Disputed territories around the world
Even in this post World War II era there are many situations, similar to those in Israel,
where territories are subject to dispute and the rights of a foreign presence are opposed. In practically all these situations,
the term “occupied territory” is meticulously avoided by the media and other opinion makers, who justifiably suspend
judgment until the issue will be finally resolved and consequently correctly use the term “disputed territory”.
The notable exception is Israel, which is readily pre-judged by refusal to recognize
that territory is in fact disputed. As a result, the politically loaded description, “occupation” is invariably
used leading to an insistent call to “end the occupation” rather than to “resolve the dispute”, as
envisaged in Security Council Resolution 242.
Below are some examples of similar situations which are invariably described as “disputed
In 2004 news headlines announced a military confrontation following the intrusion of a Chinese
nuclear-powered submarine into Japanese waters off Okinawa. This incident drew the world’s attention to continuing territorial
disputes between China and Japan in the East China Sea, which both sides claim as their exclusive economic zone.
In 1975 an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was sought on whether Western Sahara,
at the time of colonization by Spain was a “territory belonging to no one” (terra nullius). The situation
was similar to the West Bank, which was terra nullius or owned by no one when taken by Israel in 1967, Jordan’s
attempt to annex the territory not having been internationally recognized.
Some disputes, have long historical roots such as the Sino-Korean dispute over the ancient
kingdom of Koguryo. Many are comparatively recent. Japan and Russia have not yet signed a formal peace treaty to end the hostilities
of World War II due to a territorial dispute over the Southern Kuriles, or Northern Territories.
Kashmir is claimed by India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris. India claims that Pakistan illegally
occupied 78,114 sq. kilometers in Kashmir. According to the Embassy of India in Washington, the problem of Kashmir today is
one of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. Echoing the situation in Israel, the Embassy states, “Every State has the duty
to protect the life and property of its citizens and cannot countenance their security being threatened by armed terrorists.”
In the case of Kashmir, the media refer to the territory as disputed. In the
Israeli case it is referred to as "occupied".
Recently reviving old claims, China does not recognize the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh as part
of Indian territory. China claims over 90,000 square kilometers of land ‘occupied” by India in the northern state
and this too is called “disputed territory”.
Then there is the disputed territory of Taiwan, with current threats of military action, not
to mention the dispute between Australia and East Timor over the energy-rich Timor Sea; Australia claims the entire continental
shelf as part of its exclusive economic zone.
In 2001, Freedom House listed Tibet as the worst rated disputed territory for civil liberties
for the year.
An interesting dispute recently resurfaced over two rocky islets surrounded by 33 smaller rocks about 215
kilometers off the eastern border of Korea known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea. Both Japan and South Korea claim long historical and geographical connections with the islets. The Japanese
assert that they incorporated Dokdo in 1905, considering it to be no mans land or terra nullius. Note the similarity
to the case of the West Bank of the Jordan and, as described above, the case considered by the ICJ relating to the Western
Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain. While the islets, which are currently occupied by South Korea, are of little
value, the seas around them are rich fishing grounds and possibly possess natural gas and mineral deposits.
According to Asia Times (May 24, 2000), a series of long-standing disputes recently exploded in Asia, including
a maritime dispute in the Sulawesi Sea between Malaysia and Indonesia. The Times reports that across the region numerous territorial
disputes lie dormant, awaiting only the manipulation by politicians to stoke nationalist passions or the discovery of natural
resources to reawaken them.
In the South China Sea, 130 small Paracel islands, which have been “occupied” by China since
1974. are claimed by both Vietnam and Taiwan. Despite being "occupied byChina" they are categorized as "disputed territories"
While the 400 islands of the Spratly chain are partly claimed by the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia, they
are fully claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and China. In 1999 the BBC reported that tension between China and the Philippines was
rising over the Islands, focused mainly on Mischief Reef, less than 140 nautical miles from the Philippine island of Palawan.
In 1995, the Chinese, who currently “occupy” 10 Spratly islands, first established a presence in Mischief Reef,
which lies well within what international law defined as the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Again, though claimed by
one side to be “occupied” the territory is said to be “disputed”
Indian Professor Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research, in Delhi recently asserted that China
has not shown any serious interest in resolving its border differences with India. "While China has solved its border problems
with its neighbors, no progress has been made in talks with India though these have continued for over 19 years. There is
no clarity about the line between the two countries and the Sino-India border talks are the longest in modern history.”
Above are but a few examples in which, despite the presence of, or occupation by, an unwelcome foreign power,
territories are almost universally described as “disputed”, rather than “occupied”. An elementary sense of fairness would require use of the same terminology in the analogous situation of
Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Blind acceptance of the call to “end the occupation” rather than “resolve
the dispute”, pre-judges the issue and blocks the territorial compromise envisaged in Security Council Resolution 242,
as described in the article “The occupation in perspective”.