Fri, Jun 27, 2008 - Page 8 News List

John Tkacik ON TAIWAN: Clear signal needed on disputed isles

In March 2004, the last time controversy over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai, 釣魚台) islands surfaced, the US State Department affirmed that the United States Mutual Security Treaty with Japan covered the islands.

“The Senkaku Islands have been under the administrative control of the government of Japan since having been returned as part of the reversion of Okinawa in 1972,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. “Article 5 of the 1960 US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” he said, “states that the treaty applies to the territories under the administration of Japan; thus, Article 5 of the Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku islands.”

So while the US may not take a position on “the ultimate sovereignty” of the islands, certainly their inclusion in the US security commitment to Japan makes apparent where its sympathies lie.

Where does sovereignty lie?

On the issue of sovereignty, let me make clear what the State Department cannot: The Senkaku islands are Japanese.

The Senkakus are a set of eight small uninhabited high islands in the rich fishing waters of the East China Sea that are administratively part of the Ryukyu island chain. They are defined under Article 3 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty as within the “Nansei Shoto” and the US was granted the “right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters” by the treaty. The US occupied and administered them for 27 years after World War II and in 1972 returned the islands to Japanese sovereignty as part of the Okinawa Reversion.

Japan first claimed the Senkakus in January 1895 after decades of shipwrecks and near disasters had convinced Tokyo that lighthouses needed to be erected there. The claim on the Senkakus, as such, had nothing to do with Japan’s colonial occupation of Taiwan as part of the settlement of the Sino-Japanese War that same year.

At the turn of the last century, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said, a Japanese businessman named Koga found that the main Senkaku Island held a fresh-water spring that could sustain about 200 people. He then brought workers, food and supplies to the main Senkaku Islands and built houses, reservoirs, docks, warehouses, sewers and farms for tuna fishing and canning. The tuna cannery business continued until World War II.

Clearly, for the purposes of international law, the Senkaku chain qualifies as “islands” because they are capable of “sustaining human habitation.”

This is important because under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea — to which both China and Japan are parties — an “island” brings to its owner a 200 nautical mile (370km) “exclusive economic zone” and sovereign claim to the resources and seabed minerals therein.

On May 15, 1972, after 25 years of military occupation, the US relinquished to Japan “all rights and interests” over the Okinawa territories, the State Department said, “including the Senkaku Islands, which we had been administering under Article of the Treaty.”

Prior to 1969, neither Beijing nor Taipei indicated any desire for the Senkaku Islands. Maps printed in Taiwan before 1969 either failed to depict them entirely, failed to name them or included boundary delineations to the west of the islands (inferring they were in Japanese waters).

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