The news this morning is of a new resource-sharing agreement in the East China Sea that represents the start of a new era in east Asia. Japan and China has agreed to ignore territorial demarcation for now, and instead focus on extracting oil and gas from fields in the area.
Many Chinese see in the agreement a government desperate to buy international peace before the Olympics, at any price. One post (原贴) from Tianya:
The Olympics is only a game, how can it be used to kidnap China; how can it lead to such a heavy loss in Chinese interests?
China has 100% sovereignty over the East China Sea continental shelf, this is our most fundamental principle. Once China makes a mistake on this basic principle, then the consequences are long-lasting and severe. This naturally implies China will fall into the hopeless situation of having to negotiate. Once China accepts Japan’s demand for “joint development”, it inevitably dilutes China’s sovereignty over the East China Sea continental shelf.
The Chunxiao natural gas fields have already been fully developed by mainland China, why is there any talk of joint development? Japan’s is using its claims of sovereignty to request a taste of Chunxiao’s rewards. I absolutely can not accept this perspective.
If China agrees to sharing the East China Sea oil and gas fields, this is equivalent to recognizing Japan’s sovereignty over the continental shelf. This is a very serious strategic mistake, with unimaginable consequences.
There is similar talk is on various Chinese chat boards, and IHT mentions a protest in Beijing (… but it might be talking about an earlier approved Diaoyutai protest). Many have accused the government and Hu Jintao specifically of selling out Chinese interests. Some have even said its time for a new May Fourth movement, a series of protests that erupted in response to a Chinese government giving up Chinese territory due to foreign pressure, and the birth of modern Chinese nationalism.
Many are especially angry at this announcement because it comes at the same time as continuing Japan-Taiwan tensions over the boat-sinking at Diaoyutai. Many were already calling for the PLAN to join the Taiwanese navy in patrolling around Diaoyutai; others were calling for a Japanese ship making a historic port-call in China to be turned away.
So, what’s really happening? Here’s one amateur map linked on MITBBS (文章，I can’t vouch for its accuracy) which shows what’s involved:
The blue line along the very right side is the extent of China’s continental shelf, and the basis of China’s claims. The yellow line to its left represents Japan’s claims, on the basis of a “middle line” between the two countries. The red box between the two lines shows the specific area (listed by coordinates) that are to be “jointly developed”. The Chunxiao fields are lower and to the left; they are basically straddled by Japan’s middle line, with China’s existing mining operation in undisputed Chinese territory in the western portion.
The actual agreement (原文) in part reads like this:
1. Regarding cooperation between China and Japan in the Eastern Sea
In order to make the still undemarcated Eastern Sea a sea of peace, cooperation, and friendship, and on the basis of consensus positions formed by the senior leadership in the two countries, China and Japan agree to compromise during this transition period before demarcation is complete. The two sides will cooperate on the terms that the legal positions of both sides are not diminished. Both sides have taken the first step, and consultations will continue.
2. China-Japan’s understanding on joint development
(In the area shown by the red box above), both sides will start joint development on the basis of joint exploration and shared profits. Details to be negotiated later.
Both sides agree to consult further in order to realize joint development in the East Sea as soon as possible.
3. Understanding on Japanese involvement in Chunxiao Gas Fields development
Chinese enterprises welcome the participation of Japanese parties in the development of Chunxiao’s gas fields, on the basis of existing Chinese laws on exploiting ocean resources with foreign cooperation.
One can only assume the Chinese government understands the sensitivity here. The involvement in Chunxiao has been described in such a way that it makes it clear a Chinese enterprise retains ownership and jurisdiction over the fields, but a Japanese company will be allowed to invest and share in the subsequent profit. However, it’s the repeated mentions of “joint development” that will lead to cries of outrage from many Chinese.
The Chinese government is handling a domestic land-mine here, and I hope it treads very carefully.