Chinese Surveillance Vessels Approach Diaoyu Islands (Updated)

A fleet of six Chinese surveillance ships arrived in the waters around the disputed Diaoyu Islands [see update below] on Friday morning, according to Xinhua News:

It is the first time for Chinese surveillance ships to patrol there after the Chinese government announced on Monday the base points and baselines of the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands and their affiliated islets, as well as the names and coordinates of 17 base points.

These law enforcement and patrol activities are aimed to demonstrate China’s jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets and ensure the country’s maritime interests, according to a government statement.

Tensions between China and Japan over the territory escalated again this week when the Japanese government agreed to purchase three of the islets from their private Japanese owners, a move made in-part to prevent Tokyo’s metropolitan government and its hawkish governor from buying them. Japan’s Daily Yomiuri reported yesterday that the Japanese government initially drew up multiple plans to utilize the Senkaku Islands, but later scrapped those plans to avoid further backlash from China. Nevertheless, Xinhua News warned on Tuesday that the ultimate cost to Japan could ultimately be much higher as the purchase threatens to have a negative impact on Sino-Japanese trade ties.

MIT’s M. Taylor Fravel has tweeted on the situation throughout the morning, and Mark MacKinnon of The Globe and Mail has more on what has turned into a standoff with the Japanese Coast Guard:

The Japanese coast guard said it ordered the ships to leave Japan’s territorial waters, but only two complied, leaving four Chinese vessels still in the disputed area.

No force had been used to remove the Chinese ships, a coast guard official said.

“We’ll do our utmost in vigilance and surveillance,” said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda when asked about Japan’s responses.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy writes that post-war bilateral agreements with both sides may leave the United States little choice but to remain involved in the Diaoyu dispute:

In 1971, the U.S. and Japan signed a treaty reverting Okinawa and the surrounding islands back to Japanese control, which stated “the United States of America relinquishes in favour of Japan all rights and interests under Article III of the Treaty of Peace with Japan signed at the City of San Francisco.”

China points to its own agreement with the United States, the 1943 Cairo statement issued by Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek. The three leaders agreed that following the war, “Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, [Taiwan] and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.” If you accept, as Beijing does, that Diaoyu was part of Chinese-ruled Taiwan prior to 1895, then that would indicate that it would be returned to China along with the other seized islands. (It would also mean that the U.S. military was bombing Chinese territory throughout the ’50s and ’60s, but that’s another issue.)

Despite the history, the U.S. State Department has stated that “the US does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands.” But further complicating matters is the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. According to Article 5 of the treaty, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”

According to an unnamed State Department official quoted by Japan’s Kyodo news agency in July, the islands “fall within the scope of Article 5,” meaning that if China took action to reassert its sovereignty over the islands, the U.S. would be obligated to intervene on Japan’s behalf. If it did not take action, that could presumably be seen as a tacit acknowledgement that the islands are not part of Japanese territory.

See also CDT’s coverage of the anti-Japanese rhetoric gaining steam in the Chinese media.

Updated at 02:28 PST: From Malcolm Foster at the Associated Press: “With a typhoon approaching the area, by Friday afternoon all six Chinese ships had left the 24-mile zone around the islands, said Yoshiyuki Terakado, another Japanese Coast Guard official.”

September 13, 2012 8:42 PM
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