Island Disputes in Northeast Asia

Author/s (editor/s):

Andrew Mack

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 1997/2 (PDF, 1.82MB)

Andrew Mack, 'Island Disputes in Northeast Asia', IR Working Paper 1997/2, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, September 1997.

Although focus of less attention that the island disputes in the South China Sea, conflicts over disputed islands in Northeast Asia also have the potential for violent escalation. They are deeply enmeshed with identity politics in the claimant states and a barrier to improved political and security relationships between them.

This paper examines the conflicts over disputed island territories between Japan and China/Taiwan, between Japan and Russia and between Japan and Korea. It argues that the introduction of the Law of the Sea and the creation of 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zones has actually increased tensions and that resources concerns, in particular access to fisheries, have become a greater source of contention as a consequence.

The paper argues that the most formidable barriers to resolving these conflicts lie in the realm of domestic politics where the disputes have become the focus of nationalist agitation. Most nationalist groups have no interest in conflict resolution, except on terms which are totally unacceptable to other claimant states. In the current climate the task of conflict resolution faces insuperable barriers and the paper argues that political resources should rather be invested in conflict management initiatives. A number of such initiatives are discussed in the paper.

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