On March 16, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a map issued in 1969 in China that marked the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) as the Senkaku Islands, the Japanese name. A new round of arguments about sovereignty over the islands swiftly followed. Tokyo took a firm stance and said the map shows that Beijing recognized Japanese sovereignty over the islands in 1969. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the claim, but did not give a clear explanation why the map marked the islands as the Senkakus.
Japan said this “new discovery” will be used to direct the views of the international community. There is no question that this move will create certain pressure for Taiwan and China, as they try to win over the global community on the issue of sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands.
Hence, it is the responsibility of academics studying the Diaoyutai issue to restore historical fact and give a clear explanation of the “error” on the map.
This is not the first time that Japan has revealed “errors” regarding the Diaoyutais on Chinese maps since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established. Several years ago, Japanese MPs displayed a world map published in 1960 by the Beijing City Publisher of Maps, which named the islands as the Senkakus in Japanese and marked them as Japanese territory.
Beijing did not respond at the time, but this time, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) addressed the issue by saying: “After the first Sino-Japanese War, Japan colonized Taiwan and the adjacent islands, including the Diaoyutai Islands, for a long time. The changes to the names of the islands on the maps have to do with the Japanese colonization.”
However, Hong’s explanation only skimmed the surface, so it is unclear what he meant.
As a matter of fact, this has to do with the 1900 renaming by Japan of each one of the “Diaoyu Islands,” as the Qing court called the island group, and the long-lasting impact of the renaming.
In the 1870s, the Japanese empire had set its eyes on the Ryukyu Islands. At the time, the Diaoyutais were of strategic military importance to the Kavalan Subprefecture under the Taiwan Prefecture. In 1885, the Meiji government of Japan targeted the Diaoyutais, but decided not to declare the islands part of Japanese territory so as not to arouse Qing suspicion. However, in January 1895, the Qing court lost the first Sino-Japanese War, and the Japanese Cabinet decided to include the Diaoyutais in the territory of the Japanese empire.
The Qing court was unaware of this because the Japanese Cabinet’s decision was secret. After the Chinese defeat, Japan and the Qing government negotiated the cession of Taiwan. Since the Qing court was not reluctant to give up the Diaoyutais, viceroy Li Hongzhang (李鴻章), who was negotiating with Japan, did not focus on the islands northeast of Taiwan, including the Diaoyutais, but on preventing the cession of the islands west of Penghu and close to Fujian Province.
On April 17, 1895, the Qing court and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which stipulated that China would cede full sovereignty of the Pescadores and Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity. In 1900, Japan renamed the Diaoyutais and adjacent islands the Senkakus. In 1912, the Republic of China (ROC) was established, but since its territory did not include Taiwan, it ignored the Japanese use of the name “Senkaku Islands.”
After Japan was defeated in World War II, the Treaty of Shimonoseki was nullified, and Japan left the Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan. The US-led Allied powers took over Okinawa Prefecture and the associated jurisdictions, which included the Senkaku Islands. Although the US changed the name of Okinawa Prefecture back to “Ryukyu,” they were not aware that the Senkaku Islands were the same as the “Tyaoyusu Islands” — Hoklo for Diaoyu Islands — that were frequently seen on the maps of French missionaries and seafarers and the British navy. Instead, they continued to use the Japanese “Uotsurijima.”
The ROC government also took over Taiwan from Japan based on the jurisdiction of the office of the Japanese governor-general during the Japanese colonial era, and failed to notice the absence of the Senkaku Islands, which were called the Diaoyuyu or Diaoyutai by the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, soon after the war, the ROC delegation in Japan had already begun to question the legitimacy of Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in an internal report.
By the 1950s, Taiwan had begun to pay attention to its continental shelf interests, and started to ask questions over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands.
By the late 1960s, disagreements over East China Sea oil reserves drew people’s attention to the geology and geography of uninhabited islands in the region. The Senkaku Islands were controlled by the US at the time. Academics also began to discover more evidence which showed that the Diaoyutais belonged to Taiwan and this also drew China’s attention.
From 1949 to 1969, numerous “errors” were found on maps produced in Taiwan and China as a consequence of the Japanese annexation of the Ryukyu Islands, its colonization of Taiwan, the Chinese Civil War and the post-Cold War situation in East Asia. These “errors” also had something to do with Japan’s renaming of the Diaoyutai Islands, the impact of which cannot be ignored.
John Lim is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History and an adjunct associate professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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