As the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — resurfaced, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and pro-China media immediately added fuel to the fire, as if they fear that the dispute would subside.
KMT Yilan County Councilor Tsai Wen-yi (蔡文益) vowed to organize a flotilla of fishing vessels to “defend” the islands.
The question is: What does the name change to “Toucheng Township Diaoyutai” (頭城釣魚台) — recommended by the Yilan County Council in an ad hoc motion on June 11 — or the change from “Senkaku” to “Tonoshiro Senkaku” by the council of Japanese city Ishigaki on June 22, have to do with sovereignty over the islands? A name change does not alter the fact that it is a chain of uninhabited islands involved in a potentially never-ending sovereignty dispute. In the end, the more powerful party always wins.
People advocating for “defending the Diaoyutais” should note that intensifying the dispute and turning it into an international issue would have a negative impact on the Republic of China (ROC).
From a historical perspective, the dispute can be divided into three phases:
The first phase can be traced back to ancient times. All the claimants — Taiwan, Japan and China — can cite innumerable historical records to show that they were the first to find, visit and inhabit the islands. Since none can be verified, it all turns into a shouting match.
The second phase started in 1895 and ended in 1972. Having surveyed the islands, the Japanese government concluded in 1895 that they were uninhabited and incorporated them into Okinawa Prefecture under the name Senkaku Islands based on the international law principle of occupying terra nullius — nobody’s land.
That was also the year the First Sino-Japanese War ended, and in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan with its islands and the Penghu Islands to Japan. The Japanese government considered the Senkaku Islands part of its territory, so they were naturally not included in the treaty, thus setting the stage for today’s dispute.
After Japan was defeated in World War II, its four main islands — Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku — along with the Ryukyu Islands were occupied by the Allied powers. The Allied occupation ended with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which was signed on Sept. 8, 1951, authorizing the US to take the Ryukyu Islands, including the Senkaku Islands, into trusteeship. It was not until May 15, 1972, that the US handed over the administration rights of the Ryukyu Islands to the Japanese government.
The third phase began in 1971. Following a 1969 academic study conducted by the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, which suggested the possible existence of the “richest seabed with oil and hydrocarbon deposits” in the waters off the Senkaku Islands, the ROC and the People’s Republic of China filed counterstatements of sovereignty over the islands.
The two countries based their arguments mainly on the Allied powers’ unclear demarcation of the Ryukyus. Taipei and Beijing considered the Diaoyutais as being outside the geographical extent of the Ryukyus.
The public should be aware that the territorial dispute over the Diaoyutais easily could trigger another dispute — the one about the ROC’s sovereignty over Taiwan.
After the war, Japan renounced all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores, while concurring with the US to place the Ryukyus — and, by extension, the Senkakus — under UN trusteeship, with the US as the sole administering authority, in compliance with the Allied powers’ demands as stated in the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration.
In 1972, the Allied occupation and the trusteeship of the Ryukyu Islands ended, and Okinawa Prefecture was returned to Japan.
If Taiwan keeps arguing about sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, another unsettled issue would also need to be dealt with — namely, the ROC’s occupation of Taiwan, which was surrendered by Japan to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) by the order of the supreme commander for the Applied powers.
The ROC claims that the Cairo Declaration and the Treaty of Taipei are the foundation of its sovereignty over Taiwan, but there is not a single article in the treaty saying so.
According to Article 11, “any problem arising between Japan and the Republic of China as a result of the existence of a state of war shall be settled in accordance with the relevant provisions of the San Francisco Treaty.”
Still, the San Francisco Treaty, which overrides the Cairo Declaration, also does not stipulate ROC sovereignty over Taiwan and Penghu.
Based on the US’ return of Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands to Japan, the ROC should also give up its jurisdiction over Taiwan. The question is: To whom? To the Allies? To the US? This question would undoubtedly become the focus of international discussion.
If the ROC gives up jurisdiction of Taiwan and Penghu, it would be left with Kinmen and Matsu Islands. This is obviously not very good for the ROC.
Taiwan is much less powerful than China. Turning up the heat on the Diaoyutai Islands dispute at this time only helps Beijing. Taiwanese cannot be too careful.
Huang Tien-lin is a former advisory member of the National Security Council and a national policy adviser to the president.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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