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August 14, 2019

Learning from Japan


August 14, 2019

Dr Naazir Mahmood

A recent visit to Japan on the invitation of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered this writer an opportunity not only to attend the Hiroshima memorial ceremony but also to visit some other places to learn about how Japan has progressed so well after almost complete destruction of its cities and unconditional surrender in 1945.

In a series of articles, we will discuss the secrets of Japanese success in the post-WW II period. Since one of the keys to progress of any country lies in its friendly relations with other countries, we start by discussing some of the territorial issues Japan is facing.

For countries such as India and Pakistan, the Japanese way of tackling territorial disputes carries many lessons. Just like France and Germany resolved their differences after the Second World War, Japan has also not fired a single bullet of aggression against any of its neighbours, despite some disagreements on territorial issues with China, South Korea, and Russia. Normally, of the two Koreas North Korea is more in the news and poses a constant threat by firing one missile after another in the Sea of Japan. Not many people know that South Korea is also involved in a territorial dispute with Japan.

One of the key territorial disputes in that region is about Takeshima. Takeshima is a group of two small islets and rocks in the Sea of Japan. Japan’s claim over Takeshima is often portrayed by South Korea as tantamount to the repetition of the “same course of aggression” as in the prewar history that culminated in the annexation of the whole of Korea into Japan. It is noteworthy that Japan’s pursuit of a solution to the Takeshima issue has been undertaken in compliance with the rules of the postwar international order including the Charter of the United Nations.

Unlike India which has consistently violated the UN resolutions on Kashmir, Japan has advanced its claim peacefully and on the basis of international law, not by unilateral use of force, as India has done. Japan has also proposed to refer this case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on no less than three occasions since 1954. Japan has also assured the world community that if the case is decided by the ICJ, Japan would abide by its verdict, as Pakistan has done in the case of Kulbushan Jadhav. Just like India has done with Kashmir and Pakistan, South Korea has also rejected Japan’s proposals.

Japan has repeatedly asserted that it would never resort to the use of force or threats in seeking the resolution of any issue, including the Takeshima issue. Though Japan continues to claim Takeshima, it has established close ties and friendship with South Korea. Japan normalized its relations with South Korea in 1965, the same year that India and Pakistan were fighting a full-fledged war against each other. Had they followed the path Japan took, both India and Pakistan could have avoided more wars to come in 1971 and 1999 with tremendous loss of lives and resources.

Despite the Takeshima issue, Japan and South Korea have worked together to overcome a number of common challenges, such as the Asian financial crisis that hit the region, including South Korea, in the late 1990s. The two neighbours successfully co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was a symbolic event showcasing to the world the national strength and soccer skills of both countries. On the other hand, India and Pakistan have also co-hosted cricket world cups not once but three times – in 1987, 1996, 2011 – but they have not resulted in any improved relations between the two countries who still consider each other as arch enemies.

Japan strongly believes that individual issues including Takeshima must not detract from the broader picture of Japan’s relationship with its most important neighbour. Takeshima was confirmed as Japanese territory in the San Francisco Peace Treaty and then was occupied by South Korea, therefore it is a realization of the legitimate title based on the postwar international order that Japan is pursuing. It is important to remember that the San Francisco Peace Treaty is the very basis of the postwar international order in East Asia which did not include Takeshima in the territory to be renounced by Japan.

Now let’s have a look at another dispute: the Senkaku Islands, with China. The Senkaku Islands – also known as Diaoyu Islands in the People’s Republic of China – are a group of five uninhabited islands located in the East China Sea. Stories about the Senkaku Islands often state that Japan “seized them” from China as a result of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, whereas the Japanese version is that its fishermen and merchants had already grown active in and around the Senkaku for years by 1893. There is no record that in the 19th century China ever asserted its sovereignty over these islands.

Japan incorporated the Senkaku into Okinawa Prefecture in January 1895 and these islands did not come up for discussion in the April 1895 peace treaty negotiations at the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Then Japan’s territory was also determined under the San Francisco Peace Treaty according to which Japan relinquished parts of its prewar territories including Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. The areas that Japan did not relinquish were thus determined to be Japanese territories. The Senkakus were in the latter category. The treaty also provided that Okinawa, a portion of Japan’s remaining territory under this treaty, was to be administered by the United States.

The scope of Okinawa, given in geographical coordinates of longitude and latitude, explicitly included the Senkakus. When the US returned Okinawa to Japanese administration in 1972, the Senkakus were included in the reversion. Two of the islands in the Senkakus continue to be designated as firing and bombing ranges for the US forces in Japan by the US and Japanese governments. It was in 1971 that China started to challenge this 'postwar order' with assertions of sovereignty over the Senkakus, after the possible existence of oil deposits in the area was pointed out.

Despite all this, the lesson for India and Pakistan is that Japan has observed the UN Charter and supported the 'postwar order' as a peace-loving nation that has not threatened other nations during the entire postwar period, and as a democracy that embodies universal values like rule of law and respect for human rights. It is often asserted that the Senkakus were 'returned' to China under the Cairo Declaration of 1943, but this is another error. By definition, mere political documents like the Cairo Declaration cannot determine countries’ territories.

This can be done only by means of legal instruments on the basis of international agreements, such as the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Cairo Declaration contains no language indicating that the Senkakus have to be returned. No country asserted sovereignty over them from 1945 to 1971. In 1992, China listed the Senkakus as its own territory under its territorial sea law. Since 2008, China has sent official vessels to the area around the Senkakus. In 2012, the government of Japan acquired ownership of part of the Senkakus that had been privately owned, including the largest of the islands.

But the best part is that Japan has consistently refrained from heightening tensions, and has instead responded in a way that aims to protect the international order based on rule of law. Japan also continues to call for dialogue with both China and South Korea, which are Japan’s biggest trading partners and long-time friends. They are also counterparts in important relationships. All this shows us that despite disagreements and disputes it is always better to uphold international law and human rights, as Japan has been doing.

The writer holds a PhD from the

University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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