to protect their interests as PRC begins to flex its muscles. The US administration has not focused on the region and gives the message that these nations should work it out among themselves. At the same time, some of China’s neighbors including Vietnam, are suddenly eager to be friends of the U.S. to protect themselves against the growing China power. The question we should be asking is: what are the implications for the U.S.?

U.S. foreign policy for many years has been built around the assumption that it is a Pacific power. The geopolitical significance of this particular dispute is the opportunity it offers to the U.S. to come up with a formula to resolve disputes like this. This is a good opportunity for all of us to develop a plan to head off these disputes. We need to work together and figure this out. If we don't do it, no one else will.

Rev. Nikki Theodore, Clery, Washington D.C.: We cannot overlook the importance of a spiritual component to resolve this territorial dispute. Let us allow the Lord to guide this process. I recommend with all our heart we offer our prayers to guide the intelligence and knowhow of our leaders and policymakers. Only then can we expect great peace for all His children and defeat of the forces of darkness.

Prof. Ruth Wedgwood, Chair, Graduate Program on International Law, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: U.S. officials have been involved with some of the arbitrations in the South China Sea. The Chinese maritime territorial claim has no legal basis. China wants the Senkoku Islands to be the equivalent of our Caribbean. Many believe they are positioning themselves strategically. Recently, Japan charged that its vessels and aircraft in the area have been targeted by Chinese weapons-guiding radar. While China claims Japan is deliberately spreading false information, both sides have used it to raise nationalistic ardor. China’s ambitions in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea push its smaller neighbors toward the United States, including Vietnam, The Philippines, and South Korea.

The primary contribution of Japan has been financial. About one-third of the cost to pay for the Gulf War was provided mostly by Japan. Officially they have no military, according to its constitution, although it has the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which are confined to disaster relief and UN peacekeeping. One major challenge for U.S. policy is that it supports freedom of navigation, but does not any sides on who owns what partly because it will play one ally off the other. It makes the U.S. appear as unhelpful. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. security treaty and falls under the scope of the bilateral security treaty. Sending something to arbitration has great potential for putting an issue on ice for quite some time. If you want to lower the rhetoric of belligerent and declaratory statements then arbitration or mediation is a possible route for getting it out of the way of a bilateral setting rhetoric.

Insights of Dr. Antonio Betancourt: I’m suggesting that Japan’s initiative to nationalize the islands in 2012 is a purposefully created dispute to achieve what the U.S. considers in its interests but also from the point of view of the globalization of democracy, human rights, and the globalization of freedom, which is the basis for the United Nations charter and all the charters that secure human and citizens rights in countries around the world including the rights of the pioneers of democracy in Asia and of its citizens in the region. The PRC is the new mega global investor while the U.S. claims it has no money to invest anywhere.

This coalition, the U.S.-Japan alliance, has no binding force without changing Japan’s Constitution. Once Japan changes the Constitution, then they can lower the rhetoric of defiance because they will have achieved the purpose. If Japan is able to remove Article 9 of the Constitution, it will indeed lose the incentive to stimulate discord and provoke crisis in the region and of course there is no need to have bellicose language as we experienced recently. The U.S. needs reliable partners to create stability and a true balance of power in the region and those are Japan and South Korea in North East Asia.

The next step would be for groups like UPF, with our global outreach to leadership in governments, legislatures, religion, academia, media and private sector, to emphasize the importance of peace in the context of protecting the global economy. We’re not talking about just the Chinese economy in the region; we're talking about the globe. Groups like ours should be very proactive in promoting some ideas, such as the creation of a marine conservation reserve park in the area. A federation of countries with similar “rightful” claims in the development of resources can work together within the structure of a federation.

Moderator’s Remarks, Dr. Mansourov: The island chain has two important strategic advantages: (1) sovereignty means exploration rights for any source of oil, and (2) for China’s long-term security, claim over the islands allows them to expand their maritime perimeter, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The dispute is a competition for resources and strategic space. A peaceful resolution of this dispute has huge trade implications for the U.S. It’s in U.S. interests to keep these trade routes open for the economic vitality of all the states of the region as well as its own. The oil and gas reserves are considered so rich that the area is being called “The Second Persian Gulf.” More than $5 trillion worth of trade is shipped through its waters.

Concerning the constitutional change in Japan, as soon as Japan becomes a normal country and once is given the right to defend itself, then might it lose the incentive to provoke international crises around its periphery? Those who have studied Japan are concerned about the rationality and predictability of Japanese behavior. There is a track record of the Japanese political class making surprise wild swings not only in its domestic politics but also in its foreign policy. For the sake of expediency, we may want to have the Article removed, but with more foresight and strategic thinking, then maybe it’s not a bad idea that Japan be restricted in what it can do because if left to their own designs and ambitions, we cannot guarantee which way they will go.

The next step to ratchet down the tension, according to some, is to do “nothing” within the 12 nautical miles and just let the tempers cool down to “preserve the islands for the next generation” and let common sense prevail.

Conclusion: Neither Japan, nor the PRC can afford to lose in this territorial dispute. Diplomacy is the best way to de-escalate the situation. Taiwan offers no threat to either side and can serve as an intermediary between the two nations to settle the dispute. Now is the time to put into action a workable plan which emphasizes long-term soft power strategies and diplomacy that can prevent the crisis in the East China Sea from spiraling out of control and eventually to create a win-win solution to all countries involved.

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