In the recent wave of anti-Japan protests in China, we've wondered how much of it was genuinely spontaneous and how much (contrary to official appearances) state-instrumented. The signals are even harder to read in Vietnam, where several were actually arrested in anti-China protests Dec. 8. At issue is the contested South China Sea and its oilfields, a question that has (paradoxically, for those who can remember back just to the 1960s) caused Vietnam to tilt to the US in the New Cold War with China. Has the regime's anti-China propaganda (and exploitation of hopes for an oil bonanza to lift the nation out of poverty) created something now a little out of control? Or are even the arrests part of a choreographed game?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) began hearings on Dec. 3 regarding a longtime border dispute between Chile and Peru. Peru first filed its application with the ICJ in 2008 alleging that Chile refused to enter into negotiations over the disputed maritime border and requesting that the ICJ resolve the dispute. At issue is a 15,000 square mile triangle of the Pacific Ocean, which Chile currently controls. Bolivia also plans to send a delegation to the ICJ and plans its own lawsuit against Chile. A decision by the 15-judge panel is not expected until mid-2013 at the earliest, and it cannot be appealed once issued.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced Dec. 3 that his nation's ships are already exercising sovereignty over resource-rich Caribbean waters claimed by Colombia but granted to the Central American nation by the World Court last week. "At midnight on Sunday [Dec. 2] our ships sailed, they sailed to the recovered area, and by now they have established sovereignty in that whole territory," Ortega said in a message on television and radio. (Reuters, Nov. 26) The ships actually appear to be fishing boats, as Nicaragua has virtually no naval forces—while Colombia has dispatched warships into the disputed waters. Nicaraguan fishing boat captains told the English-language Nicaragua Dispatch that they are "fishing with fear" in the disputed waters beyond the 82nd meridian. "We are doing our part to support the government," said Carlos Javier Goff, president of the Copescharley fishing company out of Puerto Cabezas. "We feel protected by the government and by the international community and, God willing, this won't go to extremes… it won't get beyond words and intimidation."
The presidents of both Colombia and Nicaragua on Dec. 1 expressed hope for avoiding war and using dialogue to resolve a territorial and maritime dispute following a recent ruling (ruling) on the issue by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ended the dispute between the two nations by ruling that Colombia has sovereignty over a group of small islands in the western Caribbean, while Nicaragua has control over a large amount of the surrounding sea and seabed. Following the ruling Colombia withdrew from the treaty binding the country to the ICJ's decisions. Both countries have placed warships in the disputed waters. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stated that his country is discarding the use of force as an option and would use communication to achieve peace. Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos stated that war is a "last resort," and the way to fix the situation is through dialogue. Santos also stated that Colombia would seek to overturn the decision. Colombians have been protesting the ruling, staging nationwide marches.
The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled Nov. 19 that a cluster of disputed islets off Central America's Caribbean coast belong to Colombia and not to Nicaragua—but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in the disputed waters. The move immedaitely sparked protests in cities across Colombia, including Medellín, Cali and Cartagena. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos flew to the island of San Andrés, the seat of the disputed archipelago, to support protests there. Slogans included "The fatherland is not for sale," "Why should we quit our sea?," and "ICJ, how much did the multinations give you for this ruling?"
An ongoing stand-off between an elite force of Iraq's national army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces around the contested northern city of Kirkuk led to skirmishes that left two dead and several wounded at the village of Tuz Khurmatu this week. The army's Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command (DOC), launched in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was ostensibly sent to put down the remnants of insurgency in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin governates. But local Kurdish leaders—including Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—charge that the real aim of the deployment is to prevent Kirkuk governate from be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), now made up of the governorates of Erbil (also Arbil or Irbil), Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Duhok. (See map.) A referendum on the future of Kirkuk, mandated by Aritcle 140 of Iraq's constitution, has been repeatedly put off by the central government.
Well, it finally came to an actual clash—albeit, thank goodness, with water cannon, not actual munitions—over the contested East China Sea islands, and it was not China but Taiwan that provoked the escalation. On Sept. 25, some 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels accompanied by 12 patrol boats dispatched by Taipei entered waters off the islets that the Chinese call Diaoyu, the Japanese call Senkaku, and the Taiwanese call Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai. When a Japanese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon to disperse the fishing boats, a Taiwanese patrol ship fired its own water cannon at the Japanese ship. The Taiwanese ships were apparently given a warning to clear off but refused, asserting that they had the right to be in their own territorial waters. Many of the Taiwanese ships were flying banners declaiming their national right to the islands. The Taiwanese fleet, which approached the islands at around 8 AM, departed by midday, according to Japanese authorities. (Japan Times, Sept. 26; The Telegraph, Sept. 25)
The prospect of an actual shooting war between China and Japan got a little realer this week as both sides raised the stakes in the showdown over the barren East China Sea chain known as the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese and as the Senkaku Islands to the Japanese. Over the weekend, angry anti-Japan protests spread to 85 cities across China. In Beijing, protesters besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of protesters occupying a street in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Protesters broke into a Panasonic plant and several other Japanese-run factories as well as a Toyota dealership in Qingdao, Shandong province, ransacking and torching. In Shanghai, hundreds of military police were brought in to break up protesters outside the Japanese consulate, who chanted: ''Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!'' (China Digital Times, SMH, Kyodo, Sept. 17)