Let ICJ resolve row: Tommy Koh

CHINA and Japan have been asked to consider going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve their territorial row in the East China Sea.

The call was made by Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore's Ambassador- at-large, at a forum yesterday.

It came as a panel featuring speakers from China, Japan and the United States discussed the row over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands claimed by Beijing and Tokyo.

The dispute was one of the issues discussed at the annual Regional Outlook Forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas).

Major-General Zhu Chenghu, a professor at China's National Defence University, and Professor Tomohito Shinoda of the International University of Japan stiffly articulated centuries-old historical positions and international accords to support their countries' claims to the uninhabited islands.

To applause from the audience, Prof Koh noted that the two neighbours, whose economies are complementary, could do better.

"Since both of you are so sure that your sovereignty claim is a superior one, why don't you behave like statesmen and agree to refer this dispute to the ICJ?" he asked.

Maj-Gen Zhu, in his reply, said that going to the ICJ would not be acceptable, as China and Japan had a different understanding of the international law and deals pertaining to the ownership of the islands.

"I don't think there is any necessity for us to go to the ICJ," he said. China's official stance is that it does not submit a sovereignty dispute to arbitration.

Prof Shinoda, for his part, said he had heard from a government source that Tokyo would be willing to accept the Chinese suit if it were brought to the ICJ.

Officially, Japan refuses to acknowledge that there is a dispute over the strategic and potentially oil-rich islands that it controls.

The sticking point was possibly China's perception of international institutions as being less than neutral, Iseas deputy director Ooi Kee Beng told The Straits Times.

This could explain why Beijing could not leave a vital issue to a third party, he said.

bhagya@sph.com.sg