Japan, China, and the Law of the Sea

Japan, China, and the Law of the Sea

Japan announced today that it would allow fishing expeditions to Okinotorishima, an obscure island 1000 miles southeast of Japan. For Law of the Sea aficionados, this sets up a pending battle over the size of Japan’s “exclusive economic zone” because if Okinotorishima is merely some “rocks” (as China says), Japan’s EEZ is substantially smaller than it currently claims. Countries have certain exclusive rights to exploitation of, among other things, undersea minerals in their EEZ’s, so this is no small dispute.

Additionally, Japan’s action comes on the heels of its decision to take over a lighthouse on the Senkaku, or Diaoyu islands, a separate Japan-controlled island that is also claimed by China and Taiwan. China’s angry response is described here and protests against Japan have already occurred in Hong Kong. Although it all sounds rather petty, this is very highly explosive stuff in China these days. For China’s view on these disputes, see here. For a more nuanced and balanced view, see here.

Both countries are parties to the Law of the Sea Convention and although neither has accepted compulsory jurisdiction, either could at any time request a special arbitral panel be formed under Article 287. But don’t hold your breath.

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