Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea


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When: May 13 2014 - 12:00pm until May 13 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea

An Asia Pacific Seminar and book launch featuring:

Dr. James Manicom
Research Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Waterloo, Canada

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt (Discussant)
Director, Asia-Pacific Program, United States Institute of Peace

Dr. James Manicom (right),and discussant Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt at the launch of Manicom's new book: Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea.

The territorial dispute over the small group of islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China has strained Sino-Japan relations considerably in recent years. As speculation grows that China and Japan are preparing for war over their maritime dispute, Asia Pacific leaders from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Japanese Primer Minister Shinzo Abe have drawn parallels between 2014 and 1914, suggesting the East China Sea may be the location for the start of the next world war.

In his new book Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea, Dr. James Manicom reminds us that the tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are only a part of a long history of both conflict and cooperation in maritime relations between Japan and China. He examines the cooperative history between China and Japan at sea and explains the conditions under which two rivals can manage territorial and maritime disputes.

In a special book launch at the East-West Center in Washington, Dr. Manicom explained that his book tells the “good news story” between China and Japan, and that the concerns of a prelude to war are overblown as story of this territorial conflict is one of careful conflict management.

His key findings were that cooperation tends to follow crisis in Sino-Japanese relations regarding the East China Sea; provocations and heigtened tensions have tended to be followed by agreements on disputed zone, such as on joint development and research. In getting to those agreements, Japan has been able to coerce China to negotiate through threats of cutting off development aid, or unilateral drilling in the disputed zone. Meanwhile China will back off its provocations in order to negotiate in order to protect slight gains, and thus establish a new and more favorable status quo. Therefore Manicom concluded that while cooperation will be the likely result of the recent tensions, it will not be through an omnibus settlement, but follow the pattern of ad hoc, negotaited agreements.

Discussant Stephanie Kleine-Ahbrandt, while praising the book for bringing to light these undercurrents in martime and conflict management policy between Japan and China, disagreed with Manicom’s optimistic outlook. Domestic circumstances in both countries, but particularly nationalism in China and the relative weakness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China’s foreign policy apparatus, are dissolving the leadership and reconilliation methods and tools that allowed Japan and China to manage the conflict. She also argued that it fails to take into consideration the danger of escalation, and how even well managed disputes can spiral out of control in a crisis. She warned that while war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is not probable, it is not inconcieviable either.

For more images, please visit the album for this event on the East-West Center's Flickr page.

Dr. James Manicom is a Research Fellow in Global Security & Politics at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Canada. An expert in East Asia, the Arctic and global security, with a specialty in maritime issues, he has been published in the Globe and Mail, the Asian Wall St. Journal,, the China Brief, Geopolitics, the East-Asia Forum and PacNet. Dr. Manicom received his PhD and MA in international relations from Flinders University, Australia, and his BA in international relations from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada.

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt is Director of the Asia-Pacific Program at the US Institute of Peace. Prior to this she established and ran the Beijing office of the International Crisis Group, and has held positions at the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and the US Department of State. She has written extensively on China’s foreign policy and relations, including the maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, and has been published in various edited volumes on Asian security and news media including Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762