Both Japan and the Philippines are attempting to engage China in new ways to settle sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.
The Associated Press reports a Japanese envoy has arrived in China to deliver a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chinese leader-to-be Xi Jinping.
The AP also reports that on Tuesday the Philippines took a " desperate legal step against China's claims to virtually the entire South China Sea" as it seeks an international declaration that Beijing's moves in the resource-rich waters are "unlawful."
The visit of Natsuo Yamaguchi, who is not in Japan's government, is described as a type of "quiet diplomacy that could allow for a franker exchange of views than official talks might." Chinese state media welcomed the politician, signaling that it is willing to tone down the verbal attacks it has heaped on Japan in weeks.
Nevertheless, the Japan Coast Guard said that on Monday and Tuesday a Chinese fisheries patrol vessel repeatedly sailed on the periphery of Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. When warned by the Japanese to leave the area, the Chinese ships broadcast messages over loudspeakers in Japanese and Chinese stating, “This is historically Chinese territory.”
There has been little official dialogue and several flare-ups since Japan's government bought the uninhabited islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu and Japanese as Senkaku, from their private Japanese owners in September.
The Philippines is taking its case to a tribunal operating under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea because, as Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said, the country "has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime disputes with China."
In response to the move, Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing released a statement saying that "China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and its adjacent waters."
Last year Chinese paramilitary ships confronted Philippine vessels for months near what China calls Huangyan island and the Philippines calls Scarborough Shoal, eventually taking control of the territory without firing a shot.
Chen Shaofeng, an international affairs expert at Peking University, told the AP that the Philippines knows their proposal will go nowhere and China would probably ignore the tribunal process.
"The Philippines ... just wants to make the issue more internationalized," Chen said.
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