President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has published an op-ed article in the Washington Times harshly criticizing former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) for saying the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) belong to Japan, where they are known as the Senkaku Islands.
“Former or future presidents should not be cavalier about, or forsake, our national sovereignty,” Ma said.
The article was almost immediately attacked by Gerrit van der Wees, a senior policy adviser to the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, who called it “flabbergasting.”
“It seems President Ma is making a big issue out of the matter, as his Chinese Nationalist [Party, KMT] is in deep decline and looks set to lose the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections,” Van der Wees said in a statement.
Other Washington-based Taiwan watchers said it was “highly unusual” for a sitting president to criticize a former president in a foreign newspaper.
During a visit to Japan last month, Lee, who is 92 years old and known as Taiwan’s “father of democracy,” said that “the Diaoyutai Islands belong to Japan and are not Taiwanese territory.”
In a lengthy rebuttal, Ma said that based on strong historical evidence and international law, Japan returned the Diaoyutai Islands to the Republic of China (ROC) in 1945.
He said that between 1722 and 1872, numerous official reports confirm that the Diaoyutai Islands were regularly used by Taiwanese fishermen and effectively patrolled by the Qing Dynasty.
Ma said that on April 17, 1895, the Qing government and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which stipulated “the island of Taiwan, together with all the islands appertaining or belonging to Taiwan” were ceded to Japan.
However, during World War II, the ROC declared war on Japan and abrogated the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
Ma said that under the 1943 Cairo Declaration “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese … shall be restored to the ROC.”
In 1945, the Potsdam Proclamation, the provisions of which Japan accepted, confirmed the Cairo Declaration.
The 1951 Treaty of San Francisco stated that Japan renounced sovereignty over Taiwan and Penghu, and sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands was returned to the ROC in October 1945.
“Prior to the signing of the Okinawa Reversion Agreement in June 1971 between the US and Japan, the US notified the ROC that only administrative rights over the Diaoyutai Islands were being transferred to Japan — not sovereignty — and that the agreement had no effect on the ROC’s sovereignty claim,” Ma said.
He concluded: “It is my solemn duty to protect our sovereignty and fishing rights with regard to the Diaoyutai Islands.”
Van der Wees said that “by focusing on the emotional issue of sovereignty over the small group of rocks,” Ma is stoking nationalistic fervor to regain ground for the KMT.
“Ma’s arguments regrettably do not hold water — he attempts to marshal some anecdotal evidence that the islands at some point in time may have been under Chinese rule, but does not present any direct evidence that the islands were ever administered by any of the Chinese empires,” Van der Wees said.
He added that Ma neglected to mention that Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣中正) government — as well as the Chinese government — only started to lay claim to the islands after 1971, when reports surfaced that there might be oil deposits near them.