Yoshikawa, Yukie. 2006. "Okinotorishima: Just the Tip of the Iceberg." Harvard Asia Quarterly 9, no. 4: 51-61.
The southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago has been a hot issue between Japan and China since 2004, when Chinese officials started to refer to it "rocks" not as an "island." In international law, rocks cannot be a basis for claiming an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). After the Chinese challenge to its territorial right over Okinotorishima, Japan saw a resurgence in nationalism, and some Japanese reacted vigorously, including Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist Tokyo Governor. Ishihara asserts that recently developed international law cannot repudiate the past investments Japan had made in Okinotorishima and that Tokyo has a legitimate claim over it. Furthermore, he went as far as to decide to install a 330 million yen radar system for surveillance and set up an address plate at the "island." At present, the two countries have not reached any agreement regarding the issue.
The Okinotorishima issue is a unique territorial issue in that this is not a case in which countries contest with each other for control of a territory. There is no chance for China to obtain any territorial rights in the Okinoshima dispute. The heart of this dispute is whether Japan can maintain claim to an EEZ by defining the unmanned rocks as islands. Why does Beijing challenge the Japanese EEZ? By denying the Japanese EEZ in the area, China wants to freely investigate its seabed for submarine operations in case of military conflict involving Taiwan.
In countering the Chinese challenge, Japan has been focusing on how to make Okinotorishima legally an "island" by artificially producing economic life there and planning to make it an actually livable place. However, Japan is totally missing the point by not addressing China’s underlying concerns regarding Taiwan. Japan should make efforts to solve or at least alleviate the Chinese concern.
By the same token, it would not be wise for China to stimulate Japanese nationalism as it could trigger precisely what it wants to avoid more than anything else: rising militarism in Japan. With the resurgence in nationalism, the Japanese have been growingly tolerant about discussion of such matters as revision of the peace constitution and development of nuclear weapons. In conclusion, this paper suggests that both countries should focus on tackling the real issue: reducing their mutual mistrust.
I. Historical Background
The first record of Okinotorishima dates back to 1789 when the English ship Iphigenia, found the territory. The territory was named "Douglass Reef" in the following year. In 1922 and 1925, the Japanese navy ship Manshu investigated the territory. In 1931, confirming that no other countries had claimed it, Japan declared it Japanese territory, placed it under the jurisdiction of City of Tokyo as a part of the Ogasawara Islands, which are islands south of Tokyo, and gave it a new Japanese name, Okinotorishima.
The real motive behind the Japanese action was that the Japanese Navy wanted it because the coral atoll with five "rocks" showing above sea level had favorable geographical conditions for building a hydroplane base. The location was perfect from the military point of view. The surrounding sea was quite deep, and it was located in the middle of the Philippine Sea. Though it was debatable whether a coral reef could be claimed as territory even from the viewpoint of the international law then, the government decided to "make a fait accompli by claiming it."1 No country officially made any objection to the inclusion.
As it seemed inappropriate to openly build a military facility in the international climate at that time, the government decided to refer to the base externally as "a lighthouse and a meteorological observation site." During 1939 and 1941, a foundation work was completed for the buildings. However, the construction was interrupted by the start of the Pacific War.2
After World War II, Japan lost sovereignty over the Ogasawara islands, including Okinotorishima, until they were returned by the U.S. in 1968. It did not attract much attention until the late 1970s, when nations started to claim their EEZs. In 1983, Japan signed the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on the Law of the Sea, stipulated in the previous year, which states the law on the EEZ. The U.N. Convention itself took effect in 1994 and for Japan in 1996. Based on its possession of Okinotorishima, Japan could claim an EEZ of approximately 154,500 square miles (400,000 Km2), larger than the area of Japan itself.3
In order to stop the physical erosion of Okinotorishima, now reduced to two rocks, the Metropolis of Tokyo, and later the central government, engaged in protection work by building steel breakwaters and concrete walls during 1987-93.4 The U.N. Law of the Sea states, "An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide. … The exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory." It was necessary for Japan to maintain the "islands" above sea level at all times in order to keep its large EEZ.
However, on April 22nd, 2004, during bilateral talks in Beijing to discuss Chinese marine research activities within Japan's EEZ, Chinese diplomats stated that China would not regard Okinotorishima as an islet, but just rocks, while acknowledging Japan's territorial rights. The U.N. Law of the Sea also states, "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf", and this implies that Japan cannot claim its current EEZ. No one can live on Okinotorishima, and its economic life is disputable. The only artificial structure on the islands is a marine investigation facility built by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center in 1988, which has been maintained since then despite repeated damages by typhoons.5 Thus, by denying Japan’s EEZ in the area, China claims that about half of 11 cases of such research activities in 2004 did not amount to the violation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea because they were conducted around Okinotorishima.6
This Chinese view was supported in 1988 by Dr. Jon Von Dyke, a professor of law at University of Hawaii. He wrote, "Okinotorishima - which consists of two eroding protrusions no larger than king-size beds - certainly meets the description of an uninhabitable rock that cannot sustain economic life of its own. It is not, therefore, entitled to generate a 200-mile exclusive economic zone."7 Experts say Japan's position is similar to Britain’s in its failed attempt to claim an EEZ around Rockall, an uninhabited granite outcrop in the Atlantic. London eventually dropped its claim in the 1990s when other countries objected. Dr. Dyke made himself clear again in 2005.8
On the other hand, Tadao Kuribayashi, a professor of law at Toyoeiwa University in Tokyo, insists that the Japanese claim is justifiable as there is no definition of a "rock" in international law. Geologically speaking, he argues, coral reefs and rocks (objects consisting of hard continental soil) are different. Thus, he argues, a country can claim its own EEZ or continental shelf based on its possession of coral reefs. Furthermore, the provisions can also be interpreted to say that a rock is a kind of an island and that only rocks that cannot be inhabited or have no economic life have no claims for EEZ or continental shelf. In this case, he argues, the claim that Okinotorishima is not an islet but rocks does not make sense.9
II. The Underlying Chinese Concern
Here, two key questions must be addressed. The first question is: "Why did China claim that Okinotorishima were rocks in the April statement?" The second is "Why did Beijing decide to make the claim suddenly in April 2004?" It is logical to ask the first question because China would not increase its territory by making such a statement. In fact, the Chinese government has been saying that they would recognize the territorial rights of Japan over the "islands." The key to this question is one of the agenda of the April talks during which they made the provocative statement: the Chinese marine research activities within Japan's EEZ.
Why does China not want Japan’s EEZ to extend into that area? Okinotorishima, located at a latitude of 20 degree 20’ north and a longitude of 136 degree 05’ east, or roughly 1,100 miles (1,700km) south of Tokyo, is situated midway between Taiwan and Guam. It may well be a route for an American fleet, including submarines, in Guam to pass in case of American military engagements with China to support Taiwan. In such a case, the PRC may well want to freely place its submarines in the area to delay the arrival of U.S. Navy vessels.10 Thus, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy needs a seabed map for use by its submarines in the area.
In fact, we can find some evidence that shows China has been conducting a series of surveys in order to draft such a map. Before and after the statement, China has been sending investigation ships into the area. For example, in March 2004 the Japanese press reported that Chinese marine research vessels had conducted illegal research activities in Japan's EEZ in the Pacific Ocean at least 11 times during the period from January to March of 2004, according to Japan Defense Agency (JDA) officials, including on Feb 29, March 2-4, 2004.11 In July, a Chinese navy survey ship was spotted, towing a wire, an act that can be interpreted as oceanographic research.12 JDA said that a Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) patrol aircraft discovered two different Chinese navy and government vessels in Japan's EEZ five times that month.13 In December another ship was found using sonar, apparently to map the sea floor for Chinese submarine activities.14
The U. N. Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that prior approval is required at least six months in advance from concerned countries when one country wants to conduct oceanographic research in the exclusive economic zone of another. Thus, China would have had to make requests beforehand to Japan, and of course, Japan would have reserved the right to deny such requests. These acts have already triggered a series of protests by Tokyo to Beijing.15 China answered back that the surveys were conducted not in Japan’s EEZ but in the high sea. In such a situation, Tokyo would be less likely to approve future Chinese requests even if Beijing made them.
Regarding the unapproved surveys in the "Japanese EEZ," China has another series of "criminal records" in the East China Sea, which is said to have rich reserves of oil and natural gas in the sea bottom. After China conducted 33 surveys in 1999 and 19 in 2000 without notifying Japan, Japan finally protested. In February 2001, the two countries signed an accord under which Japan and China were to notify each other if they conducted marine resource surveys in the EEZ claimed by the other. As a result, the number of cases in which China failed to notify Japan before conducting such surveys sharply decreased. China conducted four marine surveys without notifying Japan in that year, two in 2002 and none in 2003. However, the number of such cases jumped to four in 2004.16 These actions have been interpreted as proof that China is desperate to obtain energy resources.
In the past, when Japan protested its oceanographic research in Japanese territory, China simply discussed the matter calmly through diplomatic channels. Why did China suddenly raise the voltage of tension to a higher level by denying Japan’s EEZ in April 2004, eight years after Japan had declared its EEZ? It appears that Beijing perceived some kind of urgent security threat regarding Taiwan in the events leading up to the April statement. The Pentagon announced plans to sell Taiwan two long-range early-warning radars and associated equipment totaling nearly $1.8 billion in cost as part of an effort to bolster the island's defenses in the face of a Chinese missile buildup on April 1st, 2004.17 This decision was based on the recent military buildup of a large missile arsenal facing Taiwan.18 Beijing readily issued vigorous denouncements and warnings, including opposition by China’s President Hu Jintao to President Bush in a telephone conversation.19 Although the U.S. did not succumb to the Chinese pressure, it did not forget to emphasize that it would stick to its One-China policy.
Here, the U.S. became involved due to the US-Japanese alliance and the special relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. Although each of these events might not be big enough to dramatically escalate tensions in the Sino-Japanese or Sino-US relations, they can trigger other smaller events which in turn can create a kind of small-scale security dilemma. All parties have been cautious not to excessively aggravate the others, but they nevertheless continue to irritate one another.
Unfortunately, the vicious cycle continued to develop. In November of the same year, a nuclear-powered Chinese Navy submarine passed through Japanese territorial waters between two Japanese islands near Taiwan, alerting the Japanese Maritime SDF. In violation of international law, the submarine did not surface or identify itself. Japanese officials said Chinese officials later apologized.20
In February 2005, Japan pushed the U.S. to include for the first time the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait in a declaration of common strategic objectives after the Security Consultative Committee conference, also known as the 2+2 meeting. China denounced the agreement as a threat to its sovereignty. Until then, both countries had adopted strategic ambiguity on the question as to whether the scope of the US-Japanese alliance would include the Taiwan Straits issue.
In April 2005, the EU delayed the decision to lift its arms embargo against China, primarily due to strong American pressure. In August 2005, Israel, which had canceled its arms sales to China in 2000, agreed to consult with the U.S. before selling weapons to China in order to avoid unnecessary friction between the two countries.21 This meant that Beijing’s options with regard to suppliers of modernized weaponry were now limited, primarily due to American pressure.
In July 2005, the Pentagon submitted its latest report on the Chinese military to Congress, asserting for the first time that Beijing's military buildup could pose a threat to U.S. allies in Asia and upset the regional balance of power. In the past, the Pentagon's annual China report has focused on Beijing's ability to conduct a war over Taiwan. This study looks far more broadly at China's overall ambitions and cites its increased desire for energy resources as a growing factor in Beijing's military and diplomatic development.22 Again, China made a vehement protest on the report.
During August 18-25th, 2005, China engaged in a joint military exercise with Russia for the first time, which involved the armies, navies, air forces and other units of the two countries' militaries. Its purpose was explained as improving coordination of the two armed forces so they can better handle 'crises and meet new challenges and threats' including "international terrorism, extremism and separatism," according to the Chinese defense ministry.23 "Separatism" includes Taiwan, sending a message that the military option against Taiwan is not excluded.
Behind these events lies a complex mistrust between China and Japan. China resents Japan’s close link with the U.S. and finds little reason for Japan to allow the U.S. forces to be stationed in Japan even after the potential enemies have supposedly disappeared by the end of the Cold War. In fact, until 2005, the U.S. and Japan have maintained strategic ambiguity regarding the scope of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, as previously mentioned, and this has fed the Chinese suspicion that the U.S. and Japan were conspiring to strategically contain China, perhaps even including the ROC.
It is further fueled by the recent frequent discussions of Asian security between the two countries in which Japan is encouraged to have a stronger defense capability, and the joint development of a missile defense, which could neutralize a good part of the Chinese conventional weaponry and its defense capability. The joint technology research started since 1999 and Japan announced the joint development of a sea-based interceptor missile to be used in a missile defense system in December 2005.24
The pro-Taiwan sentiments in Japan are another factor annoying the PRC. There has been a pro-ROC group of conservative members in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), such as former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and Takeo Fukuda. Economically, Japan has enjoyed a large amount of trade with Taiwan and has invested there long before the normalization of relations with the PRC. The economic interests and the political leaders were deeply connected with each other.25 Although the power of the pro-Taiwan group has been declining with the change in the international environment, the PRC remains sensitive about the Japanese attitude toward Taiwan. Each time the former Taiwan leader Lee Tenghui was given a visa to visit Japan, China issued a series of protests and warnings to Japan.26
Moreover, the Japanese attitude towards the past contributes to China’s mistrust of Japan. Then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone started to recognize Japan’s invasion of Asian countries and make apologies to them in the 1980s. The Japan-China joint declaration in 1998 included the word "aggression" for the first time and expressed "deep remorse." However, Japanese leaders have not been consistent regarding the history question. Some politicians still make remarks that the past war was fought in self defense or to set Asia free from colonization or that the Japanese occupation also did some good for the local people."27
The history issue mainly centers on the history textbook and Yasukuni Shrine controversies. First, hating a masochistic emphasis on atrocities that resulted from Japanese imperialism in the conventional Japanese history textbook, reactionary movements such as the "Jiyuu shikan" [Liberal way of viewing history] and New Textbook movement have been attempting to rewrite history in reaction against what they see as a masochistic emphasis on atrocities committed by imperial Japan in conventional Japanese history textbooks. For example, in 1982, one Japanese history textbook described the Japanese "invasion" of Asia as an "advance,"28 triggering a large controversy both inside and outside Japan. China denounces the Japanese government’s authorization of the new textbook for usage in high schools in Japan, although the Japanese high schools can choose their textbooks from several authorized ones, and only less than 1% of the schools use the "new textbook."
Japanese Prime Ministers and other high government officials continue to make visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 class-A war criminals have been enshrined since 1978. Beijing protests the visits, viewing them as proof that Japan does not fully regret its past deeds. Recent visits by Prime Minister Koizumi, despite the vehement protests and warnings by the neighboring countries, have irritated Beijing. The only relief is that he has avoided visiting the shrine on August 15th, the worst timing for the visit in Beijing’s eyes.
The history issue confuses many people. China continues to blame Japan over its wartime actions despite the fact the Japanese have made many apologies, including the Japan-China joint declaration in 1998, as previously mentioned, and the controversy shows no sign of ending any time soon. It is confusing partly because the purely domestic question of how Japan should view its past has become entangled with larger political or diplomatic questions.
In the context of the domestic discussion on Japan’s history education, the criticism of the history education in Japan by those intellectuals who edited the "new textbook" is not totally groundless. The Japanese history classroom fails to present the dynamics of history of the period in question with too much emphasis on memorization of events, keywords, and names of people. Simply memorizing the years of events, names of events and people does not mean that students understand or think about what led Japan to invade Asia, and most importantly, what systems or consensus postwar Japan has developed so as not to repeat the same mistakes. While the Japanese education system provides knowledge of events concerning WWII, it hardly encourages students to analyze the past and draw lessons from it for the future. Without such deep engagement with past mistakes, Japan’s apologies will not be able to gain sincerity in the eyes of the victimized Asian people.
As this is purely a domestic issue, other countries should not seek to interfere with the Japanese domestic discussion of how the series of wars should be remembered. Chinese intervention into this discussion would only accelerate the growth of nationalism in Japan. The problem is that the discussion has become intertwined with larger political and diplomatic issues. Hisahiko Okazaki, a critic of Japanese diplomacy, points out that the history issue became a part of political agenda between Japan and China because of the domestic political struggle in Japan. Jiang Zemin’s speech at the Japanese imperial palace demanding apology for past deeds during his visit to Japan in 1998 infuriated the Japanese people. Then, regretting the mistake, China had refrained from mentioning the issue since summer of 1999, which could be regarded as the resolution of the history issue between Japan and China. However, the Asahi Shimbun exposed a confidential draft version of the highly controversial "new textbook" published in 2001. Although the textbook itself had been extensively revised to the level that would not upset Asian neighbors before it was published, China was forced to take a hard-line approach on the issue in response to the angry public reactions in China.29 Moreover, according to Okazaki, many of the past Japanese premiers visited Yasukuni Shrine starting with Shigeru Yoshida in 1951,30 and after the A-class war criminals were enshrined in 1978, Zenko Suzuki visited the shrine every year during 1980-82,31 without any foreign protests. However, in 1985, in their attempt to block policies of Yasuhiro Nakasone, anti-government leftists asked for comments from the Chinese officials, who were in no position to welcome his visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Their comments were used internally to attack Nakasone.32 After similar incidents recurred, China came to realize that the history issue could be used as a diplomatic card.
The Chinese government’s policy of promoting anti-Japanese sentiments, the only ideological basis of the legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party rule following the fall of communism, has made the matter worse, especially during the Jiang Zemin administration. For example, in the mid 1990’s, he engaged in a passionate "patriotic education campaign," which placed stress in part on anti-Japanese sentiments.33 Those who were educated then are now in their high teens to 30’s, and have been increasingly active in expressing their sentiments and opinions via the Internet.
As discussed above, Japan has been making a series of diplomatic mistakes in its dealings with China, and the Chinese government is apparently abusing them. Tokyo should address Beijing’s real concern instead of being fixated on a diplomatic card which Beijing deals just to make negotiations advantageous.
On the positive side, China recognizes the unexpected benefit of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, the so-called "lid of a bottle" theory, whatever intention Japan and the U.S. may have. The last thing China wants to see is a resurrection of Japan’s militarism, and the alliance guarantees that Japan that would not take aggressive international actions. It has been providing Japan with peace since 1945, allowing it to get by with light armament under the American nuclear umbrella. Japan has never invaded foreign territories and has not produced or possessed nuclear weapons. Japan has maintained a ceiling of 1% of GNP for its defense budget, which is low compared with the average of those of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S. 4.1%, Russia 6.4%, Britain 3.3%, China 2.6%, and France 3.2% during 1989-1999).34 According to the Military Balance, 2003-2004 edition, the defense expenditure of Japan in 2002 was even lower than that of China, whose GDP is approximately four times smaller than that of Japan.35
Further, China and Japan have grown increasingly integrated economically. Their trade volume reached more than 167 billion dollars in 2004.36 That year, China replaced the U.S. as Japan’s largest trading partner,37 while Japan was China’s second largest. Japanese foreign direct investment in China exceeded 5 billion dollars in terms of actual payments in 2004.38 In opening its markets to foreign countries, as it has been committed to doing upon joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), Beijing expects Japan to invest in China, in order to avoid dependency on companies of a single nationality.
Moreover, China has been the largest recipient of Japanese Official Development Aid (ODA), receiving 4.2 billion yen (approximately 36.4 million dollars) in grants and 85.9 billion yen (approximately 7.5 billion dollars) in loans in 2004.39 Despite outstanding development in the coastal area, China still suffers from poverty in rural areas, a fact that is often overlooked by non-Chinese, and Beijing is highly concerned about this. Japanese ODA contributes to development of such areas. China still expects technical transfers from Japan in various fields such as energy and the environment. Due to the expected surge in domestic energy demand with motorization and permeation of electric appliances in Chinese homes in the near future, along with China’s terrible energy inefficiency, energy security has been regarded as one of the highest priorities for Beijing.
Environmental issues, including air and water pollution, have been a growing concern partly because the primary energy for China has been coal. In many areas, they are already causing social unrest in China. For example, in April 2005, Huaxi in Zhejiang province experienced large scale rioting, when up to 30,000 villagers chased 1,500 police and officials out of the village, humiliating authorities in the city of Dongyang. The trouble in Huaxi began four years ago when villagers discovered that local officials had handed over their farmland to chemical companies without consulting them. The unrest in Huaxi is part of a wave of protests sweeping the mainland as breakneck economic development gobbles up farmland and pollutes the environment. The government has said there were 74,000 "mass incidents" in 2004, up from just 10,000 a decade ago.40
In both fields, Japan boasts the state-of-art technology, and China has a good reason to expect aid from Japan. Especially in the area of pollution prevention, Japan also has a strong incentive to help China as the Chinese pollution can affect Japan in such forms as acid rain. From political, economical and social perspectives, it is obvious that the two nations mutually benefit from friendly relations.
Japan views China with equally mixed sentiments. On one hand, Japan recognizes that both countries share many fields where they can expect mutual benefits through collaboration such as the North Korean nuclear issue and environmental issues. While Japanese capital looks attractive to China, the large Chinese market and low labor cost are irresistible charms for Japanese companies. Through economic integration and entwinement, some expect that China would be obliged to and would become a good member of the international community. For example, eager to become a member of WTO, China undertook a series of reforms, including reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, expansion of trading rights for exporting, foreign exchange reform, market access commitment such as telecommunications and financial industry.41
On the other hand, Japan views the rise of China’s military and economic power as a threat to the current American hegemony and the regional balance of power. In particular, the recent modernization of the PLA has been alarming Japan. Since 1996, Japan’s white paper on defense has expressed concerns about China's military build-up, especially considering the uncertainties caused by frequent tense relations between China and Taiwan.
III. The Japanese Reaction
The Chinese statement in April 2004 has prompted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda to argue, "The Chinese claim that the island is a rock is absolutely unacceptable. We designated the area around the island as an Exclusive Economic Zone based on international and domestic law. China is the only country that insists it is a rock."42
In November 2004 and March 2005, the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese right wing organization, dispatched a mission to the "islands" in order to investigate how Okinotorishima and the surrounding EEZ could be utilized. The first mission was intended to investigate the ways in which the EEZ could be used, and the members included experts in the fields of the international law, coral reef ecology and construction.
The suggestions in the report include the following: build a lighthouse; breed coral reef and sand by various ways such as planting glauconite and foraminifera (hard-shelled microscopic organisms whose bodies become sand as they die) and developing an artificial reef; build an ocean-thermal energy conservation power plant; investigate mineral resources in the sea bottom; build social infrastructure such as a port and houses for human habitation, marine studies, and development; and promote sightseeing.43
With a lighthouse, the island would be added in the charts around the globe with the name Okinotorishima, and its presence would be enhanced. The breeding of the coral reef and sand is important to enlarge the "island", considering the trend of a rise in the sea level due to global warming, along with securing spaces for human habitation. The power plant is expected to create various merits, including fertilization of the ocean and extraction of lithium, for which Japan currently relies entirely on imports, by sucking up water in the seabed with rich plankton and minerals.44
Based on the first mission, a second mission was dispatched focusing on feasibility studies in the most promising fields of marine engineering, power generation, and building lighthouse.45
Encouraged by the Nippon Foundation’s activities, in May 2005, Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo who is also known as a nationalist, paid a visit there. In an essay appearing in the Sankei Shimbun on June 6th, he said that Japan has been spending money on Okinotorishima for future development since 1932 with some intervals, including 85 billion yen (approximately 740 million dollars) in building and maintaining a residence. These historical facts cannot be reversed by the U.N. convention. Furthermore, he pointed out the strategic importance of the area in terms of national security and indicated that China has been increasing its number of submarines, which will reach 130 in ten years according to the American estimates compared to 25 of the US Navy. Thus, he argued, it is Japan’s responsibility to hold the area and establish effective control over the surrounding water through economic activities such as fishing in order not to allow the Chinese to develop the area into a base for submarines. He even suggested that an attempt to build an ocean-thermal energy conservation power plant would attract many fish, the first such experiment in the world.46
Japanese officials and politicians are reported to have welcomed the Nippon Foundation's efforts.47 In April 2005, a Japanese fishing boat went to the area for fishing at the request of Governor Ishihara, in order to demonstrate the existence of "economic life" in the area.48 Japan decided to build a lighthouse.49 Tokyo also decided to install a 330 million yen radar system for round-the-clock surveillance to detect vessels approaching Okinotorishima50 and set up an address plate at the "island."51
The Chinese government has stressed several times that China and Japan have different views over the nature of the Okinotorishima waters and that the two sides should properly handle the dispute through friendly negotiations.52 On the other hand, China does not seem about to stop its marine surveys or to notify Japan with future investigations. In June 2005, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said that he knew nothing about reports of a naval survey vessel near Okinotorishima.53
IV. Conclusion: Confidence Building Measures are the True Solution
The Japanese reaction against the Chinese statement in April 2004 has focused on bolstering its claim over the EEZ through making Okinotorishima an islet in legal terms. Japan deserves a credit, as it is not simply trying to meet the minimum criteria for being regarded as a legal islet. Japan has been making efforts to utilize the area for the benefit of not only Japan but also for studies breeding of coral reefs and islands that can be applied to other islands which may not be able to continue to exist due to the rising sea level caused by global warming
The problem, however, is that Tokyo is preoccupied with the goal of making the area inhabitable, rather than addressing the root cause of the dispute: the Chinese fear of Japanese intervention in the Taiwan issue. The Japanese understand that China wants to draw a seabed map for possible submarine operations. The Japanese newspapers explain the Chinese intention as such, and Ishihara agreed on that point as well, as previously mentioned. However, interestingly, Japanese commentators do not explain why China suddenly felt the necessity to speed up investigations for drawing the chart.
Japan has been trying to solve the Okinotorishima issue by transforming the island into an inhabitable island, which would probably have only a shortsighted effect. Japan has made little effort to alleviate Chinese concerns over the Taiwan issue. Instead, Japan chose to retaliate by issuing a visa for Lee Tenghui in December 2004 and announcing that the Taiwan problem was discussed in the 2+2 meeting in February 2005.
It should be noted that neither country is unilaterally showing an aggressive attitude towards the other. Both countries are merely repeating small actions that offend each other. However, this negative spiral of small actions is inciting nationalism in both countries and making it even harder for both governments to resolve the problem in a realistic and mutually beneficial way. Faced with angered public sentiments, the governments have no other choice but to adopt a hard-line policy against each other.
China, facing greater than anticipated Japanese overreaction, is calling on Japan to be more realistic and discuss the Okinotorishima problem in a friendlier manner. Behind the Japanese overreaction is the growing nationalism, a phenomenon Eugene Matthews, a former senior fellow at Council of Foreign Relations, has pointed out in Foreign Affairs.54 This sentiment is growing even more rapidly with Chinese and Korean denouncements of Japan over the history question and news on anti-Japanese activities in China and Korea.
Nationalism is also growing in China, where the central government is having trouble for fiddling with it. For example, a series of anti-Japanese demonstrations in many parts of China during late March and early April 2005 is believed to have been authorized or encouraged by the government55 which wanted an excuse to oppose the Japanese run for a permanent seat in the UNSC. However, since Beijing started to take actions to stop them by calling violence during the rallies an 'overreaction' by the Chinese people on April 12th,56 it took more than half a month to control the demonstrations by forbidding anti-Japanese demonstrations, arresting the violators, and detaining the anti-Japanese extremists. The cities of Beijing and Shanghai had to deploy approximately 1,000 and 200 police officers respectively to prevent demonstrations during Golden Week, a long vacation in China starting on May 1st.57
Both countries should take actions to stop the negative synergy of nationalism, before they reach the point of no return. Unless Tokyo recognizes the vicious spiral currently underway and addresses Chinese concerns, Beijing will use other issues to test and annoy Japan, even if Japan succeeds in neutralizing Chinese claims over the EEZ surrounding Okinotorishima. Equally, it would not be a good policy for China to incite the Japanese nationalism, as it may simply drive Japan to what Beijing wants to avoid above all, the path of militarization. The recent rise in nationalism means that Japan is much more tolerant of discussions of a nuclear Japan and an amendment of Article 9 of the peace constitution now than at any other time since 1945.
In order for both countries to avoid conflicts which both do not want, they should focus more on confidence building measures. For example, Japan can tell the PRC its intention not to allow the use of Okinawa bases by U.S. forces for the purpose of supporting Taiwan in case of a Taiwanese declaration of independence. As both Japan and the U.S. have been against Taiwanese independence, making such a promise would not be a tall order for Japan, and it can draw positive reactions from the PRC. In return, China can agree, for example, to respect the Japanese territory and rights including the EEZ, at least regarding Okinotorishima, and to freeze or at least slow the pace of the military buildup in some fields like certain types of ships in the PLA Navy or certain geographical areas such as the coastal region facing Taiwan for certain period of time under the condition that Taiwan will not buy modern weaponry from other countries.
It is difficult to imagine such a scenario materializing any time soon given the current political situations in Japan and the United States. In Japan, the "China school," or a pro-PRC group in the political circle and bureaucracy in Japan, is in a weak position, while Prime Minister Koizumi who is hawkish against China became even more powerful after the landslide victory at the September 2005 election. China is obviously uncomfortable with the current Japanese leader. Moreover, the U.S. is taking the stance not to intervene in the dispute viewing it an issue between Japan and China.
However, China and Japan cannot afford to fail to make efforts to search for realistic solutions to issues that lie between them. They should realize that they are playing a dangerous game and focus more on the potential benefits of cooperation, rather than being preoccupied with saving face or being carried away by nationalistic sentiments.
Fortunately, the situation is not without hope. Both nations have developed human networks and strong ties, which a Western journalist once described that no diplomats or leaders could match the Japanese in meeting with Chinese leaders.58 In fact, after the Chinese statement, a delegate of the Japan-China Parliamentarians' Friendship League, a pro-PRC nonpartisan group in the Diet, headed by former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, went to China to see the Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao in May 2004. During the meeting with President Hu, he emphasized that Taiwan issue would be properly dealt with, according to the agreements between Japan and China.59 Former Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who still is influential in Chinese foreign policy, visited Japan in July 2004.60 The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yohei Kono, who is known to be pro-PRC, paid a visit to Beijing in September 2004.61 Even if the China school has been weak recently, this network still functions as a buffer for preventing the China-Japan relations from turning irreparably bad.
In the business circle, Hiroshi Okuda, the chairman of the Japan Business Federation and the chairman of Toyota Motors Corp., who is close to Prime Minister Koizumi, visited China to see President Hu "privately" in October 2005, right after Koizumi’s latest visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.62 During the visit, Japanese business leaders including Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Kakutaro Kitashiro expressed concern over the negative impacts of Koizumi’s visit on Sino-Japanese relations.63 In the previous month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and visiting Japanese business leaders, including Okuda and Akira Chihaya, chairman of the Japan-China Economic Association, agreed in a meeting to cooperate in promoting energy conservation and environmental protection in China.64
There is a strong sense of pragmatism both among the Japanese and Chinese. Toshio Hori, the chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said, "it is meaningless to think Japanese companies would withdraw and go somewhere else, like Vietnam. The relationship is too big for that already." Likewise, many Chinese students at the Dalian University of Technology are vying for jobs at Japanese companies.65
Furthermore, the case of the anti-Japanese demonstrations mentioned above was settled with the crackdown of the Chinese government and the speech made by Prime Minister Koizumi expressing "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for Japan's past military aggression at the Asian-African Conference in April 2005.66 Later, informally, compensation for damage in Japanese restaurants and embassy during the demonstrations and apology were offered to Japan through a Shanghai city official and a Chinese real estate company affiliated with China’s foreign ministry.67 This was followed by the compensation offer by Beijing, though without apology.68 The two governments have been careful not to let the matter get totally out of control. Still, they need to make more tangible gestures to break the negative spiral in the field of security.
The U.S. has recently set a positive example in the area of confidence building. The US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had contributed in heightening the tension between the U.S. and China, by submitting a China report stating concern about the recent Chinese military buildup, visited China for the first time during October 18-20th, 2005. He made this trip for understanding the pace and scale of China's military buildup as well as for working with the Chinese military to put in place systems and protocols that will allow for more regular contact. "Rumsfeld's visit reflects a shift in his attitude towards China: At least he comes and is willing to communicate," said Niu Xinchun, a research fellow of American studies with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a Beijing think tank.69 In return for the American friendly gesture, during his three-day visit, China issued its first white paper on democracy.70
To be sure, Rumsfeld’s visit will not suddenly eliminate the American concern over the Chinese military buildup, nor does the white paper on democracy mean that China will soon be democratized. In fact, during his visit to Beijing, Rumsfeld was complaining that China was sending "mixed signals" to the U.S. by citing the Chinese intention to exclude the U.S. out of the coming East Asian Summit and the Sino-Russian joint military exercise in August 2005.71 The Financial Times reported that "the white paper left no doubt that Beijing defines democracy very differently from western governments or domestic dissidents who think it should mean giving ordinary people a real role in choosing their leaders."72 It can be argued that the white paper was only an external gesture of goodwill to the U.S. and other countries that appreciate democracy.
Still, it is also true that the American efforts have helped to increase Chinese goodwill. In return for the Chinese actions, President Bush visited China in November 2005. Chinese commentators see Bush's visit as an indication that he no longer views China as an adversary and accepts Beijing's growing influence in Asia. The government's main organ, the China News Agency, said: "The new age of Sino-U.S. interaction has arrived."73
Repeating such efforts is important in defining and closing the gaps in perceptions and values, especially between powers that can affect the security of the region and the world. Just as a suspicious gesture can lead to a negative spiral, a friendly gesture can create a positive spiral.
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