China has been aggressively pursuing territorial expansion in the South China Sea, building military bases and repeatedly entering Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa). It does so in complete disregard of a June 2008 agreement with Japan for the joint development of gas fields in the area. In fact, China has gone ahead in developing resources in the East China Sea by and for itself.
How should Japan deal with this?
Reporter Kazuyuki Sakamoto of the Sankei Shimbun asked Representative Yoshiaki Harada, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party committee on resource development in the East China Sea. The LDP on March 30 submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a proposal to bring a case to the International Court of Arbitration against China’s illegal resource development in the East China Sea.
Why file a case now?
In accordance with the Japan-China agreement, both sides held an initial meeting about joint development of gas fields, but after the September 2010 incident—where a Chinese fishing boat operating illegally in the waters of the Senkaku Islands rammed a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat—the Chinese attitude suddenly changed, and talks were canceled. However, China continues to quietly work on the Chinese side of the [yet-to-be-settled oceanic] boundary line between Japan and China.
The Japanese government has repeatedly lodged protests, but they have been ignored, and development continues. What’s more, even after Japan has cordially tried to bring up the East China Sea issue at Japan-China summit meetings, China keeps going on with resource development. We can’t allow this to go on. We must bring a case with the International Court of Arbitration.
What was Prime Minister Abe’s reaction to the resolution?
There was an air of “We have to do at least that much.” He said he would have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) consider it. There was a sense that he felt, if there was legal standing for a case, we must pursue it.
Is there any way to stop China’s unilateral exploitation?
Japan certainly can’t force the issue by strength. The only chance for a peaceful resolution is through litigation. Litigation is the one peaceful way, and an international right. There’s no need to be afraid. However, within the party, many are saying, “We mustn’t anger China.” But no matter how often this is discussed at summit meetings, China ignores it all.
Can we win a case against China?
March of 2016, we similarly felt that litigation might be called for. After than, we had discussions within the party, and called the MOFA and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to help us study the issue. And so, having reached the conclusion that a case was worthwhile, we made this resolution. The administration alone can decide to sue or not.
We also had lawyer and expert on public international law Paul Reichler give a talk to the party. Reichler was the lead counsel for the Philippines in their arbitration case over the South China Sea problem. He said it’s important to have theoretical backing, but also to consider if it was worth suing over, and if it was really worth fighting over. And so taking that into consideration, our latest written resolution contains the language “We should prepare to take strong measures, including bringing a legal case.”
How do you see relations with China going forward?
Japan will continue with diplomacy based on the security guarantee of the US-Japan alliance. However, China’s presence in Asia is going to keep growing. We have a responsibility to speak out against China’s hegemonism and expansionism, but at the same time, as part of Asia, I believe we have a role in helping guide China properly. We do have to get along with China, as well as forming friendly relations with Korea and Taiwan, the ASEAN nations, India and Russia. I think we need to keep an awareness of the issues other nations around China are having, as in the South China Sea, as we build an equal relationship with China.
What message should Japan send to other nations?
Out of atonement for its role starting World War II, Japan has taken a masochistic view of its own history. But we must continue to protect our national pride, interests, and sovereignty. It is important that Japan not only work on the proper rule of law and internationalism, but also create positive relationships with other countries through economic leadership, trustworthiness, and economic power.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)