Japan weighs in on South China Sea dispute, adding to pressure on Beijing

Japan has joined a battle of diplomatic notes over the South China Sea dispute, adding to pressure on Beijing over its expansive claims in the strategically important waterway.

In a note verbale – a type of diplomatic communication – sent on Tuesday, Japan’s permanent mission to the United Nations said China’s “drawing of territorial sea baselines … on relevant islands and reefs in the South China Sea” failed to satisfy conditions set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It also accused China of restricting freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

Beijing’s claims to most of the waterway were rejected in 2016 by a tribunal in The Hague that ruled several of the land features were “low-tide elevations” without territorial waters.

“China has not accepted this [2016] award, and has asserted that it has ‘sovereignty’ in sea and airspace surrounding and above those maritime features found to be low-tide elevations,” Japan said in the note addressing UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.

“As a matter of fact, China protests the overflight of Japanese aircraft in the surrounding Mischief Reef and attempts to restrict the freedom of overflight in the South China Sea,” it said.

While Tokyo has previously urged Beijing to recognise the tribunal ruling, it is rare for Japan – which has its own territorial disputes with China in the East China Sea – to openly push back over its activities in the South China Sea, a potential military flashpoint between China and the US because of its geostrategic location.

The note was issued hours before a high-level consultation on maritime affairs between China and Japan during which Japanese diplomats lodged a protest against the growing presence of Chinese coastguard vessels near the Senkaku Islands, according to Stars and Stripes. Known as the Diaoyus in China, the islands are controlled by Japan but also claimed by Beijing and Taipei. - South China Morning Post