China and Japan Agree (Sort of) to Jointly Develop Disputed East China Sea

by Julian Ku

There is a lot of diplomatic-speak here, and agreements to agree to work at some point in the future and how there is no prejudice to their legal positions, etc. but this non-agreement-agreement is a promising sign for resolving various territorial disputes between China and Japan. Another reminder of how useful non-binding international agreements can be.

China and Japan, through consultations on an equal footing, reached principled consensus on the East China Sea issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu made the announcement here Wednesday.

The announcement included the following three parts:

I. Cooperation Between China and Japan in the East China Sea

In order to make the East China Sea, of which the delimitation between China and Japan is yet to be made, a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship”, China and Japan have, in keeping with the common understanding reached by leaders of the two countries in April 2007 and their new common understanding reached in December 2007, agreed through serious consultations that the two sides will conduct cooperation in the transitional period prior to delimitation without prejudicing their respective legal positions. The two sides have taken the first step to this end and will continue to conduct consultations in the future.

2 Responses

  1. Any effort by China and Japan to do even a little bit of rapprochement is a hugely significant thing. I know the deepness of the enmity between the peoples of the two countries from my regional work back in my ICC days. Very heavy painful history always sits in the room. Isn’t the use of the name “East China Sea” a significant Japanese concession on its own. I believe I remember that the names of the various waters around the area are subjects of much dispute. Choosing the name suggests whose hegemony you are recognizing. Correct me if I am wrong on this.



  2. Ben,

    I’m a Japanese undergrad student living in Tokyo, which may give you a mixed message on the reliability of this information – I am familiar with this issue, but not an expert.

    Having that said, here’s my opinion. I think that the use of the term “East China Sea” itself does not have any special symbolic meanings. I’m familiar with the direct Japanese translation of the term “East China Sea” (Higashi-Shina-Kai) as (I feel that) it is commonly used. I checked some Japanese world maps in my house just to make sure – both maps published in 1972 and 2005, as well as my sister’s world map that was published for elementary school students all utilizes the term “East China Sea.”

    Some may argue that the Japanese word “Shina” is different from the common word used to describe China, which is “Cyugoku.” However, (according to the wikipedia at least) it looks like the word “Shina” has been popularly used as the official direct translation of China after the Edo period (17c.). So I think it’s safe to say that the use of this term per se is not the manifestation of a concession made by the Japanese government.

    How significant this non-binding agreement is, however, is something that I cannot assess as I am not familiar with all the historical details of the diplomatic relationship between Japan and China. Nevertheless, I agree with your opinion that an rapprochement of this sort is indeed significant to a certain extent.

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