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China brings islands row with Japan before UNCLOS amid war jitters

A China maritime surveillance ship steams toward the disputed Senkaku islands---Diaoyu Dao to China--as tensions rise between Tokyo and Beijing. AFP PHOTO FROM JAPAN COAST GUARD
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MANILA, Philippines - As tensions between Japan and China intensify over disputed islands in the East China Sea, China has submitted its claim over them to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), learned Sunday.

In a separate development, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that territorial disputes raging in Asia involving China and other countries could end up in war if emotions are not soothed.

The submission to UNCLOS was announced by Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Le Yucheng Friday during a symposium in Beijing hosted by THE China Institute of International Studies, Beijing Youth Federation, and Xinhuanet.

“Early this morning, Ambassador Li Baodong, China's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, deposited the coordinates table and chart of the base points and baselines of the territorial sea of China's Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,” Le told an audience of scholars and experts.

He said the base points and baselines of the territorial sea of Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands are in line with the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, and consistent with relevant provisions of UNCLOS.

The cluster of islands the Chinese call Diaoyu Dao is referred to by Japan as Senkaku.  Tensions flared since last week, and over the weekend, anti-Japan demonstrations erupted across China, targeting Japanese businesses, even Japan-made cars, and the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

Tokyo has demanded that the Chinese government guarantee the safety of Japanese nationals in China after the reported harassment of some of them, and the ransacking of department stores and groceries identified with Japan.

Basis under UNCLOS

Under UNCLOS, the base points and baselines of the territorial sea form the basis for establishing waters under national jurisdiction, the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf.

“This has given us a clearer legal basis to safeguard China's sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao and China's sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the waters around the islands,” Le said, referring to the disputed islands by their Chinese name. 

Japan has proposed to buy the islands in an attempt to the solve the territorial row.

Change in China strategy?

This move could signal a change in Chinese strategy for the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys, over which China is in dispute with the Philippines. The position of the Philippines has been to have the dispute settled before an independent international third party like the International Tribunal of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, but China has consistently rejected this.

At the same time, the Chinese government has taken other steps to strengthen its sovereignty over the islands in East China Sea.

Le also said Chinese maritime surveillance vessels have arrived in the waters of Diaoyu Dao on a law-enforcement patrol mission to uphold China's rights. This is another strong measure taken “ to safeguard our territorial sovereignty.”

This development comes in the face of various anti-Japanese protests in cities across China on Sunday, a day after an attempt to storm Tokyo's embassy in the capital.

‘Territory rows could trigger war’ 

Territorial disputes raging in Asia involving China and other countries could end up in war if emotions are not dialled down, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday.

"I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict," he said.

"And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding," he said, when asked about a worsening clash between China and Japan over an archipelago they both claim.

Speaking to reporters before arriving in Tokyo on the first stage of a trip to Asia, Panetta appealed for restraint amid mounting tensions over territorial rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. With Agence France-Presse