State of Affairs in the Pacific Island Region: Reading China’s Agenda and the Sentiments of Pacific Islanders

The year 2022 witnessed not only a growing interest in the Ukraine-Russia issue but also greater international attention to small Pacific Island Countries (PICs) than ever before. This international attention was the direct result of a media leak in April 2022, when the Solomon Islands and China secretly signed a security cooperation agreement. In response, the United States (US) and Australia showed a sense of caution, branding it as representing a serious crisis posed by China’s increasing presence in the Pacific. This prompted what is called the West and the mass media to increase their interest in PICs. This heightened interest must be a corollary of the recent international situation in which security issues are discussed from a wider range of angles. Aligned with this move, there is a growing discussion in Japan on how the country should strengthen its relations with PICs and engage with them through multilateral cooperative assistance involving the US and Australia, among other donors.

U.S. Recognition of Japanese Sovereignty Over the Senkaku Islands

Recent Chinese intimidation against Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea presents an ideal opportunity for the United States to strengthen the alliance with Tokyo and enhance regional strategic security and stability. On June 22, 2020, the Ishigaki City Council of Okinawa voted to strengthen Japan’s administrative control of the Senkaku Islands by reasserting that the islands are Japanese territory and changing their administrative name from “Tonoshiro” to “Tonoshiro Senkaku.”1 The United States should acknowledge the name change and officially recognize the Senkakus as Japanese territory, as it once did before the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

The South Sea Islands and Japanese Mandatory Rule over Them

For about three decades, from 1914 to 1945, when it was defeated in the Pacific War, Japan ruled the former German Micronesia, which it then called Nanyo Gunto(the South Sea Islands), and Nanyo Cho (the South Seas Agency), which was responsible for governing the islands, was located in the city of Koror in the Palau Islands. The relationships between the South Sea Islands and Japan are a matter of consequence that is essential to understand the modern and contemporary history of Japan. In recent Japan, however, Palau has evoked an image of a resort in the South Pacific Ocean and a mecca for scuba diving tourism among some people, and it is safe to say that the ordinary Japanese no longer recall the name “South Sea Islands” and the history of Japanese rule over the islands. The reason is that the persons formerly concerned with the South Sea Islands who continued to live in postwar Japan as living witnesses are now a complete minority as they have become 80 or 90 or older. I have many opportunities to see young people aged around 20 and realize every day how living people’s ordinary sense of history changes with the passage of time. To young students, 70 to 80 years ago is a period when their grand-grandparents rather than their grandparents lived—a period that no longer carries any sense of reality and is mentioned only in history textbooks.

Legal Status of Uninhabited Islets and Small Islands —Relationship Between Customary Law and Treaty Law―

When Japan submitted its application for the extension of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on 13 November 2008, China and South Korea submitted, one after another, their statements of position to the Commission, claiming that they could not approve the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf measured from the base-point of Okinotori Island, criticizing the position of Japan1. Their arguments were based on the grounds that Okinotori Island is a “rock” under Article 121, paragraph 3, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and cannot have its own EEZ or continental shelf.

International Legal Regime regarding Islands and Rocks

maritime law) from an expert perspective has already been published by Professors Yamamoto Soji and Kuribayashi Tadao, among others,1 and the Ocean Policy Research Foundation has advanced efforts, in particular regarding Okinotorishima Island.2 What such research has made clear is that this issue has a complex history involving the actual interests of many nations, that there are many unclear points regarding the present legal regime, and that state practice and scholars’ views vary. The purpose of this paper is to summarize, as simply as possible, the international legal regime currently applicable to islands and rocks and its main points of dispute, while limiting the review of past developments to the minimum. Finally, I apply those results to Okinotorishima Island and present a few proposals. The principles of the international legal regime pertaining to this issue are prescribed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), especially Article 121. As of February 16, 2007, UNCLOS has been ratified by 152 nations and the European Community. The United States, which is one of the few coastal states that have not ratified this treaty, virtually accepts its provisions. Accordingly, UNCLOS has become an international law that is almost universally applied.

Exercising Enforcement Jurisdiction around the Senkaku Islands

As the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, Japan has jurisdiction over the territorial sea and EEZ pertaining to them. China also claims the islands, though, which superficially presents competing jurisdictional claims. In this paper, the legal specialist Miyoshi Masahiro examines aspects of the law governing Japan’s response to foreign governmental ships in its territorial sea and EEZ. He also explores the causes of the overlapping claims problem from an international law perspective.

The Regime of Islands in International Conventions (Part 1)

What we call “the law of the sea” is not a single set of rules, but a complex international legal landscape featuring a range of multilateral and bilateral agreements. In the first part of his multipart paper, the legal specialist Terasaki Naomichi Hiro examines the regime of islands as it developed through the discussion at the 1930 Hague Codification Conference, two of the UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea, and other gatherings, and as it was presented in documents including the four 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

The Strategic Value of Territorial Islands from the Perspective of National Security

Much of the strategic value that islands have is related to their geographic potential. Defense specialist Akimoto Kazumine, a senior research fellow at the OPRF, notes that Japan’s islands are deeply tied to the regional security environment as a whole. Chinese naval forces view Japanese island territories as an impediment to their access to the western Pacific, which makes them a likely focus of any military confrontation involving China in the region. Japan needs to ensure an EEZ regime free of restrictions on use of the seas while maintaining the security of its territorial islands.

Islands' Sea Areas: Effects of a Rising Sea Level

In an era of global warming, islands and shorelines face considerable change from the rising sea level. This will clearly impact low-lying islands around the world in particular, but less attention has been given to the effect on sea areas associated with those islands and their vanishing or shifting shorelines. The legal scholar Hayashi Moritaka examines the problem of maritime zones defined in relation to baselines in the context of drastic change to the shorelines, which form the bases for them. New rules are needed in the UNCLOS framework to address this.