A Collision Between Technology and Politics


by Ed DuCharme


In the press, in September 2010, there were reports of a continuing territorial dispute between China and Japan which is related to the Ryukyu Islands.  This string of islands runs from south of Okinawa down to near Taiwan.  The recent press reports are related to a clash near these islands between a Chinese fishing boat and two boats of the Japanese coast guard.  These same islands were the subject of a conflict which arose at an ITU conference in 1978 and Canadian delegates from CRC and the Department of Communications found themselves in the middle of it.


In 1978, the ITU held a World Administrative Radio Conference for the Aeronautical Mobile Service to revise Appendix 27 of the ITU Radio Regulations.  This Appendix contains the frequency allotment plan for the aeronautical mobile (R) service.  This plan had global maps with boundaries on the maps showing where specific HF frequencies could be used.  At that time, HF frequencies were used for communications by international commercial airline flights. 


The Appendix 27 Plan was established about 20-30 years earlier and this 1978 revision was intended to modify the plan to reflect new HF technology and improvements in the knowledge of HF propagation which was a specialty at DRTE/CRC.


The Canadian delegation to this conference comprised about eight people.  Some of the members were Ed DuCharme (Head of delegation), Judi Campbell (propagation advisor from CRC) and Wayne Longman (aeronautical operations advisor from Transport Canada).  Ed DuCharme had moved from CRC to the Department of Communications, International Branch, in 1974 and this was his first time to lead a Canadian delegation to an ITU conference.  This aeronautical WARC was thought to be small, mostly technology and non-political.


The work at the Conference comprised three main areas related to Appendix 27.  To update the technical regulations, the world maps which showed the global, regional and domestic air route areas and the various plan frequencies which could be used in each area, and to allot new HF frequencies based on improved HF propagation knowledge.  To do this work, the conference established several committees, one of these was the Plan Committee under a chairman from France and Ed DuCharme was the vice-chairman.  As the vice-chairman, Ed was given the job of forming a Drafting Group and revising the boundaries on the world maps which designated the areas where each frequency could be used.  Judi Campbell (now Ute Ingrid von Mehlem) was given the task of using HF propagation computer programs to carefully calculate the HF frequencies for each designated air route area.  The work of the mapping group was to examine the propagation factors and all of the input documents from Member States, many of which contained boundary changes of the air route areas to better accommodate the new commercial airline routes.


This map revision went well and was completed in about two weeks but, when the draft maps were produced and distributed to the delegates, the Head of the Chinese delegation visited Ed DuCharme in a privately arranged meeting and presented an item which had been in the Chinese proposals but was discarded by the Drafting Group as inappropriate because it was obviously based on politics rather than technology.  Throughout the conference, the ITU had clearly stated, and this was clearly reflected in the text of Appendix 27, that the air route area boundaries have no political significance and are only to designate communication areas.

The discarded Chinese proposal for the boundaries for Regional and Domestic air route areas 6F and 6G proposed an obvious political change.  The normal boundary between Areas 6F and 6G was a line running North-South in the middle of the Yellow Sea between Korea and China and continued South through the East China Sea to about 20° North latitude where it met the Area 6D boundary.  The Chinese proposal was to modify this line by turning it East at about 32° latitude until it reached the Ryukyu Islands, then it turned South to about 25° North latitude where it turned West to go back to the original boundary line.  In other words, China wanted this part of the Ryukyu Islands to be in Area 6G which covered China and not in 6F which covered Japan.


Ed DuCharme realized this was a serious matter and he decided to try to resolve this problem privately as was appropriate for chairmen in the ITU instead of giving it to the Drafting Group to resolve.  Despite his best efforts, meeting with the representatives of each country separately over several days, neither country would make any concession.  Japan, of course, could not agree to such an obvious political move, and China refused to drop its proposal.  Into this stalemate, Ed put forth the idea to replace the original solid line of the boundary with a dotted line and insert a note on the map stating, “In this vicinity, the limits of 6F and 6G are undefined”.  The idea was developed further with Judi Campbell and Wayne Longman to ensure that it did not raise a propagation or frequency usage problem.  Then Ed presented it to each country independently and they each decided that a half victory was better than nothing and accepted the proposal.  This compromise was eventually approved by the Plenary Meeting of the WARC and today this text is still contained in the official printing of Appendix 27 of the ITU Radio Regulations.


So the territorial conflict between China and Japan which is in the news today, also arose at the 1978 Aeronautical WARC and was resolved quietly and never made it to the newspaper headlines.


An interesting sidelight to this is that the Japanese government representative in these 1978 discussions at the ITU was a rather young Yoshio Utsumi who later became the ITU Secretary-General from 1999 to 2006.


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