Certain East Asian territorial disputes have simmered, unresolved, since the arrangements concluding the Second World War: Japan, China, and Taiwan contest sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu(tai) islands and their surrounding waters; South Korea and Japan both assert a claim to Dokto/Takeshima island (also called Liancourt Rocks); Japan and Russia have not yet signed a formal peace treaty ending the war, mainly because of their continuing dispute regarding sovereignty over the Northern Territories/southern Kuriles; and China, Taiwan and Vietnam plus three other nations assert sovereignty over one or more of the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea. These contending claims arise -- and generate heat -- from conflicting historical memories, national identities, nationalistic impulses, regional power rivalries, and potentially rich economic benefits. China's rising military power and concomitantly more assertive foreign policy posture have added to that volatile mix. The United States was, in a sense, "present at the creation" of the specific postwar arrangements -- that failed adequately to resolve historical issues and left the contested East China Sea islands in a legally uncertain status. The Obama administration's announced "pivot" or "rebalancing" toward Asia was accompanied by public affirmations of enduring U.S. policy interests in Asia and by a call for China to settle its South China Sea disputes through multilateral negotiations. So the U.S. is involved to a greater or lesser degree in each of the contemporary East Asian territorial disputes. Keyser will discuss the U.S. policymaker's perspective on these territorial conflicts including whether the U.S. government can and should play an active role in facilitating resolutions.
Donald W. Keyser retired from the U.S. Department of State in September 2004 after a 32-year career. He had extensive domestic and foreign experience in senior policy positions, conflict resolution, intelligence operations and analysis, and law enforcement programs. His career focused geographically on U.S. policy toward East Asia, particularly China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Fluent in Chinese and professionally conversant in Japanese, Russian and French, he served three tours at the American Embassy in Beijing and two tours at the American Embassy in Tokyo. A Russian language and Soviet/Russian area studies specialist in his undergraduate and early graduate-level work, Keyser served 1998-99 as Special Negotiator and Ambassador for Regional Conflicts in the Former USSR. He is currently a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, U.K.