[FOUNTAIN]China’s ‘shard’ diplomacyOn April 12, 1978, about 100 Chinese ships appeared in the East China Sea in the area called the Diaoyutai Islands among Chinese, but is known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan. When Tokyo protested, China covered up the case, calling it accidental. In October of the same year, Deng Xiaoping visited Japan. Mr. Deng faced a barrage of questions about his stance on the Senkaku Islands. He said the problem could not be solved for a while because the two parties have different views. He added that he expected the next generation would be wiser and find a solution both parties could agree on. Tokyo interpreted the response as an acknowledgement of Japan’s dominion. However, China took it differently, considering it a tactic to buy time. Until the next generation when China grew stronger, Beijing would not make an issue out of the disputed islands.
Another body of water in the middle of a dispute is the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The treasure house of minerals consists of more than 400 reefs and islands.
Six nations ― China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei ― have interest in the islands. China claims sovereignty over the islands because pottery from the Qin and Han dynasties was found there. James Lilley, who had served as the U.S. ambassador to China, has called it, “shard diplomacy.” After a shard of ancient Chinese pottery was found on one of the islands in the South China Sea, China claimed sovereignty over the island. Based on that claim, China insists the entire South China Sea belongs to it.
On the Spratly Islands, Beijing set forth the principle that China had sovereignty of the islands, but will put the dispute aside and pursue joint development. Since 1997, it has changed the principle, dropping the part that China has sovereignty. As the Spratly Islands garnered international attention as a disputed area, Beijing must have felt pressure not to act like it was pursuing hegemony.
China has brought up the issue of Ieodo, the reef which the Chinese call Suyan Rock. Beijing warned, “There is no territorial dispute over Suyan Rock. Suyan Rock lies in the zone where the exclusive economic zones of the two countries overlap. Korea must not make a unilateral move.” China did not say there was no territorial dispute as a way to remind Korea the rock does not legally qualify as a territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing wants to hide its territorial ambitions and buy time. Maybe China is working hard to find a shard near Ieodo. China seems to have begun a “maritime project” as well.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.