Paul O’Shea: European Institute of Japanese Studies, Postal: Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, S-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden
Abstract: This paper examines the East China Sea territorial and maritime dispute between Japan and China, from the re-emergence of the dispute in the 1990s until the 2010 collision between the Japan Coast Guard and Chinese fishing trawler. In the absence of the use of force, the paper provides an understanding of how both states seek to improve their position in the dispute. Utilising a constructivist understanding of sovereignty, the paper shows how both sides have sought to maintain or improve their position in the dispute’s sovereignty status quo by effecting exercises of sovereignty over the disputed islands and associated waters, and preventing the other state from doing the same. This approach enables the paper to highlight the change in Japan’s dispute policy, from a ‘hands off’ approach which prioritised positive bilateral relations throughout the 1990s, to a more assertive policy from the Koizumi administration onwards. It also demonstrates how China has successfully improved and consolidated its position in the dispute through a policy of preventing Japan’s effective exercise of sovereignty, and provides an alternative explanation of the 2010 collision incident: a successful prosecution of a Chinese citizen in the disputed area would have considerably altered the sovereignty status quo in Japan’s favour, leaving China had no choice but to react strongly to prevent it.
28 pages, September 18, 2012
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