Ring Ban Ki-moon to Help Solve Senkaku Spat
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Ring Ban Ki-moon to Help Solve Senkaku Spat


I recently set out six recommendations to prevent the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from turning into an armed conflict. One of these was simple but crucial to helping resolve the issue: Ring Ban Ki-moon, Secertary General of the United Nations.

Despite being overshadowed by North Korean rhetoric and actions over the past few weeks, the Sino-Japanese stand-off continues.

The SecGen has at least five policy options he can use to prevent the escalation of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute:



1. Appoint a Special Representative for Asia-Pacific Affairs.

The Secretary General of the United Nations currently does not have a single special representative working on security issues in the Asia-Pacific. Ban Ki-moon’s only special envoy in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Central Asia) is in Burma. This needs to change. The seriousness of interstate security crises on the Korean peninsula, and in the South and East China seas, dictates the need for a region-specific envoy with widespread support and credibility. A potential first appointee could be Lee Kuan Yew or Kevin Rudd.

2. Propose a plan for de-escalation.

The SecGen, and his new Special Representative, should discuss a UN-sponsored peace plan with the Japanese and Chinese ambassadors to the UN, and with each nation’s top political leaderships directly. Although Ban Ki-moon has kept a remarkably low public profile on this issue, there is some evidence that he has been speaking to the concerned parties about it. If it is not already doing so, the UN should propose a comprehensive plan for the de-escalation and future resolution of this territorial dispute. The three basic elements of any peace plan – as I proposed in a recent simulation on this very dispute – consist of the following:

 - ALL concerned parties pull back any military assets that maybe operating near the area for one month.

- Japan reverses nationalization policy.

- UN-sponsored talks, with Taiwan, on future status of islands.

3. Advocate for an INCSEA agreement.

Complementing the above peace plan, the SecGen should throw his weight behind a potential Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) between Japan and China. There is some intellectual support behind this initiative. The SECGEN could help by channeling this latent support into a concerted diplomatic proposal. For example, Ban Ki-moon’s new representative could consult with regional think tanks, academics and governments – including the U.S. and Russia, whose experience this model is based on. Their input could feed into a formal UN proposal for an INCSEA between Japan and China.

4. Travel to the islands.

Most high-level preventive diplomacy occurs in private meetings which go unreported by journalists or historians. There is a persuasive logic behind this approach: diplomatic initiatives that fail can be denied, disavowed and buried from the public record. However, there is also a case to be made for Ban Ki-moon, who is known as a true pioneer of preventive diplomacy, connecting his behind-the-scenes strategy with a bolder public presence on the world stage – and, in this case, on the islands themselves. The father of preventive diplomacy, Dag Hammarskjöld, famously traveled to China during a Sino-American crisis early in his tenure. Ban Ki-moon should draw on Hammarskjöld’s legacy. An official visit to the disputed islands would be a potent signal of the power of his office, a potential catalyst for unclogging diplomatic channels between Japan and China and a symbol of the UN’s focus on Asia.

5. Declare the dispute “a threat to international peace and security."

In the worst case scenario, if none of the above moves by the UN suffice to force a peaceful settlement to the dispute, the Secretary General has one ace up his sleeve. It is a very bold move and, as such, should be reserved for a gloomy day. As mandated by Article 99 of the UN Charter, Ban Ki-moon is empowered to bring the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands to the attention of the UN Security Council. This move would be sure to invite China’s vitriolic rebuff and a potentially bruising public debate. This is the last option which the Secretary General should consider, but he should consider it well in advance of that unlucky day.

Daryl Morini is a Pacific Forum CSIS WSD-Handa Non-Resident Fellow. He is a PhD researcher on preventive diplomacy, Deputy Editor of e-IR, and has work experience in international institutions, including the UN. Follow him at: @DarylMorini

April 9, 2013 at 00:00

What happened to my comments on Kevin Rudd?

April 5, 2013 at 19:19

Kevin Rudd is a known sinophile FYI. He even speaks Mandarin. Sometimes, it pays to research more than what your 50-cent superviser is whispering into your ear.

Madu Liar
April 4, 2013 at 16:03

Why is the Falklands Islands, Cuba, and many other disputes which the US has with regimes in Latin and Carribean America, not taken up to the UN Security Council?  How would the US like that as a cuckolded superpower? Th writer's bias towards the West is obvious as is his recommendation for Kevin Rudd who is known to lean towards the US.  His suggestion is doomed to failure unless you have a scrupulously impartial UN and Secretary-General with an objective Board of Guardians selected through some proven mechanism, and a strong armed forces to back up and protect the UN.  As it is, the UN is controlled and influenced by the US in the UN Security Council in particular with its two infamous sidekicks – Britain and France.  As someone said recently over the internet : "Get real. The only real power and respect to get anything done ultimately is the "cannon".  The bigger the "cannon" the more say you have over any matter.  Power rules."

The suggestion made here is a no starter although I agree quiet diplmacy away from the US controlled and manipulative mass medias, is sensible and may yet be productive.


April 4, 2013 at 13:55

actually the first step might be to get the japanese government to officially acknowledge that there is indeed a dispute then other things can happen

April 4, 2013 at 08:06

No thanks the DPRK matter was over, Kim had backdown, then Moon speaks gives Kim a sniff what he wanted all along and we are back to where we were. Closer to nuclear war.

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