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Law of the Sea Treaty: A Tool to Combat Iran, China, and Russia? or Redistribution of wealth

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Posted by Doug Bandow

Every few years, the Law of the Sea Treaty rears its head as a one-size-fits-all solution to a host of current maritime problems. This time, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, are urging the Senate to ratify the treaty. The officials claim it will act as a tool to deal with aggressive actions by Iran, China, and Russia. But as I have long argued, no matter the current rationale for the treaty, it represents a bad deal for the United States.

Panetta and Dempsey rolled out three hot issues to make their case:

  • Iran is threatening the world economy in the Strait of Hormuz? The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) will help solve this.
  • China is threatening the Philippines in the South China Sea? LOST is a crucial tool to prevent war.
  • Russia is claiming land in the Arctic region to extract natural resources? LOST will put the screws to Moscow.

These international controversies will be magically resolved if only the Senate ratifies the convention.

If this sounds too good to be true, it is. It is not clear the treaty would do much at all to alleviate these flashpoints. Especially since the two most important potential antagonists, China and Russia, already have ratified LOST. And it is certainly not the best option policy-wise for the United States with each issue: Iran’s bluster in the Strait of Hormuz may prove its weakness. U.S. policy in the South China Sea suffers from a far more serious flaw: encouraging free-riding by allied states. Russia’s move into the Arctic has nothing to do with Washington’s absence from LOST.

The treaty itself, not substantially altered since 1994, is still plagued by the same problems that have halted its ratification for decades. Primarily, it will cede decisionmaking on seabed and maritime issues to a large, complex, unwieldy bureaucracy that will be funded heavily by—wait for it—the Untied States.

On national security, the U.S. Navy does not need such a treaty to operate freely. Its power relative to all other navies is the ultimate guarantee. Serious maritime challengers do not exist today. Russia’s navy is a rusted relic; China has yet to develop capabilities that come close to matching ours. Moreover, it is doubtful that the United States needs to defend countries such as the Philippines when flashpoints over islands in the region affect no vital American interests.

The average American knows very little about this treaty, and rightly so. It is an unnecessarily complicated and entangling concoction that accomplishes little that the longstanding body of customary international law on the high-seas or the dynamics of markets do not account for. My conclusion in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services in 2004 still holds true:

All in all, the LOST remains captive to its collectivist and redistributionist origins. It is a bad agreement, one that cannot be fixed without abandoning its philosophical presupposition that the seabed is the common heritage of the world’s politicians and their agents, the Authority and Enterprise. The issue is not just abstract philosophical principle, but very real American interests, including national security. For these reasons, the Senate should reject the treaty.

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Oil Wars on the Horizon

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Posted by Michael Klare at 7:42am, May 10, 2012.

There has been much discussion recently about the Obama administration’s “pivot” from the Greater Middle East to Asia: the 250 Marines sent to Darwin, Australia, the littoral combat ships for Singapore, the support for Burmese “democracy,” war games in the Philippines (and a drone strike there as well), and so on.  The U.S. is definitely going offshore in Asian waters, or put another way, after a decade-long hiatus-cum-debacle on the Eurasian continent, the Great Game v. China is back on.

While true, however, the importance of this policy change has been exaggerated.  At the moment, as it happens, the greatest game isn’t in Asia at all; it’s in the Persian Gulf where, off the coast of Iran and in bases around the region, the U.S. is engaged in a staggering build-up of naval and air power.  Most people would have little idea that this was even going on, since it rarely makes its way into the mainstream and even less often onto front pages or into the headlines.  The Washington Times, for instance, has been alone in reporting that, for the U.S. military, “war planning for Iran is now the most pressing scenario.”  It adds that the “U.S. Central Command believes it can destroy or significantly degrade Iran’s conventional armed forces in about three weeks using air and sea strikes.”

Most of the time, however, you have to be a genuine news jockey or read specialist sites to notice the scale of what’s going on, even though the build-up in the Gulf is little short of monumental and evidently not close to finished.  It’s not just the two aircraft carrier task forces now there, but (as the invaluable Danger Room website has reported) the doubling of minesweepers stationed in Bahrain, as well as the addition of minesweeping helicopters and coastal patrol boats that are being retrofitted with Gattling guns and missiles.  Throw in new advanced torpedoes for Gulf waters and mini-drone subs; add in newly outfitted units of F-22s and F-15s heading for bases in the Gulf to make up “the world’s most powerful air-to-air fighting team.”  And don’t forget the major CIA drone surveillance program already in operation over Iran (and undoubtedly still being bolstered).

And then, of course, you would have to add in what we don’t know about, including — you can be sure — the strengthening of special operations activities in the region.  It’s the perfect build-up for a post-presidential-election war season.  After a failed war in Iraq that left that country ever more firmly allied with Iran and another failing war in Afghanistan, you might think that the Pentagon would want to back off.  Well, think again.  To adapt the famed mantra of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run, “It’s the oil heartlands of the planet, stupid.”  And as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of a new, must-read book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, points out, we’re now entering an era when “war” and “oil” may become synonymous. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses global energy conflicts, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

 

Oil Wars on the Horizon

by MICHAEL T. KLARE

Conflict and intrigue over valuable energy supplies have been features of the international landscape for a long time.  Major wars over oil have been fought every decade or so since World War I, and smaller engagements have erupted every few years; a flare-up or two in 2012, then, would be part of the normal scheme of things.  Instead, what we are now seeing is a whole cluster of oil-related clashes stretching across the globe, involving a dozen or so countries, with more popping up all the time.  Consider these flash-points as signals that we are entering an era of intensified conflict over energy.

Six Recent Clashes and Conflicts on a Planet Heading Into Energy Overdrive

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Argentina to the Philippines, here are the six areas of conflict — all tied to energy supplies — that have made news in just the first few months of 2012:

* A brewing war between Sudan and South Sudan: On April 10th, forces from the newly independent state of South Sudan occupied the oil center of Heglig, a town granted to Sudan as part of a peace settlement that allowed the southerners to secede in 2011.  The northerners, based in Khartoum, then mobilized their own forces and drove the South Sudanese out of Heglig.  Fighting has since erupted all along the contested border between the two countries, accompanied by air strikes on towns in South Sudan.  Although the fighting has not yet reached the level of a full-scale war, international efforts to negotiate a cease-fire and a peaceful resolution to the dispute have yet to meet with success.

This conflict is being fueled by many factors, including economic disparities between the two Sudans and an abiding animosity between the southerners (who are mostly black Africans and Christians or animists) and the northerners (mostly Arabs and Muslims).  But oil — and the revenues produced by oil — remains at the heart of the matter.  When Sudan was divided in 2011, the most prolific oil fields wound up in the south, while the only pipeline capable of transporting the south’s oil to international markets (and thus generating revenue) remained in the hands of the northerners.  They have been demanding exceptionally high “transit fees” — $32-$36 per barrel compared to the common rate of $1 per barrel — for the privilege of bringing the South’s oil to market.  When the southerners refused to accept such rates, the northerners confiscated money they had already collected from the south’s oil exports, its only significant source of funds.  In response, the southerners stopped producing oil altogether and, it appears, launched their military action against the north.  The situation remains explosive.

* Naval clash in the South China Sea: On April 7th, a Philippine naval warship, the 378-foot Gregorio del Pilar, arrived at Scarborough Shoal, a small island in the South China Sea, and detained eight Chinese fishing boats anchored there, accusing them of illegal fishing activities in Filipino sovereign waters.  China promptly sent two naval vessels of its own to the area, claiming that the Gregorio del Pilar was harassing Chinese ships in Chinese, not Filipino waters.  The fishing boats were eventually allowed to depart without further incident and tensions have eased somewhat.  However, neither side has displayed any inclination to surrender its claim to the island, and both sides continue to deploy warships in the contested area.

As in Sudan, multiple factors are driving this clash, but energy is the dominant motive.  The South China Sea is thought to harbor large deposits of oil and natural gas, and all the countries that encircle it, including China and the Philippines, want to exploit these reserves.  Manila claims a 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” stretching into the South China Sea from its western shores, an area it calls the West Philippine Sea; Filipino companies say they have found large natural gas reserves in this area and have announced plans to begin exploiting them.  Claiming the many small islands that dot the South China Sea (including Scarborough Shoal) as its own, Beijing has asserted sovereignty over the entire region, including the waters claimed by Manila; it, too, has announced plans to drill in the area.  Despite years of talks, no solution has yet been found to the dispute and further clashes are likely.

* Egypt cuts off the natural gas flow to Israel: On April 22nd, the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Companyinformed Israeli energy officials that they were “terminating the gas and purchase agreement” under which Egypt had been supplying gas to Israel.  This followed months of demonstrations in Cairo by the youthful protestors who succeeded in deposing autocrat Hosni Mubarak and are now seeking a more independent Egyptian foreign policy — one less beholden to the United States and Israel.  It also followed scores of attacks on the pipelines carrying the gas across the Negev Desert to Israel, which the Egyptian military has seemed powerless to prevent.

Ostensibly, the decision was taken in response to a dispute over Israeli payments for Egyptian gas, but all parties involved have interpreted it as part of a drive by Egypt’s new government to demonstrate greater distance from the ousted Mubarak regime and his (U.S.-encouraged) policy of cooperation with Israel.  The Egyptian-Israeli gas link was one of the most significant outcomes of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, and its annulment clearly signals a period of greater discord; it may also cause energy shortages in Israel, especially during peak summer demand periods.  On a larger scale, the cutoff suggests a new inclination to use energy (or its denial) as a form of political warfare and coercion.

* Argentina seizes YPF: On April 16th, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced that her government would seize a majority stake in YPF, the nation’s largest oil company.  Under President Kirchner’s plans, which she detailed on national television, the government would take a 51% controlling stake in YPF, which is now majority-owned by Spain’s largest corporation, the energy firm Repsol YPF.  The seizure of its Argentinean subsidiary is seen in Madrid (and other European capitals) as a major threat that must now be combated.  Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García Margallo, said that Kirchner’s move “broke the climate of cordiality and friendship that presided over relations between Spain and Argentina.”  Several days later, in what is reported to be only the first of several retaliatory steps, Spain announced that it would stop importing biofuels from Argentina, its principal supplier — a trade worth nearly $1 billion a year to the Argentineans.

As in the other conflicts, this clash is driven by many urges, including a powerful strain of nationalism stretching back to the Peronist era, along with Kirchner’s apparent desire to boost her standing in the polls.  Just as important, however, is Argentina’s urge to derive greater economic and political benefit from its energy reserves, which include the world’s third-largest deposits of shale gas.  While long-term rival Brazil is gaining immense power and prestige from the development of its offshore “pre-salt”petroleum reserves, Argentina has seen its energy production languish.  Repsol may not be to blame for this, but many Argentineans evidently believe that, with YPF under government control, it will now be possible to accelerate development of the country’s energy endowment, possibly in collaboration with a more aggressive foreign partner like BP or ExxonMobil.

* Argentina re-ignites the Falklands crisis: At an April 15th-16th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia — the one at which U.S. Secret Service agents were caught fraternizing with prostitutes — Argentina sought fresh hemispheric condemnation of Britain’s continued occupation of the Falkland Islands (called Las Malvinas by the Argentineans).  It won strong support from every country present save (predictably) Canada and the United States.  Argentina, which says the islands are part of its sovereign territory, has been raising this issue ever since it lost a war over the Falklands in 1982, but has recently stepped up its campaign on several fronts — denouncing London in numerous international venues and preventing British cruise ships that visit the Falklands from docking in Argentinean harbors.  The British have responded by beefing up their military forces in the region and warning the Argentineans to avoid any rash moves.

When Argentina and the U.K. fought their war over the Falklands, little was at stake save national pride, the stature of the country’s respective leaders (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher vs. an unpopular military junta), and a few sparsely populated islands.  Since then, the stakes have risen immeasurably as a result of recent seismic surveys of the waters surrounding the islands that indicated the existence of massive deposits of oil and natural gas.  Several UK-based energy firms, including Desire Petroleum and Rockhopper Exploration, have begun off-shore drilling in the area and have reported promising discoveries.  Desperate to duplicate Brazil’s success in the development of offshore oil and gas, Argentina claims the discoveries lie in its sovereign territory and that the drilling there is illegal; the British, of course, insist that it’s their territory.  No one knows how this simmering potential crisis will unfold, but a replay of the 1982 war — this time over energy — is hardly out of the question.

* U.S. forces mobilize for war with Iran: Throughout the winter and early spring, it appeared that an armed clash of some sort pitting Iran against Israel and/or the United States was almost inevitable.  Neither side seemed prepared to back down on key demands, especially on Iran’s nuclear program, and any talk of a compromise solution was deemed unrealistic.  Today, however, the risk of war has diminished somewhat – at least through this election year in the U.S. — as talks have finally gotten under way between the major powers and Iran, and as both have adopted (slightly) more accommodating stances.  In addition, U.S. officials have been tamping down war talk and figures in the Israeli military and intelligence communities have spoken out against rash military actions.  However, the Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and leaders on all sides say they are fully prepared to employ force if the peace talks fail.

For the Iranians, this means blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel through which one-third of the world’s tradable oil passes every day.  The U.S., for its part, has insisted that it will keep the Strait open and, if necessary, eliminate Iranian nuclear capabilities.  Whether to intimidate Iran, prepare for the real thing, or possibly both, the U.S. has been building up its military capabilities in the Persian Gulf area, deploying two aircraft carrier battle groupsin the neighborhood along with an assortment of air and amphibious-assault capabilities.

One can debate the extent to which Washington’s long-running feud with Iran is driven by oil, but there is no question that the current crisis bears heavily on global oil supply prospects, both through Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for forthcoming sanctions on Iranian oil exports, and the likelihood that any air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities will lead to the same thing.  Either way, the U.S. military would undoubtedly assume the lead role in destroying Iranian military capabilities and restoring oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. This is the energy-driven crisis that just won’t go away.

How Energy Drives the World

All of these disputes have one thing in common: the conviction of ruling elites around the world that the possession of energy assets — especially oil and gas deposits — is essential to prop up national wealth, power, and prestige.

This is hardly a new phenomenon.  Early in the last century, Winston Churchill was perhaps the first prominent leader to appreciate the strategic importance of oil.  As First Lord of the Admiralty, he converted British warships from coal to oil and then persuaded the cabinet to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the forerunner of British Petroleum (now BP).  The pursuit of energy supplies for both industry and war-fighting played a major role in the diplomacy of the period between the World Wars, as well as in the strategic planning of the Axis powers during World War II.  It also explains America’s long-term drive to remain the dominant power in the Persian Gulf that culminated in the first Gulf War of 1990-91 and its inevitable sequel, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The years since World War II have seen a variety of changes in the energy industry, including a shift in many areas from private to state ownership of oil and natural gas reserves.  By and large, however, the industry has been able to deliver ever-increasing quantities of fuel to satisfy the ever-growing needs of a globalizing economy and an expanding, rapidly urbanizing world population.  So long as supplies were abundant and prices remained relatively affordable, energy consumers around the world, including most governments, were largely content with the existing system of collaboration among private and state-owned energy leviathans.

But that energy equation is changing ominously as the challenge of fueling the planet grows more difficult.  Many of the giant oil and gas fields that quenched the world’s energy thirst in years past are being depleted at a rapid pace.  The new fields being brought on line to take their place are, on average, smaller and harder to exploit.  Many of the most promising new sources of energy — like Brazil’s “pre-salt” petroleum reserves deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean, Canadian tar sands, and American shale gas – require the utilization of sophisticated and costly technologies.  Though global energy supplies are continuing to grow, they are doing so at a slower pace than in the past and are continually falling short of demand.  All this adds to the upward pressure on prices, causing anxiety among countries lacking adequate domestic reserves (and joy among those with an abundance).

The world has long been bifurcated between energy-surplus and energy-deficit states, with the former deriving enormous political and economic advantages from their privileged condition and the latter struggling mightily to escape their subordinate position.  Now, that bifurcation is looking more like a chasm.  In such a global environment, friction and conflict over oil and gas reserves — leading to energy conflicts of all sorts — is only likely to increase.

Looking, again, at April’s six energy disputes, one can see clear evidence of these underlying forces in every case.  South Sudan is desperate to sell its oil in order to acquire the income needed to kick-start its economy; Sudan, on the other hand, resents the loss of oil revenues it controlled when the nation was still united, and appears no less determined to keep as much of the South’s oil money as it can for itself.  China and the Philippines both want the right to develop oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, and even if the deposits around Scarborough Shoal prove meager, China is unwilling to back down in any localized dispute that might undermine its claim to sovereignty over the entire region.

Egypt, although not a major energy producer, clearly seeks to employ its oil and gas supplies for maximum political and economic advantage — an approach sure to be copied by other small and mid-sized suppliers.  Israel, heavily dependent on imports for its energy, must now turn elsewhere for vital supplies or accelerate the development of disputed, newly discovered offshore gas fields, a move that could provoke fresh conflict with Lebanon, which says they lie in its own territorial waters.  And Argentina, jealous of Brazil’s growing clout, appears determined to extract greater advantage from its own energy resources, even if this means inflaming tensions with Spain and Great Britain.

And these are just some of the countries involved in significant disputes over energy.  Any clash with Iran — whatever the motivation — is bound to jeopardize the petroleum supply of every oil-importing country, sparking a major international crisis with unforeseeable consequences.  China’s determination to control its offshore hydrocarbon reserves has pushed it into conflict with other countries with offshore claims in the South China Sea, and into a similar dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.  Energy-related disputes of this sort can also be found in the Caspian Sea and in globally warming, increasingly ice-free Arctic regions.

The seeds of energy conflicts and war sprouting in so many places simultaneously suggest that we are entering a new period in which key state actors will be more inclined to employ force — or the threat of force — to gain control over valuable deposits of oil and natural gas.  In other words, we’re now on a planet heading into energy overdrive.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet and The Race for What’s Left.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

‘US imposed media ban on Balikatan to avoid riling China’

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By Redempto D. Anda
Inquirer Southern Luzon
12:37 am | Sunday, April 29th, 2012

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.

Live fire exercises were held at Crow Valley in Tarlac and at El Nido in Palawan.

The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made “several changes in the program of activities” apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.

“They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.

“Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities,” the source said.

Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was “reached by both sides.”

“There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety,” Estrella said.

The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided “unilaterally” that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.

“It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough,” the source said.

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China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas

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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 2:21am EDT

(Reuters) – China‘s top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.

The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”

Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.

In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.

Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.

Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.

The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.

“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.

“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Tokyo Is Planning To Piss Off China By Buying These Disputed Islands In The East China Sea

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AP

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo‘s outspoken governor says the city has decided to buy a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea to bolster Japanese claims to the territory, a move that could elevate tensions with China.

Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said the city is close to reaching an agreement with the private Japanese owner of three of the four islands in the group known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The islands, surrounded by rich fishing grounds, are also claimed by China and Taiwan. They have been a frequent flash point in diplomatic relations between Japan and China.

A collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels in 2010 near the islands set off a serious diplomatic spat, with Beijing temporarily freezing trade and ministerial talks.

“Tokyo has decided to buy the Senkaku islands. Tokyo will protect the Senkakus,” Ishihara said in a speech Monday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. “The Japanese are acquiring the islands to protect our own territory. Would anyone have a problem with that?”

Ishihara, a strong nationalist, said the idea is to block China from taking the islands from Japanese control, as the central government is reluctant to upset China.

He did not indicate how much the city would pay, but said the deal would be finalized while he is visiting the United States.

In Beijing, Liu Weimin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reacted harshly to Ishihara’s comment and reiterated China’s claim over the islands.

“Any unilateral measure taken by Japan is illegal and invalid, and will not change the fact that those islands belong to China,” he said in a statement.

Tokyo city official Tatsuo Fujii said details of the deal could not be released immediately and further discussions would be held with Okinawa prefecture, which has jurisdiction over the islands, and other related authorities.

The government currently pays rent to the owners of the four islands in the Senkaku group so they won’t be sold to any questionable buyer. It pays 24.5 million yen ($304,000) a year to the owner of the three islands, which are unused. The fourth island is used by the U.S. military for drills.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura reiterated on Tuesday that Japan has sovereignty over the Senkaku islands and said the central government might purchase them.

Japan and China also have disputes over undersea gas deposits in the East China Sea and Japan’s wartime history.

Ishihara previously helped to erect a lighthouse on one of the Senkaku islands, which a group of nationalists later replaced with a larger one recorded on navigation charts.

Ishihara’s comments about the disputed islands are also seen as politically motivated to discredit Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda‘s government, which is struggling to gain public support.

 

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