Tue, Apr 07, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Map ‘errors’ confuse rival claims

By John Lim 林泉忠

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.”

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