As someone who has been a guest in Japan for a relatively short time, I find some of the culture unfamiliar, as doubtless many a Japanese citizen would find it so in my country — especially the likely method of handling the dispute over the Senkaku Islands.
All my knowledge and experience tells me that positional bargaining, which seems to be the approach here, rarely satisfies the parties in dispute — what may be termed as seeking a solution by “adding the differences and dividing them by two.”
Only principled bargaining is likely to secure results on which the parties in dispute can eventually agree. The key to principled bargaining is to identify interests, not positions. One has to ask, what is Japan’s interest in the Senkakus: a refuge for fishing vessels in stormy weather, a remote location for ruminants or something more significant? With China in dispute with a number of countries over issues affecting land and sea, Japan has a good opportunity to negotiate issues to its advantage.
What is needed is for the countries affected to meet collectively.
If many working groups are required to discuss trade issues under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, can someone tell me why the countries in this part of the world cannot set up a series of similar working groups under their own organization to look at territorial questions? A series of separate working groups could examine access to territorial and international waters, fishing rights, and ownership and exploitation of the seabed and its resources.
Once some common principles have been reached or — if they already exist — confirmed as acceptable, a final group should be set up to look at the effect of islets, islands and so forth on previous agreements. At that stage, international arbitration machinery might be needed to settle sensitive details.
If a number of countries were able to reach agreement on principles, China would be much weaker maintaining its position before the international community if it did not join in.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.