Friends don’t let friends have island disputes


While Japan and the Philippines pledge closer cooperation, the US is pushing South Korea and Japan to make nice over their disputed islands – that would be the islands called the Takeshima by the Japanese, the Dokdo by the Koreans and the Liancourt Rocks by others.

With China a protagonist in so many territory disputes in Asia, it doesn’t make sense to the US to sit by and watch a dispute between two of its democratic allies, South Korea and Japan, fester.

Adding to the tension between Tokyo and Seoul is Japan’s level of acknowledgement about its actions in Korea during WWII. One fear is that Shinzo Abe’s government will further inflame this issue by tinkering with a past official apology for its actions in WWII.

Although the islands are a thorny issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the pressures mounting in the region, these two countries have a political motive to find more- and not less- agreement. The US doesn’t want to get bogged down in a dispute between two allies it has spent a lot of time, money and blood on in the past. And the US, much to China’s irritation, has the diplomatic finesse to coax their South Korea-Japan relationship along.

(photo of the Dokdo/Takeshima courtesy: 머찐만두 at Naver)

The quiet sound of capitulation over Du Zuying

What’s disturbing about the Du Zuying case is that probably at some point, there was a discussion on the Australian side that probably went something like this:

Diplomat A “The Chinese only do this to Chinese-born Australians.”
Diplomat B “But he is an Australian citizen.”
Diplomat A “But the Chinese don’t see it that way.”

The diplomatic calculus is undertaken….Australia exported $82.5 billion of goods and services to China last year…Doctor Du is a China-born, naturalised Australian…The Chinese see him as one of his own…In this Asian century we must acknowledge the differing Chinese view…Chinese courts operate differently than ours…Publicising this is a no-win for Australia… (The silent sound of capitulation and the wish that this would all go away.)

In fact the Sydney Morning Herald story says:

The case raises questions about whether Australian ministers and bureaucrats are systematically discouraging publicity of politically awkward ”consular” cases in China.

…And that’s where we are today.

What’s disappointing is the precedent it helps sets on the Australian side. Australia’s legal system is sound and robust. But when the expectation of a fair trail can’t be extended to Australia’s citizens working and living in China, it legitimises the dubious legal system of China in international cases like these. The “Australia in the Asian Century” white paper had precious little to say about this sort of engagement with Asia in general and China specifically. Unfortunately, this might be a frequently recurring situation.

Bottom line, in this unfortunately frequent situation, the culture and power of Western lawis effectively trumped by Chinese business and legal conventions, as opaque as they are. In this way, Australia is not just letting down one citizen but the role of law in international relations.

Watch it get eroded further.