Fri, Jun 27, 2008 - Page 8 News List

John Tkacik ON TAIWAN: Clear signal needed on disputed isles

In my collection of maps, I have a facsimile of plate 18 of the Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Fen Sheng Ditu (People’s Republic of China Provincial Map) of “Fujian Province, Taiwan Province” published in mimi (confidential) form by the Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Guojia Cehui Zongju (Headquarters, National Surveillance Bureau), Beijing, 1969, which identified the Senkaku Islands as the “Jiange Qundao” — using the Chinese characters for the Japanese name “Senkaku Island Group” — rather than the Chinese name “Diaoyu.”

A People’s Daily commentary of June 1953, which called on the people of Okinawa to resist the US imperialists occupying their homelands, enumerated the “Jiange” (Senkaku) islands as part of the Ryukyu chain, clear evidence that the Beijing government considered the islands part of Japan even in the heat of the Korean War.

Prior to 1968, no one in either Taipei or Beijing knew of any particular benefit in owning the Senkaku Islands. In 1968, however, geologists K.O. Emery and Hiroshi Niino, writing for the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (UNECAFE), noted that “a high probability exists that the continental shelf between Taiwan and Japan may be one of the most prolific oil reservoirs in the world.”

While this news was greeted with some gratification in Japan, the Republic of China (Taiwan) government — then representing the Chinese mainland at the UN — was spurred into examining Chinese claims to the Senkaku Islands and the seabed oilfields within their orbit.

At one point, Chinese exiles in Taiwan claimed to have “deeds” to the islands granted to a Chinese courtier (and early patron of Chinese universities) Sheng Xuanhuai (盛宣懷) by the Qing Dynasty’s Empress Cixi (慈禧太后). This evidence gained currency in both Taiwan and Beijing and was proffered as the basis of China’s historic ownership of the islands. However, recent scholarly consideration of this evidence tends toward the view that it is fraudulent. The documents of “deed” were not in the style of the Qing Dynasty, nor were the seals correct, nor was the paper of the quality used in Qing records.

Still, today, there are Chinese commentators in Taiwan who insist that the original deed to the Senkaku Islands was “kept in a bank safety deposit box” in Los Angeles, in the custody of Mme Chen Shien-chung, a “lineal granddaughter of Sheng Xuanhuai.”

Although visions of Saudi-scale reservoirs in the East China Sea have now dissipated and the territorial waters issue is now mostly a matter of “face,” oil and gas continue to be the currency of the dispute. Japan, believing that China’s main interest was oil, long ago acquiesced in China’s development of the “Chunxiao” gas beds (“Shirakaba” in Japanese), which lie astride the median line of the overlapping 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the two countries — if, and only if, the Senkaku islands’ EEZ is counted as Japanese. In private conversations with Japanese officials I have learned an ironic fact — that the Chinese seabed pipeline from the gas field to the Chinese coast was partially financed by Japanese Overseas Development Assistance.

In an effort to assuage strained ties with China, and especially to ease frictions with Beijing over territorial waters, Japan has tried to get the Chinese to accept some “joint development” of the gas fields that straddle their respective EEZs — in return for China’s acknowledgment of Japan’s legitimate claims. But China has consistently rebuffed Japanese efforts to acknowledge that “joint development” of the Shirakaba field is predicated on a Japanese territorial sea claim.

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