Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Northeast Asia Regional Forum? I Don't Think So. (I Hope I'm Wrong.)

On another thread, Mr. Gvosdev asked me what I thought of this proposal for a Northeast Asia Regional Forum, over which I expressed my skepticism. It came back to me as I considered the unfolding of the events surrounding this incident, where the Russian authorities apprehended a Japanese fishing boat in territorial waters off the Northern Territories, and shot and killed a Japanese fisherman in doing so.

Now, Japan is involved in three territorial disputes, all of them involving (surprise!) an island or group of islands, one with South (and North, I suppose) Korea, one with China (and Taiwan), and this one, with Russia. South Korea has effective control in the first, Japan in the second, and Russia in the third. Japan has repeatedly expressed its willingness to go to the International Court of Justice on the first one, and I am sure it would be willing to do so (in fact, it accepts compulsory jurisdiction) on the second. I don’t know what the Japans position on the adjudication of the Northern Territories is, but I doubt Russia would be willing to respond to Japanese accusations of illegal seizure after the war in a judicial procedure. The important thing here is that, without going into the merits of any of the cases, none of the aggrieved states to the best of my knowledge has even threatened to wrest away the subject of its discontent by force. (This is in marked contrast to the frequent territorial and border disputes involving the resort to arms that marked the post-war of China with its other neighbors.)

This is not to say that there have not been incidents over the years. Were it that regional talks would enable us to see the commonalities and help us reach agreement, or at least some mutual understanding, over our differences. But where even the slightest provocation (from the South Korean point of view) from Japan seems to touch off a frenzy of anti-Japanese feeling in South Korea, and the Chinese response mirrors the shifting political calculations of its authorities, the Japanese and the Russians have been remarkably diplomatic, if you like, about regulating and policing the waters and conducting themselves in general over matters concerning the Northern Territories. As aggrieved as we are and as strongly as we have objected to Russian action in this death and detention, this case is no exception.

These differences, of course, originate in the widely variant histories and circumstances of and between the disputants, as well as the objects of desire, and as such must be worked out between them. They do not look like issues that would be conducive to regional resolution, yet their exclusion from the agenda would serious weaken a regional forum from its incipience. I can only hope that politics will prove me wrong.






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Jun Okumura said...

Spam eliminated.