Mainland Establishes Sansha City in the South China Sea, Japan to "Buy Diaoyutai"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 31, 2012
Summary: The situation in the South China Sea and Diaoyutai is strange and turbulent. It is hard to tell whether one is at peace or at war. The biggest variable is Beijing. This enables Taipei to remain silent. But if the situation explodes, Taipei's position and its relationship with Beijing could become a major issue. Taipei has become the springboard for expressions of sovereignty on the Diaoyutai Islands, At any moment it could be caught up in the dispute. The above disputes now endanger national security. The ruling and opposition parties must not take the matter lightly.
Full Text below:
Mainland China recently established Sansha City in the South China Sea, to preside over Xisha Island, Dongsha Island, and Nansha Island. The jurisdiction of Sansha City was upgraded to the division level. Administratively this means little. Politically this means a lot. Not long ago Vietnam approved the Law of the Sea. It claimed the Xisha and Nansha Islands as part of its sovereign territory. It established an administrative region. The Mainland is merely reacting. Nothing more.
The dispute between several Southeast Asian countries and Mainland China over sovereignty in the South China Sea is already burning white-hot. Recently fishing boats from Vietnam and the Philippines clashed with fishing boats from Mainland China. Diplomatic disputes erupted during the Asia-Pacific foreign ministers' meeting. Tensions ran high.
Conflicts over the islands have led to complex interactions pertaining to sovereignty. The South China Sea is not unique. Many parts of the world have similar problems. Other regions have both peaceful negotiations and military solutions. But the South China Sea disputes have become the focus of world attention. This is due to the rise of China and the United States' return to Asia.
The United States recently announced its return to the Asia-Pacific region. Naturally this encouraged countries with South China Sea sovereignty disputes with Mainland China to take a hard line. They now refuse to compromise with Mainland China. they hope to the United States will chime in or even join the party. The U.S. may be happy with this development, but so far it has adopted a wait and see stance. Washington's stance on the South China Sea is to remain neutral, to not favor any particular party, to settle any disputes peacefully in accordance with international law, to safeguard freedom of navigation and aviation, and to support the creation of a Code of Conduct. The United States hopes to become the arbiter in the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific region. It does not want to be dragged into the fight by these countries.
The United States has a Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. It has held joint exercises with the Philippines. It has even held a two plus two summit. But the Huangyan Island incident shows that the US is unwilling to commit to assisting the Philippines in the defense of Huangyan Island in the event of a conflict. The United States is unwilling to go to war with Mainland China over this uninhabited island. Reports are that when U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon visited Beijing, he made this clear.
Mainland China has also taken a hard line. It has made clear that if necessary, it will engage in another "Xisha Sea Battle." The establishment of the three municipalities drew a line in the sand, and expressed its determination.
Meanwhile the Japanese government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have threatened to "buy Diaoyutai." This dispute over the sovereignty of the waters is more complex than the South China Sea dispute. First of all, control in the East China Sea is not in Mainland China's hands. Japan's Coast Guard and Self Defense Force naval ships and aircraft have de facto control of Diaoyutai Island waters and airspace. Secondly, Japan is more powerful than the Southeast Asian countries. In an actual shooting war the People's Liberation Army would not necessarily prevail. Finally, the United States Japan Security Treaty includes the Diaoyutai Islands. The United States has reaffirmed its commitment to this treaty.
Japan and China have historical grievances. Their relationship is more complicated than the relationship between China and Southeast Asia. Past Japanese administrations have carefully avoided the Yakasuni Shrine and history textbook issues. But current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's approval ratings are down. To divert attention from his own administration's problems, he has echoed Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's call. He has proposed "buying the Diaoyutai Islands" and making them Japanese government property. When responding to questions in the Diet last week he said if other countries invade the Diaoyutai Islands, "Japan will consider dispatching its Self-Defense Forces." This was of course a response to recent tough statements by Mainland China.
The East China Sea situation is tense. But the US, Mainland China, and Japan are closely matched in strength. Therefore they will avoid military conflict. The South China Sea situation is unclear. If one misjudges the situation, one could ignite a powderkeg. This makes it even more dangerous.
The South China Sea situation is dangerous. Many people are calling for a halt to the incitement of nationalistic sentiments. Each of the nations should be realistic and shelve the issue of sovereignty. They should lower the temperature. They should consider joint development and resource sharing. Several governments are exploring the region. Taipei is not among them. It has been marginalized.
Taiping Island is the largest island in the South China Sea. The Republic of China has occupied it for over six decades. The island has runways and fresh water. It is strategically located. It is under the jurisdiction of Cijin District, Kaohsiung City. In recent years, South China Sea disputes have erupted, one after another. But no country or international forum has invited Taipei to participate in consultations. This is how matters stand. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait have proposed "cross-Strait cooperation in defense of sovereignty." But for Taipei, such moves could cause more problems than they solve. It must be extra cautious.
The situation is strange and turbulent. It is hard to tell whether one is at peace or at war. The biggest variable is Beijing. This enables Taipei to remain silent. But if the situation explodes, Taipei's position and its relationship with Beijing could become a major issue. Taipei has become the springboard for expressions of sovereignty on the Diaoyutai Islands, At any moment it could be caught up in the dispute. The above disputes now endanger national security. The ruling and opposition parties must not take the matter lightly.