Why Won’t Japan Send the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute to the ICJ?
The former owners of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, whose sale to the Japanese government has unleashed hundreds of violent anti-Japan protests across China, are calling for Japan to send the dispute to the International Court of Justice.
China is very outspoken about its position over the Senkaku Islands, but Japan has its own position as well, and it needs to get that message out to the global community — and I think the best way is to turn to the ICJ,” Kurihara told The Japan Times. “Once both sides start stating their positions and listing their evidence of sovereignty, there is no end. . . . An objective decision should be made under international law, not by the people of both countries.
Nicholas Kristof has a post with a similar call for the ICJ, and with a sympathetic take on the strength of China’s legal claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu. Thus far, I am not aware of any reports that Japan has welcomed the possibility of ICJ arbitration here, although I’ve heard that they have done so in the past.
It is curious that Japan has not called for the ICJ to settle this dispute, given it has done just that in its ongoing dispute with South Korea over the Dokdo Islands. While it is true that Japan could not force China to agree to ICJ arbitration, a call for arbitration would put China on the defensive in the same way it has (sort of) put Korea on the defensive over the Dokdo.
The cynical explanation is probably the best one. Japan is more than happy to call for the ICJ when the other country is in possession of the disputed territory (e.g. Korea) but when they possess the territory, they have a different view on the merits of international adjudication. Hypocritical? Yes. Surprising? No.