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 Sunday, September 22 2019 5:59am Hongkong Time

Historical findings on the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands dispute

This chronicle is an extension of Japan Island disputes in Southeast Asia (2012) focusing on the Senkaku-Diaoyu island dispute


Raymond Cheng


The best defense the Chinese holds, IMHO, is a letter from the "Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers" (SCAP) to the Imperial Japanese Government dated January 20, 1946. The document clearly defined what's within the national boundaries of Japan, namely, the four main islands (i.e. Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku), and approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu Islands north of 30° North Latitude. There was also a list of excluded islands as well, yet the Senkakus (or Diaoyus), even though is in the waters between 123°20'-124°40'E (East Longitude) and 25°40'-26°00'N (North Latitude), were not explicitly listed in the exclusion list. The document also reads that Japan has no right over places they had occupied since the beginning of WWI in 1914. This is also why Japan reiterated that they had done 'survey work' on the Senkakus (or Diaoyus) as early as in the 1800s. In fact, the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands fell into the hands of the Japanese after the Jiawu Battle (between the Imperial Qing and the Empire of Japan) in 1894, see a background analysis written by Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou back in September 1996. If you read Chinese, I strongly recommend you read Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou's paper on "Straits Relations 1996" (435KB)

Treaty after the Jiawu Battle 1895
Illustration: Treaty after the Jiawu Battle between the Imperial Qing and the Japanese governments in 1895. Retrieved from Juan Ramón Jiménez de León's "Mexileaks"

Letter from the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers to the Imperial Japanese Government 1946
Illustration: Letter from the "Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers" (SCAP) to the Imperial Japanese Government, dated January 20, 1946. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Yet, with all the information clearly spelt out, the following appeared on the Chinese Communists Party's paper in 1953. The news report (in the first paragraph) addressed the Senkakus (and not the Diaoyus) as part of the Ryukyu Islands (which was later annexed by Japan).

People's Daily: The struggle of the people of the Ryukyu Islands against U.S. occupation
Illustration: Article from People's Daily, "The struggle of the people of the Ryukyu Islands against U.S. occupation" (in traditional Chinese), dated January 8, 1953. Source: Wikipedia Commons. For those not in the know, character simplification in China began in 1956 and this is why the above People's Daily article was written in traditional Chinese.


  • Both the Chinese and the Japanese governments seem to be unwilling to take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague, claiming that there is no such need
    1. probably because for China, winning means they'll have to accept their own fault in the articles they have published (in the party-controlled newspaper) and the Red Guard maps they made (and Communists usually do not apologise for they never err)
    2. and for Japan, winning such an ICJ case means they acknowledge that they manipulated and played with the rules of the international law in order to seize control (or I should say strip China of its islands) through questionable means (a truth too inconvenient to accept for the Japanese) – in particular, because their intent to occupy the islands was proved to date back to as early as 1885 (ironically, evidence sited by the Chinese proved this point), so even if the Japanese did steal, they will not have to return the islands to the Chinese because this is way before the start of WWI (as per the 1946 document)

      Document written by the Japan foreign minister Inoue Kaoru in 1885
      Photo © China Review. Document written by the Japan foreign minister Inoue Kaoru in 1885 showing Japan's intention to occupy the Diaoyus. This was reported in Shanghai Xin News on September 6, 1885.

  • So who's the winner? No doubt, Taiwan – Republic of China. In 1952, Japan and the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) signed the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (also known as "The Treaty of Taipei"). This 1952 treaty voided all previously signed treaties and formally returned the Penghu Islands (along with the Diaoyus) to the Nationalist government. The Chinese Communists made their claim over the Senkakus (or Diaoyus) based only on the claim that Taiwan was an integral part of China.

    Peace Treaty between Republic of China and Japan 1952
    Photo © Rong Yi, VOA News. "The Treaty of Taipei", between the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) and Japan, dated April 28, 1952.

  • Meanwhile, let's forget about the possible crude deposit there in the Senkakus (or Diaoyus), which was said to be discovered in 1968.

My final conclusion – The Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands (or now should I call it the Tiaoyutai Islands?) belongs to the Nationalist Taiwan (i.e. Republic of China), and neither the Communist China nor Japan has a more reasonable or logically compelling claim. No wonder why both China and Japan want the dispute to stay out of the ICJ. But why is Taiwan not submitting to the ICJ then? Simple, Taiwan lost its seat in the United Nations to Communist China in 1971 and only members of the U.N. can file complaints with the ICJ.

After all, the old enemies across the Taiwan Straits are, just as the Global Post article puts, becoming frenemies, see: "China and Taiwan: from enemies to frenemies" - would Taiwan be increasingly willing to indirectly work with Beijing against Washington's interests? - Global Post (2012/09/29)

That, we shall see.

Meanwhile, Professor Gregory Clark, Emeritus President of Tama University, Tokyo, mentioned in another article: "Japan's case for territory also has weaknesses" - and Japan seemed to have been unfairly forced by the U.S. and Commonwealth nations into this dispute - Financial Times (2012/11/08) - BTW readers may also wish to check out The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague, Netherlands

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