Tension is mounting in the East China Sea over the Diaoyutai islands (named in China) or Senkaku Islands (named in Japan). The Republic of China (Taiwan), however, proposes to resolve the territorial dispute through meaningful dialogue but that’s if China and Japan come on board to support the initiative. Already having support from a number of states in the international community, Taiwan seeks to play a major role in diffusing the tension based on its peace initiative and trilateral dialogue to avoid conflict on the issue between China and Japan.
Since tension escalated in September 2012, after Japan purchased the disputed Islands from a private owner which led to a major protest against Japanese businesses in China, discussions around the tension painted the picture that both nations are determined to secure their interest in the islands at any cost, creating a room of military confrontation.
Taiwan’s peace initiative was proposed by its President Ma Ying-Jeou in August 2012 during the 60th anniversary of the treaty of peace between Taiwan and Japan. In the proposal, Ma Ying-Jeou indicated five basic points that will assist in reducing the tension and create an atmosphere for a dialogue by all concerned parties. His proposal is that; all parties must refrain from taking any antagonistic actions, shelve controversies and not abandon dialogue, observe international law and resolve disputes through peaceful means, seek consensus on a code of conduct in the East China Sea, and establish a mechanism for cooperation on developing resources in the East China Sea.
Taiwan argues that the Diaoyutai islands are part of Taiwan and are currently under their jurisdiction, proclaiming its historical occupation of the islands based on the Mainland China’s historical context since the 14th century. For this reason Taiwan takes the responsibility to end the tension through trilateral negotiations with the mainland China and Japan.
The challenge that faces Ma’s peace initiative is how to get China and Japan to agree on a settlement at the negotiation table. This is because Japan remains firm on its argument that its sovereignty in the islands is unquestionable and therefore there is nothing to negotiate with the Chinese, while on the other hand China states that its government is open for negotiations.
It seems like the focus for both China and Japan is to secure their sovereignty and maritime rights by increasing military presence in the disputed waters. Japan’s determination to secure the ownership of Senkaku islands without compromise is backed by its relations with the United States, who continuously voiced out criticism of China’s actions in the disputed islands, following the remarks by the outgoing US secretary of State Hillary Clinton that while the US did not take a position on the sovereignty of the chain, it opposed any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration.
Recently Japan took actions to strengthen security power to safeguard their maritime rights in the disputed waters, and its defence ministry announced a plan to increase military spending to $2.1 billion over the next few months, which is meant to counter the military power of a rising China. The defence ministry of Japan was quoted saying that “Japan need to update military equipment as the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming harsher”. This kind of move raises concern about the possibility of military confrontations, instead of diplomatic negotiations.
Consequently, both China and Japan attitudes towards the islands leave less hope for any possibility to have a mutual solution to ease their differences despite their reiteration that they are open for dialogues. This continues to place uncertainties on whether the nations will have interest on Taiwan’s peace initiative and reach a compromise agreement that will include sharing the sovereignty of the disputed waters.
Lastly, for Taiwan’s peace initiative to be achieved, China and Japan must come to terms with the fact that the dispute if not resolved soon, will continue to affect their already toppling bilateral relation, which is causing suffering to their economic sectors.
And also the United States can play a major role in resolving the dispute by acknowledging that China’s interests in the islands are also legitimate and instead of only voicing support for Japan, it must recognise Taiwan’s initiative and begin to lead Japan and China into the negotiating table.
Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Politics from the Rhodes University and is a NRF research assistant at the IGD. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD