How to Settle the Fight Over Some Guano-Covered Rocks

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September 29, 2012 by Water Wisdom

SEPTEMBER 23, 2012, 12:31 AM 19 Comments

This islet and some other low-lying outcrops are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.Kosuke Okahara for The New York TimesThis islet and some other low-lying outcrops are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.

HONG KONG — No matter what they’re called by their claimants in China, Japan and Taiwan, the East Asian islands at the center of an angry dispute are little more than remote shards of guano-covered rock.

Hardly deserving of the word “islands,” they’re more like protrusions, more like carbuncles. No people live on them, although you half expect a wizened Japanese soldier to emerge from one of the caves, brandishing his rifle, thinking World War II is still being fought. And in a way, it still is.

“Hardly postcard quality” is how my colleague Martin Fackler describedthe islands after taking a seven-hour boat ride from one of Japan’s southernmost ports. The islets are called the Senkakus in Japan, the Diaoyu islands in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.

There’s no tourism, no military potential, no real strategic value. There’s no there there.

Still, a negotiated resolution of the volatile dispute seems unlikely. The Japanese far right and choleric Chinese nationalists have been dialing up the volume over the islands, seemingly at times with the unspoken approval of their governments. Conservative Japanese politicians have been driving things from their end, while violent anti-Japanese protests in China have drawn thousands, this in a country where the gathering of a few dozen pro-democracy activists would bring out battalions of helmeted riot police, undercover cops and paddy wagons.

A large anti-China rally took place Sunday in central Tokyo.Toru Hanai/ReutersA large anti-China rally took place Sunday in central Tokyo.

The real dispute over the islands is not about oil, gas, sea lanes or fishing rights. Instead, the prevailing emotion is a leftover bitterness from the war, combined with the persistent image of an insufficiently repentant Japan. As the analyst Daniel Sneider told Rendezvous, “It’s not about territory. It’s not about these rocks. It’s about much, much more. It’s identity, first and foremost. It’s pride.”

In the face of deep emotions and official intransigence, it seems unlikely that Beijing, Tokyo and Taipei might agree to a radically simple notion: All three nations would stand down and renounce their claims, thereby settling things. Nobody would win, so nobody would lose.

It would require a bold new kind of diplomacy, but the Senkaku/Diaoyu rocks could be established as a kind of “international zone” surrounded, say, by a 12-mile cordon sanitaire. The islets would belong to no specific nation, much like the legal status of the Moon. No fishing or tourist boats would be allowed to encroach. No military drilling, no oil drilling. And in the spirit of a negotiated settlement, the currently unmanned lighthouse on Uotsuri, the principal islet, could be occupied by a trilateral rotation of keepers.

There are established venues for a binding legal settlement, of course, venues that would tamp down the regional tension while giving political cover to the ideologues and fanatics. In “Learning to Play Chess on Water,”a valuable history of maritime-boundary law and dispute resolution, the attorney and Stanford lecturer Jonathan D. Greenberg discusses the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and other courts in settling fights like the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue:

The ICJ and other tribunals can enable states, unable to achieve a negotiated settlement of differences, to delimit maritime boundaries by means of legal processes, principles and judgments, in furtherance of international rule of law. They also offer politicians a “way out” of domestic political dilemmas; i.e., they allow state leaders to achieve solutions to economically-costly disputes while, at the same time, saving face (and thereby increasing the chance they will keep their job).

A political leader can claim to domestic constituencies that he or she “has never and will never compromise the nation’s sovereign rights.” If a disputing state loses its claim in court, the politician can blame the tribunal, explaining that he or she has no choice but to carry out its judgment, and the case is closed.

The repercussions are at least arguably less severe than the price a politician must pay for unilateral concessions.

Boundary and sovereignty disputes have long been part of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, established by the U.N. Charter as “the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.” China and Japan currently have judges on the court, but Taiwan does not. The 15-member court is based in The Hague.

A 2009 court judgment on the maritime boundary between Ukraine and Romania in the Black Sea “provides extremely useful guidance to states embroiled in sovereignty and boundary disputes about the delimitation effects of small, uninhabited islets,” Mr. Greenberg said in his piece in the Harvard International Review. He said the decision has “extremely useful potential application to the ongoing conflicts in the South China Sea” and other similar cases.

There are other legal avenues for the claimants, and Beijing said earlier this month it plans to claim the Diaoyus under provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos.

The State Oceanic Administration in Beijing has been preparing documents that it says will show China’s continental shelf extends far out to sea and includes the contested islands.

The provision is not as arcane as it might sound: It has recently come into play in the Arctic Ocean, where the Lomonsov Ridge, a vast underwater mountain range, has been claimed by Russia, Canada and Denmark.

Michael Byers, a professor of international law at the University of British Columbia, told Lauren Morello of ClimateWire that the dispute will likely be settled by the geological facts on the ground. Or, in this case, the facts under the water.

“Under Article 76 of Unclos, the issue of the extended continental shelf is not something resolved by power or politics,” Mr. Byers said. “You cannot change the shape or the sediments of the seabed. Those are scientific facts.”

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, a court under the Unclos umbrella, might serve as yet another arbiter of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute.

That tribunal, based in Hamburg, Germany, has 21 members. China has a judge on the tribunal, but the president is Shunji Yanai, a Japanese jurist and an expert in maritime law. His term lasts until October 2014.

MARK MCDONALD 报道 2012年09月24日
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它们几乎配不上“岛屿”这个词,更像是一些礁石,或者是人身上的一些痈。没有人在上面居住,尽管你会半信半疑地期望一名形容枯槁的日本士兵从某个山洞里冒出来,挥舞着他的来复枪,让你觉得第二次世界大战(World War II)还在进行。从某种程度上说,它确实还在继续。

Kyodo News, via Associated Press


这些岛屿的争议和石油、天然气、航道或捕捞权无关。实际上,这股蔓延的情绪是二战仇恨的遗留物,其间夹杂着日本未曾充分悔改的顽固形象。正像分析人士丹尼尔·斯奈德(Daniel Sneider)对Rendezvous博客所说的那样,“它和领土无关,和这些礁石本身也无关。它包含的意义要比这多得多。它首先是身份的象征,是民族自尊心的象征。”

当然,的确存在具有法律约束力的争端解决机制,那些机制将缓和地区间的紧张情绪,为空想分子和狂热分子罩上政治的面纱。《学会在水下下棋》(Learning to Play Chess on Water)一文回顾了海洋边界法律和争端解决的弥足珍贵的历史。在文中,斯坦福大学(Stanford University)讲师、律师乔纳森·D·格林伯格(Jonathan D. Greenberg)讨论了国际法庭(International Court of Justice,简称ICJ)和其他法庭解决尖阁诸岛/钓鱼岛之类争端的司法权。




长久以来,领土和主权争议一直都在国际法庭的司法管辖范围之内,联合国宪章(U.N. Charter)将国际法庭确定为“联合国的主要司法机构”。中日现在都在国际法庭驻有法官,但台湾没有。该法庭由15名成员组成,总部位于海牙。


申索人还有其他的法律途径,本月早些时候,北京称计划按照《联合国海洋法公约》(United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,简称Unclos)的规定申索钓鱼岛的主权。



不列颠哥伦比亚大学(University of British Columbia)国际法教授迈克尔·拜尔斯(Michael Byers)告诉《气候快线》(Climate Wire)杂志的洛朗·莫雷洛(Lauren Morello),争议可能会根据地表的地质事实解决。就这个案例而言,也可能根据水下的事实。

“根据Unclos第76条的规定,大陆架的延伸范围不是根据实力或者政治来决定的,” 拜尔斯说,“你无法改变海床的形状,也无法改变海床上的沉积物。这些都是科学事实。”

尖阁诸岛/钓鱼岛争议还有一个潜在的仲裁者,那就是Unclos框架下的国际海洋法法庭(International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea)。

位于德国汉堡的国际海洋法法庭有21名成员。中国在该法庭有一名法官,庭长柳井俊二(Shunji Yanai)则来自日本,是一名法学家和海洋法专家。他的任期将延续到2014年10月。



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