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Legal questions aside, China sees the waters within its baselines as its internal waters under Beijing’s administration.
That raises the risk of a confrontation in the clear waters around the disputed islands between Japanese coast guard vessels and Chinese fishing boats and law enforcement vessels, and even Taiwanese vessels — all ostensibly with orders to patrol the area.
Already there has been sparring the past two weeks, with Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entering waters Japan claims, and the Japanese coast guard firing a water cannon at Taiwanese boats approaching the islands.
The parties could legally resolve their dispute if they submit it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, or their own court.
"Both would be equally terrified of losing on flimsy grounds," said Townsend Gault. "They have snookered each other legally and diplomatically speaking. They have driven each other into a corner. We need some third party to say can you put this to bed so we don’t have this enormous disruption in your bilateral relations whereby people are smashing up Toyota dealerships."
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