The Group 7 (G7) industrialized nations recently issued a joint statement on maritime security, denouncing China’s reclamation of islands in the East Sea.
It demonstrates the international community’s growing concerns about the East Sea, where tensions are mounting because of Beijing’s flouting of international law.
The statement released at the G7 Summit on May 27 in Japan emphasized that countries need to abide by the law to settle territorial disputes.
G7, which includes the US, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, reaffirmed that disputes should be resolved peacefully and on a basis of free maritime and air navigation.
G7 leaders called on all countries to refrain from unilateral acts that may heighten tensions and to avoid the use of force or coercion to back up territorial claims.
China claims that its territory covers most of the East Sea, a busy maritime route which overlaps waters of neighboring countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.
The G7 statement voiced stronger impatience from the US, Japan and other members for unilateral acts that cause tensions, threaten peace, and stability and change the status quo in the East Sea, the East China Sea and other seas.
As the host country, Japan set the summit’s agenda and made the East Sea a major topic of discussion. Observers say Tokyo successfully attracted the attention of other G7 countries to current territorial disputes in the region.
China has continued its illegal reclamation despite regional and world protests. Both China and Japan claim sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.
There is mounting fear of China’s possible use of force to consolidate its claim. Washington criticized in stronger terms Beijing’s illegal build-up of artificial islands and militarization in the East Sea.
The US has increased its monitoring of China’s activities. Japan has also shown growing concern over the East Sea through which pass the majority of goods shipped to and from Japan.
Recently, Tokyo sent destroyers and submarines to a naval exercise with Indonesia and called at a number of East Sea posts. Japan has repeatedly voiced condemnation of unilateral acts to change East Sea status quo.
Support for judicial procedures to settle disputes
China’s rise remains one of the hot topics of G7 discussions and the group’s statement drew a backlash from Beijing. China said the East Sea issue is irrelevant to G7 or any member of that group and there is no call to interfere.
In April, when a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement strongly condemned unilateral acts of provocation or coercion to change the status quo or increase tensions in the East Sea or East China Sea, Beijing called it an irresponsible act and summoned the G7 nations’ ambassadors to justify their stance.
In their statement, the G7 leaders unanimously supported using an international body like the International Court of Justice to settle territorial disputes.
The Hague-based court is due to deliver a ruling on the Philippines’ lawsuit against China by the end of June. The G7’s support for settlement of disputes through arbitration is one way the international community is pressuring to abide by international law.
Experts say that while the court has no right to decide ownership and detailed sovereignty in the East Sea, its ruling will certainly have a big impact on how East Sea sovereignty is determined.