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“The Inconvenient Truth Behind the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands” by Han-Yi Shaw

September 19th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The following short article is by Han-Yi Shaw, a Research Fellow at the Research Center for International Legal Studies, National Chengchi University, in Taipei, Taiwan. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has decided to publish it on his blog, with a short forward. It is an important piece of work tracing the history of the ownership of the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, using both Chinese and Japanese official documents.

September 19, 2012

The Inconvenient Truth Behind the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands



Diaoyu Island is recorded under Kavalan, Taiwan in Revised Gazetteer of Fujian Province (1871).Diaoyu Island is recorded under Kavalan, Taiwan in Revised Gazetteer of Fujian Province (1871).

I’ve had a longstanding interest in the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the subject of a dangerous territorial dispute  between Japan and China. The United States claims to be neutral but in effect is siding with Japan, and we could be drawn in if a war ever arose. Let me clear that I deplore the violence in the recent anti-Japan protests in China:  the violence is reprehensible and makes China look like an irrational bully. China’s government should rein in this volatile nationalism rather than feed it. This is a dispute that both sides should refer to the International Court of Justice, rather than allow to boil over in the streets. That said, when I look at the underlying question of who has the best claim, I’m sympathetic to China’s position. I don’t think it is 100 percent clear, partly because China seemed to acquiesce to Japanese sovereignty between 1945 and 1970, but on balance I find the evidence for Chinese sovereignty quite compelling. The most interesting evidence is emerging from old Japanese government documents and suggests that Japan in effect stole the islands from China in 1895 as booty of war. This article by Han-Yi Shaw, a scholar from Taiwan, explores those documents. I invite any Japanese scholars to make the contrary legal case. – Nicholas Kristof

Japan’s recent purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has predictably reignited tensions amongst China, Japan, and Taiwan. Three months ago, when Niwa Uichiro, the Japanese ambassador to China, warned that Japan’s purchase of the islands could spark an “extremely grave crisis” between China and Japan, Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro slammed Niwa as an unqualified ambassador, who “needs to learn more about the history of his own country”.

Ambassador Niwa was forced to apologize for his remarks and was recently replaced. But what is most alarming amid these developments is that despite Japan’s democratic and pluralist society, rising nationalist sentiments are sidelining moderate views and preventing rational dialogue.

The Japanese government maintains that the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory under international law and historical point of view and has repeatedly insisted that no dispute exists. Despite that the rest of the world sees a major dispute, the Japanese government continues to evade important historical facts behind its unlawful incorporation of the islands in 1895.

Specifically, the Japanese government asserts, “From 1885 on, our government conducted on-site surveys time and again, which confirmed that the islands were uninhabited and there were no signs of control by the Qing Empire.”

My research of over 40 official Meiji period documents unearthed from the Japanese National Archives, Diplomatic Records Office, and National Institute for Defense Studies Library clearly demonstrates that the Meiji government acknowledged Chinese ownership of the islands back in 1885.

Following the first on-site survey, in 1885, the Japanese foreign minister wrote, “Chinese newspapers have been reporting rumors of our intention of occupying islands belonging to China located next to Taiwan.… At this time, if we were to publicly place national markers, this must necessarily invite China’s suspicion.…”

In November 1885, the Okinawa governor confirmed “since this matter is not unrelated to China, if problems do arise I would be in grave repentance for my responsibility”.

“Surveys of the islands are incomplete” wrote the new Okinawa governor in January of 1892. He requested that a naval ship Kaimon be sent to survey the islands, but ultimately a combination of miscommunication and bad weather made it impossible for the survey to take place.

Letter dated May 12, 1894 affirming that the Meiji government did not repeatedly investigate the disputed islands.Japan Diplomatic Records Office.Letter dated May 12, 1894 affirming that the Meiji government did not repeatedly investigate the disputed islands.

“Ever since the islands were investigated by Okinawa police agencies back in 1885, there have been no subsequent field surveys conducted,” the Okinawa governor wrote in 1894.

After a number of Chinese defeats in the Sino-Japanese War, a report from Japan’s Home Ministry said “this matter involved negotiations with China… but the situation today is greatly different from back then.” The Meiji government, following a cabinet decision in early 1895, promptly incorporated the islands.

Negotiations with China never took place and this decision was passed during the Sino-Japanese War. It was never made public.

In his biography Koga Tatsushiro, the first Japanese citizen to lease the islands from the Meiji government, attributed Japan’s possession of the islands to “the gallant military victory of our Imperial forces.”

Collectively, these official documents leave no doubt that the Meiji government did not base its occupation of the islands following “on-site surveys time and again,” but instead annexed them as booty of war. This is the inconvenient truth that the Japanese government has conveniently evaded.

Japan asserts that neither Beijing nor Taipei objected to U.S. administration after WWII. That’s true, but what Japan does not mention is that neither Beijing nor Taipei were invited as signatories of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, from which the U.S. derived administrative rights.

When Japan annexed the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 1895, it detached them from Taiwan and placed them under Okinawa Prefecture. Moreover, the Japanese name “Senkaku Islands” itself was first introduced in 1900 by academic Kuroiwa Hisashi and adopted by the Japanese government thereafter. Half a century later when Japan returned Taiwan to China, both sides adopted the 1945 administrative arrangement of Taiwan, with the Chinese unaware that the uninhabited “Senkaku Islands” were in fact the former Diaoyu Islands. This explains the belated protest from Taipei and Beijing over U.S. administration of the islands after the war.

Report dated August 12, 1892 from navy commander affirming the islands were not fully investigated. Source:  Library of The National Institute for Defense Studies.Report dated August 12, 1892 from navy commander affirming the islands were not fully investigated. Source:  Library of The National Institute for Defense Studies.

The Japanese government frequently cites two documents as evidence that China did not consider the islands to be Chinese. The first is an official letter from a Chinese consul in Nagasaki dated May 20, 1920 that listed the islands as Japanese territory.

Neither Beijing nor Taipei dispute that the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands — along with the entire island of Taiwan — were formally under Japanese occupation at the time. However, per post-WW II arrangements, Japan was required to surrender territories obtained from aggression and revert them to their pre-1895 legal status.

The second piece evidence is a Chinese map from 1958 that excludes the Senkaku Islands from Chinese territory. But the Japanese government’s partial unveiling leaves out important information from the map’s colophon: “certain national boundaries are based on maps compiled prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War(1937-1945).”

Qing period (1644-1911) records substantiate Chinese ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands prior to 1895. Envoy documents indicate that the islands reside inside the “border that separates Chinese and foreign lands.” And according to Taiwan gazetteers, “Diaoyu Island accommodates ten or more large ships” under the jurisdiction of Kavalan, Taiwan.

The right to know is the bedrock of every democracy. The Japanese public deserves to know the other side of the story. It is the politicians who flame public sentiments under the name of national interests who pose the greatest risk, not the islands themselves.

Editors Note: The article is a summary of a much more comprehensive paper, archived on 6/26/2014 below.


  1. September 20th, 2012 at 00:58 | #1

    One of the editors / contributors here at HH found this, from a Japanese professor, refuting many of the revisionist by the Japanese gov’t:


    Japanese Militarism &
    Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Island
    – A Japanese Historian’s View
    by Kiyoshi Inoue
    Professor of History department, Kyoto University, Japan
    “Proceeding from the Japanese people stand of opposition to militarism, one should reject the name Senkaku Islands, which was adopted by Japanese Militarism after seizing them from China. Use the only correct name in history, namely, the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) Island”
    ———– Japanese historian Kiyoshi Inoue. For more info, refer to his 278 pages book “Senkaku Retto”.
    In June 2004, another Japanese professor Tadayoshi Murata of Yokohama National University, published “Senkaku Islands vs the Diaoyu Islands Dispute” (some info is here) and supports that “Since the Ming Dynasty, Chinese maps and documents of many kinds marked Diaoyu Islands, Huangwei Islands, Chiwei Islands as being lying within the territory of China” . What does the view of some Japanese scholars tell us ? . Small islands – Big problem: Senkaku/Diaoyu

    Japan’s false claim of its purported “discovery in 1884” of the Diaoyu Islands as uninhibited isles contradicts with the navigation map in its own 1783 historical document, Sankoku Tsuran Zusetsu, published by prominent scholar Hayashi Shihei clearly stating the area a part of China.

    Professor Murata said, “We tend to take the opinion of the government, political parties and media as being the correct views and accept them readily; however, those opinions do not necessarily represent the truth. To us scholars, what is important is what is real, what is true, not the national interest; over this point, political parties and media have the same problem.”

    The islands which are being called the Senkaku Islands in Japan and to which the Japanese Government claims title have historically been definitely China’s territory. As the victor in the 1894-95 war with Ching (China), Japan seized these islands along with Taiwan and the Penghu Islands and incorporated them into Okinawa Prefecture as Japanese territory. The Cairo Declaration jointly issued by China, the United States and British during World War II stipulates the return to China by Japan of all the territory she had stolen from China during and after the Japan-Ching war, including Taiwan and Manchuria. The Potsdam Proclamation issued by the allies stipulates that Japan must carry out the clauses of the Cairo Declaration. These islands have been automatically reverted to China as its territory just as Taiwan has been automatically returned to China from the time Japan unconditionally accepted the Cairo Declaration and the Posdam Proclamation and surrendered to the allies including China. It follows that these islands are territory of the People’s Republic of China, the only authority over the entire China.

    But in collusion with U.S. imperialism, the reactionary rulers and militarist forces of Japan are making a clamour that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory in an attempt to drag the Japanese people into the militairst, anti-China whirlwind. This big whirlwind is sure to become fiercer after the return to Japan of the so-called “administrative right over Okinawa” by the U.S. armed forces on May 15 this year. We who are truly striving for the independence of the Japanese nation, Japan-China friendship and peace in Asia must smash in good time this big conspiracy of the U.S.-Japanese reactionaries. As a weapon for use in this struggle, I will give a brief account of the history of the so-called Senkaku Islands. For detailed and special historical research, please refer to my article published in the February 1972 issue of Historical Research magazine.

    The so-called Senkaku Islands were recorded in Chinese documents in the middle of the 16th century at the latest, under the names of Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyu Island, Diaoyu Tai), Huangwei Yu, etc. (Yu means islet). In 1532 when the emperor of the Ming Dynasty of China bestowed the title King Chungshan of Ryukyu on Shang Ching, the ruler of Ryukyu at that time, his envoy Chen Kan travelled between Foochow and Naha. According to the Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu, Chen Kan’s ship set sail from the mouth of the Minkiang River on the 8th of the 5th moon, 1532, on a south-southwest course towards Keelung of Taiwan. (According to the preface of Chen Kan’s Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu, his trip to Ryukyu was made in the 13th year of China Ching, i.e. 1534. – Ed.) It turned eastward leaning a litter to the north on the waters off Taiwan and passed by the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) on the 10th of the 5th moon. He wrote in his diary : On the 10th, the ship sailed swiftly with a strong south wind ….. the Pingchia Hill (now called Pengchia), Tiaoyu Yu (now called Diaoyutai), Huangmao Yu (now called Huangwei Yu) and Chih Yu (now called Chihwei Yu) were left behind ….. On the evening of the 11th, the Kumi Hill (now called Kume Island) was in sight. It belongs to Ryukyu. The aborigines (Ryukyu people) on board were elated, happy to be home.”

    An imperial envoy was first sent to Ryukyu by the Chinese emperor in 1372. Since then, ten imperial envoys had travelled between Foochow and Naha before Chen Kan. They took the same route as Chen Kan, heading for Keelung and the Pengchia, Tiaoyu (Diaoyu), Huangwei and Chihwei Islands respectively, arriving at the Kume Island and finally entering Naha Port through the Kerama Islands. (In their return trips, they sailed northward directly from the Kume Island without passing the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) Islands.) Therefore, if the records by the imperial envoys before Chen Kan were available, they would surely have mentioned the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) and other islands. But regrettably those records have been lost. Those by Chen Kan are the oldest in existence. From the absence of any explanatory notes on the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) and other islands, it can be concluded that the locations of these islands had been known long beore, and that they had not only been given Chinese names, but had also been actually used as marks on navigation routes. What is particularly important is that in his records. Chen Kan described how he started form China’s territory Foochow and passed by several Chinese islands, and not until he had arrived at the Kume Island did he write: “It belongs to Ryukyu”. The records pointed out specifically that lying ahead of the Kume Island was Ryukyu. This clearly shows that the islands he passed by before reaching the Kume Island were not Ryukyu territory.

    Kuo Ju-lin, the imperial envoy following Chen Kan, set sail from Foochow on the 29th of the 5th moon in 1561. In his Re-engraved Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu, he wrote: “On the 1st of the intercalary 5th moon, we passed by Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) and arrived at Chih Yu on the 3rd. Chih Yu is a hill bordering on Ryukyu territory. Another day of favourable wind, the Kumi Hill (Kume Island) will be in sight”. In other words, what Chen Kan had written – the area beyond the Kume Island was Ryukyu territory – was presented by Kuo Ju-lin in the descrition that Chihwei Yu was the boundary between the Ryukyu region and China’s territory.

    It is clear from the above two documents that Ryukyu territory began from the Kume Island, whereas the Chih Yu Island and the area west of it were China’s territory. But Toshio Okuhara, Associate Professor of International Law of Kokushikan University, argued that the records of Imperial Envoys Chen Kan and Kuo Ju-lin only mentioned that Ryukyu territroy began from the Kume Island and the area they covered before reaching there did not belong to Ryukyu, but that the records did not say explicitly that Chihwei Yu and the area west of it were China’s territory. Therefore, he held that they were res nullius or land without owner (“Title to the Senkaku Islands and the ‘Ming Pao’ Article” by Okuhara, Chugoku magazine, September 1971).

    This is but to explain ancient Chinese writing by interpretation of international law of the modern times. It is sheer sophistry. True, the Imperial Envoys Chen Kan and Kuo Ju-lin had not written explicitly that all were Chinese territory as far as Chih Yu. But they set sail from China’s Foochow, passed through waters off Taiwan’s Keelung which self-evidently is Chinese territory, and then passed by Pengchia Yu which again self-evidently is also Chinese territory; and finally upon arriving at Chihwei Yu after passing by Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) and Huangwei, they wrote that it was the boundary with Ryukyu. Moreover, when they came in sight of the Kume Island they added that it belonged to Ryukyu. From the structural coherence of such Chinese writing, is it not explicitly clear that to them, from Taiwan and Pengchia to the Taioyu (Diaoyu), Huangwei, Chihwei and other islands to the east all were Chinese territory ?

    Okuhara also argued that since the records of Imperial Envoys Chen Kan and Kuo Ju-lin are the oldest in existence and since there are no similar records by imperial envoys after them, it would be valueless to take such ancient records as evidence for current issues. This also is utterly groundless and runs counter to the facts. Among the records by imperial envoys after Chen and Kuo, the Chungshan Mission Records written by the Imperial Envoy Hsu Pao-kuang in the 58th year of Kang Hsi during the Ching Dynasty (1719) cited passages from A Geographic Guide in Outline written in 1708 by Cheng Shun Tse, the most renowned scholar of Ryukyu in his time, which described the navigation route from Foochow to Naha, and when referring to the Kume Island, called it “the Chen Hill at the southwest boder of Ryukyu.” Chen means garrisoning the state frontier or a village boder.

    The Chungshan Mission Records also dealt in detail with the territory of Ryukyu, which comprised the 36 islands of Ryukyu including the Okinawa Island. Chihwei Yu and the area west of the it were not included. Furthmore, at the end of the explanatory notes on the Ishigaki and eight neighbouring islands of the Yaeyama Archipelago, it was written that the eight islands were “the southwestern most boundary of Ryukyu” (the Iriomote Island of the Yaeyama group among the Ryukyu Islands being the nearest to the Taioyu (Daioyu) Island).

    The Chungshan Mission Records were based on writings by the great scholar Cheng Shun Tse and many other Ryukyu people as well as talks between Hsu Pao-kuang and high-ranking officials of the court of the Ryukyu king. Therefore, the above-mentioned descriptions of the Kume Island and Yaeyama Islands are actually the views not only of the Chinese but also of the Ryukyu people at that time.

    Noteworthy is a description from the Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu written in 1683 by Wang Chi, and imperial envoy before Hsu Pao-kuang. It said that when the ship passed beyond Chihwei Yu, a sacrificial ceremony was held to pray for safety on the sea. That area was referred to as chiao (outskirts) or kou (trough) and was clearly defined as the “boundary between China and foreigh land.” Here, Okuhara’s wish was met; it was explicitly written down as the boundary between China and Ryukyu.

    Concluding from the above-mentioned, Ryukyu territroy began from the Kume Island and the area east of it, whereas Chihwei Yu and the Huangwei Yu and Tiaoyu Yu (Diaoyutai) to the west were Chinese territory. Obviously, this was defined in clear terms after the middle of the 16th century at the latest. There are no records or documents whatsoever by the Ryukyu side or the Japanese expressing disagreement or doubt. Moreover, there are not even legends, not to say documents about contacts of the Ryukyu people with the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) and Huangwei Yu in ancient times. Sailing from Ryukyu to the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) was particularly difficult because it was against the wind and the tide. In the middle of the 19th century, that is, the closing years of Japan’s feudal period, the Ryukyu people knew the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) as Yokon (or Yokun), the Huangwei Yu as “Kubashima”, and the Chihwei Yu as “Kumesekishima”. This was confirmed by the records of the last Chinese imperial envoy. These in no way affect the title to these territories. The map and explanations about Ryukyu Kingdom in the book General Illustrations of Three Countries by Shihei Hayashi were completely based on the Chungshan Mission Records. The Chungshan Mission Records had found their way to Japan long ago and there was even a Japanese edition. This document was the most comprehensive and authoritative source of knowledge about Ryukyu for the Japanese people in the late Edo period.

    After the Meiji Reform, in the period 1872-79 (from the 5th to the 12th year of Meiji), the Tenno government forcibly carried out the so-called “Ryukyu disposal”, conquered the centuries-old Ryukyu Kingdom, and turned this former colony of the feudal lord Shimazu into a colony of the Tenno system under the name “Okinawa Prefecture”. Naturally, the area of Okinawa Prefecture did not exceed the territorial limit of the former Ryukyu Kingdom.

    The year when Ryukyu was turned into Okinawa Prefecture was also the year when the conflict between the Ching government of China and Japan concerning the title to these territories reached a climax. Shimazu conquered the Ryukyu in 1609 and turned it into a colonial dependency. But all the successive kings of Ryukyu pledged allegiance to the Chinese emperor as vassal, first to the emperors of the Ming Dynasty, then to those of the Ching Dynasty, and accepted titles from them. From the point of view of the Ching Dynasty of China, the whole Ryukyu was its dependency and claimed title to it against Japan’s claim.

    As to the dispute between Japan and the Ching government concerning the title to Ryukyu, the democratic revolutionaries of Japan at that time held that it should be decided by the Ryukyu people themselves whether Ryukyu should belong to Japan or to Ching (China), or became independent. If the Ryukyu people wanted independence, Japan should be the first to recognize and support it, and should tell the world at large the principle that big countries should not encroach on small countries. They declared that this was also the road for Japan to win full independence from the Western powers. Isn’t this an idea that we should take over and develope today ?

    We still leave this aside for the moment. Former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant had in a private capacity mediated negotiations between Japan and the Ching government on the dispute. During the negotiations, the Chinese side put forward a formula to divide Ryukyu into three parts, stipulating the Amami Islands (which also belonged to the Ryukyu Kingdom before Shimazu conquered Ryukyu) as Japanese territory; Okinawa and its surrounding islands as the territory of an independent Ryukyu Kingdom; and the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands in the south as Chinese territory. As a counter-measure, the Japanese side proposed to divide Ryukyu into two parts: from the Okinawa Islands and to the north were to be Japanese territory and the Miyako-Yaeyama Islands Chinese territory. Since the Tiaoyu Islands (Diaoyutai) were beyond Ryukyu territory, they naturally were not treated as objects of negotiation either in Japan’s or in the Ching government’s proposal.

    The Ching government finally compromised and in September 1880 the plenipotentiaries of Japan and the Ching government signed a treaty dividing Ryukyu into two parts in accordance with the Japanese formula. However, the Ching emperor refused to approved the treaty and instructed his government to continue the negotiations with Japan. The Japanese side then broke off the negotiations. In 1882 when Shinichiro Takezoe assumed office as consul in Tientsin, he resumed negotiations with the Ching government on the partition of Ryukyu, but no agreement was reached. The question was thus shelved by the Japanese and Ching governments until the Japan-Ching war broke out.

    In other words, even after the Meijin Reform, until the outbreak of the Japan-Ching war, Japan had not even thought of claiming title to the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and other islands or challenging Ching’s title to the islands. It goes without saying that all people in the world regarded the islands as territory of Ching (China).

    During that time, in 1884 (the 17th year of Meiji), Tatsushiro Koga, a native of Fukuoka Prefecture who lived in Naha since 1879 and made a living by catching and exporting marine products, found innumerable albatrosses on the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) and sent his employees there to collect albatross feathers on the island and marine products in its vicinity. His business grew from year to year. One month in 1894, the year when the Japan-Ching war broke out, he applied to the Okinawa prefectural government for a lease of land to develope his business on the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai). But according to reports published in the Okinawa Mainichi Shimbun (January 1 to 9, 1910), which lauded the merits of Koga, the prefectural government did not grant his application because “it was not clear at the time whether the island belonged to the (Japanese) empire”. So Koga directly applied to the minister of the interior and the minister of agriculture and commerce in Toyko. In an interview with the ministers, he gave them an account of the island and begged their approval. His request was again turned down on the grounds that the title to the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) was “uncertain”.

    As the (Japan-Ching) war of 27th-28th year of Meiji had ended and Taiwan was incorporated into the (Japanese) empire, and as the Senkaku Islands were proclaimed our territory by Imperial Decree No. 13 in the 29th year of Meiji (1896)”, Koga immediately applied to the Okinawa prefectural governor again for a lease of land. It was only in Septermber of the same year that his request was approved. (Okinawa Mainichi Shimbun)

    This is important, decisive information. Whether Koga’s application to the Okinawa prefectural and central governments for a lease of the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) was made before or after the outbreak of the 1894 Japan-Ching war remains inknown, but both the prefectural and central governments had declared that title to that island was uncertain. Had the Japanese Government regarded the island as res nullius in accordance with international law, there would have been no reason why it should not have promptly approved Koga’s application. The Japanese Government was not in a position to approve Koga’s application precisely because the island was clearly Ching territory, not a piece of land the title to which was uncertain.

    As victor in the Japan-Ching war, Japan seized the Penghu Islands, Taiwan and other islands appertaining to it from Ching. At the same time, she also regarded as Japanese territory the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu), Huangwei, Chihwei and other islands – Chinese territory linking Taiwan and Ryukyu.

    Despite the allegation that the Senkaku Islands had become Japanese territory by virtue of the 1896 (29th year of Meiji) Imperial Decree No. 13 as mentioned above, the fact remains that this imperial decree was issued on March 5 with regard to the formation of various districts of Okinawa Prefecture and said nothing about incorporating the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and other islands into Okinawa Prefecture. The “Views Concerning the Title to the Senkaku Islands and Sovereign Right Over the Development of Resources of the Continental Shelf” made public by the Ryukyu civil government in Semptember 1970 said that these islands “have been made Japanese territory on April 1 in the 29th year of Meiji under the administration of Ishigaki Village, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture, after the cabinet decision of January 14 of the 28th year of Meiji and on the basis of Imperial Decree No. 13”. But the Imperial Decree No. 13 is just as it is described above. Probably, the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and other islands were incorporated into Ishigaki Village of Yaeyama District on April 1 in accordance with an order issued by the interior minister to change the boundary of the Yaeyama District, an order based on Article 2 of the March 5 imperial decree.

    How was the afore-mentioned January 14, 1895 cabinet decision worded ? And why was it enforced 10 months after the Japan-Ching war had ended, the peace treaty had become effective (May 1895) and Japan had actually taken possession of Taiwan and other islands (June) ? I have not yet completed my investigations into these problems. But one thing perfectly clear now is that, as recorded in the afore-said Okinawa Mainichi Shimbun, the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and other islands were regarded as Japanese territory only after Japan had seized Taiwan and other places from Ching through the Japan-Ching war as part of a series of territories wrested from Ching.

    Four years afterwards, that is, 1900, Tsune Kuroiwa, a teacher of the Okinawa Prefecture Normal School, explored the Tiaoyu Islands (Diaoyutai). He gave the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and Chihwei Islands and the group of reefs between them the name of Senkaku Islands, and published his report under the title of “Exploration of the Senkaku Islands” in the 140-141 issues of the 12th volume of the Geographic Magazine. It was only since then that these islands have been called the Senkaku Islands by Japan. The group of reefs between the Tiaoyu (Diaoyutai) and Huangwei Islands was called the Pinnacle Group in British naval and navigation charts at that time, a name adopted after the contour of the group. This British name was translated as the “Sento Islands” in the navigation charts of the Japanese navy. It was also translated by some as “Senkaku Islands”. It was from this enlightenment that Kuroiwa had chosen the name. As the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) also looks like a rocky hill above the sea, it was given together with the Sento Islands and the Huangwei Yu, the general name of the Senkaku Islands.

    Noteworthy here is that the Senkaku Islands, named by Kuroiwa and now claimed by the Japanese Government to be Japanese territory, do not include the Chihwei Yu. Probably the Japanese Government considers that the point at issue with China lies in the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) and intends to treat the inclusion of the Chihwei Yu in Japanese territory as self-evident. Thus, it tries to get away with it by mentioning only the “Senkaku Islands” represented by the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) while keeping quiet about the Chihwei Yu.

    But geographically, the Chihwei Yu is one of the islands such as the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) and the Huangwei Yu on the verge of the Chinese continental shelf. As mentioned in detail above, it was recognized as Chinese territory simultaneously with the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) and other islands in history and this was recorded in documents. Therefore, one should not be concerned only about what Japan calls the “Senkaku Islands” but forget the Chihwei Yu.

    Proceeding from the Japanese people stand of opposition to militarism, one should reject the name Senkaku Islands, which was adopted by Japanese militarism after seizing them from China, and use the only correct name in history, namely, the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) or the Tiaoyu (Diaoyu) Archipelago represented by the Tiaoyu Island (Diaoyutai) and including Chihwei Yu to the east and all the islands in between. This is the only correct name.

    The history of the Tiaoyu Islands (Diaoyutai) being as the above-mentioned, it follows that the People’s Republic of China alone has title to them, as pointed out at the beginning of this article. There can be no other historical conclusion !

  2. September 20th, 2012 at 01:05 | #2

    Han-Yi Shaw’s paper on the dispute. There are not quick soundbites here, just exhaustive presentation of historical details that many might find interesting.


  3. Hong Konger
    September 20th, 2012 at 10:23 | #3

    Thank you for posting this.
    “This is a dispute that both sides should refer to the International Court of Justice, rather than allow to boil over in the streets.”
    I agree!
    China can prove it, it can claim the land, it can ask the international community to back its case — it can do many things to solve this.
    But angry mobs calling for genocide, firebombing factories, attacking foreigners (now, no longer just Japanese, but other “non-Chinese” too) — this only hurts China’s case.
    As for the boycotts and destroying factories, restaurants and shops — that only hurts China’s economy, as almost all of the workers, managers and consumers at those places are Chinese themselves.
    What does it help to attack a local sushi joint in Shanghai or Beijing that has probably never employed a single Japanese person?
    I don’t know how much to believe of the wilder accusations of people killing Japanese dogs, of kidnapping the small child of a mother who was driving a Japanese car, etc. But it really makes all of us Chinese look terrible.

    On one hand, it’s really interesting to see Chinese, HK and Taiwan flags all flying together.
    On the other hand, I feel bad that two Japanese Hong Kong residents here were violently attacked while walking on our usually peaceful waterfront.

    Several months ago, yinyang wrote a nice blog post asking for China to stay calm during this. It’s amazing how well yinyang can tell the future! 🙂

  4. September 20th, 2012 at 13:57 | #4

    @Hong Konger

    “This is a dispute that both sides should refer to the International Court of Justice, rather than allow to boil over in the streets.”
    I agree!

    The author is a Research Fellow at the Research Center for International Legal Studies. He’s blinded to the framework of the International Court of Justice.

    Before we go ah gaga to some sort of legal remedy, let’s take a step back. Submitting to a legal remedy is itself a political act – just as much as going to war is. China has not submitted to it for sea territorial disputes, and Japanese has not either – not unilaterally, and not for acts before 1958.

    So even if you are a rule of law nut, it doesn’t apply.

    The notion of appealing to law – the recent version of law that is set by the West – to solve disputes with claims going back centuries (half a millennium) before the law has not even arise – seems to me comical.

    Sometimes people have this false perception that somehow submitting to an international tribunal is the right thing to do, the civilized thing to do. Far from it, submitting to a specific set of rule of law merely means submitting politically to a way of resolving a dispute. Just because in Quebec they wanted to hold an election (rigged in so many ways) to settle the Quebec independence movement doesn’t mean secession should always be settled that way. In the U.S., secession was dealt with through a Civil War, for example. Apartheid was not settled appeal to a court of “law,” neither was the Holocaust.

    Justice need to be fought for, and then the codified into law by the victors. It doesn’t arise spontaneously by looking to others’ laws.

    Thus it is, arguing for a specific set of settlement is itself a political act. It needs to be arrived. It’s not a starting point. The Diaoyutai dispute does not represent a genuine dispute that arose that need to be solved by an arbitrary 3rd arbiter party – just like one didn’t settle WWII or WWI by appealing to a panel of bureaucrats.

    A couple of days ago, I was listening to NPR, and heard Fallows and this other guy pontificate about the Diaoyutai / Senkaku Island dispute. (I really need to find a link to the audio, maybe the transcript; if anyone can help, please).

    Fallows said that the people in Japan were more “advanced” and “developed,” they don’t run around “protesting” like the Chinese. REALLY! I almost got knocked off my seat driving.

    So now, protesting – a bedrock of democracy – has turned out to be a sign of backwardness?

    Fallows also mentioned that the animosity is not “symmetric” – that Chinese are somehow urged on by the Chinese gov’t – even though he admitted that the Japanese has suppressed in the public conscience the dispute. He also accused the Chinese of being too stepped in history.

    Why doesn’t Fallows say something like that about the Holocaust?

    This is how one whitewashes guilt, history, justice.

    Of course history matters for this dispute. History matters especially when current injustices / asymmetric distributions in power, wealth, fortunes can be explained in terms of that history. History matters when past injustices teach such lesson, leave such an impact on a society, that future generations promise to remember it so as to never let it happen again.

    So yeh, Diaoyutai matters – not because of gas or fish there (I think the waters are pretty much overfished anyways, and any talk of gas has been speculative for decades) – but as a symbol of a particular history, of justice.

    China’s rise – rise of 1/5 of the world’s population – is not just economic. It’s also about politics, of which Dioyutai is but one issue. There are many others.

    China’s rise is not about the politics of domination, as the West fears. It is a politics of reverting wrongs. But if the West insist on perpetuating the world order that has the West as its center and final arbiter, and the rest of the world as its colony or semi-colony, or oppressed tributary, then it’s a justice that Chinese must fight for – to create a new world order and then codify a new set of norm in that world order.

    No one else will do that for you. Certainly not another’s laws…

  5. Black Pheonix
    September 20th, 2012 at 16:12 | #5

    A few years ago, Japanese Nationalists protested by ramming a bus into the Chinese Embassy.

    I’m sure James Fellows would be civilized and “developed” enough to let a bus pass through/over him.

  6. Rhan
    September 20th, 2012 at 17:56 | #6

    Well said Allen. Just compare some of this hypocrite comment when Chinese protest toward their government against the recent Diaoyu Island, the former is about democracy right and the latter suddenly become lack of critical thinking, full with nationalism and now even not advance enough? Rubbish.

  7. Black Pheonix
    September 20th, 2012 at 19:09 | #7

    In the 1990’s, China sponsored a “Splendid China” Theme park in Orlando Florida.

    That park was repeatedly targeted by US protesters who vandalized the property.

    US police didn’t catch 1 single individual, even though the crimes were repeated and well reported even in the local newspapers.

    All because of a park which was losing money, but accused as “propaganda”.

    I guess at least the Chinese protesters are not as cowardly as US protesters.

  8. HXM
    September 20th, 2012 at 19:25 | #8

    I think a lot of people get whipped up about this idea of China having many unresolved territorial claims based on history, especially when cases like this come to the surface…I am curious if anyone here would comment on China’s historical relationship with Korea, Vietnam, Outer Mongolia, etc., and how these may or may not differ from claims to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and various islands in the South China Sea or Pinnacle Islands?

  9. September 20th, 2012 at 20:59 | #9

    Actually, territorial disputes are a plenty around the world. China has settled all her land disputes except for with India, the latter being a mess created by the Brits – the McMahon Line. Just look at the U.S.’s dispute with Canada, not to mention Mexico or Cuba.


  10. September 20th, 2012 at 21:48 | #10


    So here is the transcript to that Fallows interview I heard on NPR.


    I didn’t get the words quite right, but it’s close enough.

    Below are some excerpts from that interview, preceded first by an excerpt from my comment above:

    A couple of days ago, I was listening to NPR, and heard Fallows and this other guy pontificate about the Diaoyutai / Senkaku Island dispute. (I really need to find a link to the audio, maybe the transcript; if anyone can help, please).

    Fallows said that the people in Japan were more “advanced” and “developed,” they don’t run around “protesting” like the Chinese. REALLY! I almost got knocked off my seat driving.

    So now, protesting – a bedrock of democracy – has turned out to be a sign of backwardness?

    Fallows also mentioned that the animosity is not “symmetric” – that Chinese are somehow urged on by the Chinese gov’t – even though he admitted that the Japanese has suppressed in the public conscience the dispute. He also accused the Chinese of being too stepped in history.

    Why doesn’t Fallows say something like that about the Holocaust?

    From the interview:

    MARGARET WARNER: For more now, I’m joined by Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He’s a former National Security Council and State Department official specializing in Asian affairs.

    And James Fallows, national correspondent for “The Atlantic” magazine, he has lived in and written extensively about both Japan and China.

    Well, gentlemen, what are we to make of this?

    Why, Jim Fallows, have we seen these passions erupt suddenly over these tiny islands?

    JAMES FALLOWS, “The Atlantic Monthly”: Well, of course there’s an immediate cause for this. It’s the anniversary of this controversial episode in Chinese history.

    And there is the dispute over the islands themselves. But something that’s really impressed me over the last 20 years of going to China is how the level of anti-Japanese opinion, if anything, has gone up.

    As World War II has receded into the past, the governments’ fanning of these resentments seems to have increased. And there seems to be genuine young people popular resentment that comes out in times like this.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, Jim Fallows, is there the same kind of anti-Chinese feeling in Japan? You have lived in both countries.

    JAMES FALLOWS: It’s not a symmetrical relationship at all.

    China, of course, has — has manifold the population of Japan, what, 10 times more people than Japan does. It’s just only recently overtaken its — its GDP. And there is this burning resentment in China of having been occupied by Japan, a memory that is kept alive all the time.

    Japan, for its part, I think most people have much less awareness of the Pacific war and their invasion of China. That is, if anything, suppressed in Japanese public memory. And there is not the same sense awareness of giving offense.

    And so, also, Japan is a more developed society. It doesn’t have these people running through the streets protesting at embassies in the way we’re seeing in China now.

    I did miss this part of the interview in my above comment though.

    MARGARET WARNER: But explain. You said you have noticed in all your years going back how much more virulent the anti-Japanese sentiment is. Give us one example.

    JAMES FALLOWS: I will give an example.

    If you talk to college students who are 18 or 19 years old whose grandparents might have suffered under Japanese oppression during World War II, they will talk about how they burn with hostility about what the Japanese did to them.

    It’s as if you found people in Israel right now being mainly angry at Germany, which is not the main animating sentiment in Israel right now. So, it’s a real, real conundrum.

    Mr. Fallows, Israel may not have a burning emotion against Germany because Germany does not claim any part of Israel. Germany has also officially repented. Its society for the most part understand the role it played in WWII.

    Japan – as you acknowledged above – has not.

    That makes a huge difference. There is no conundrum at all.

  11. September 21st, 2012 at 00:46 | #11

    My thoughts about what Fallows said about China not being an “delevloped” society because they protest mirrors that of Allen’s. It exposes the contradictions and the hidden fascist leanings of Fallows. The man’s a scoundrel as I’ve already exposed. He has totalitarian leanings. Protesting to him is a sign of a lack of civility (instead of a sign of civil development).

    The media is also missing the major elephant in the room that in almost all the major saber rattling events, China’s reaction has always been playing a tit for tat response. They have reacted to provocative and even beliggerent actions by desputent countries such as Japan. Japan is the instigator in almost all the instances in the Sino-Japanese territory despute. Just like this latest incident regarding the government’s proposed buying of the islands which instigated the protests. The instigator ought to deserve the principle blame but to do that is a sign of fairness and fairness is anethema to the western media.

  12. September 21st, 2012 at 07:38 | #12


    The provocation came in the form of increased and aggressive arrests of Chinese citizens in putatively disputed waters. If Japan wants to take the hardline act of arresting Chinese citizens with its patrol boats, China can, too – at least in principle – in the disputed areas. That’s true even if in the past it didn’t, it didn’t give up that right. As long as it has the military might, it can go into any disputed area and arrest citizens from other nations at will…

    That’s the provocation.

  13. September 21st, 2012 at 11:58 | #13

    The current tension was started when Ishihara Shintaro proposed buying the islands through public donation. His action sparked the Taiwanese and then Hong Kong “Protect Diaoyutai” NGOs to send boats to the islands. In case you don’t know who this guy is, he is the one who co-authored the book “The Japan That Can Say No“. So he is one of the most radical right wing politician in Japan.

    My take on why he kept peddling this Diaoyutai dispute is to put pressure on the current Democratic Party of Japan that is in power. His son, Ishihara Nobuteru has just been elected (Sept 2011) as the secretary general of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (The LDP ruled almost continuously for nearly 54 years from its founding in 1955 until its defeat in the 2009 election. Prior to 2009, the party had only been out of power for a brief 11 month period between 1993 and 1994.)

    Ishihara Shintaro intention was mainly to position his son as the future prime minister of Japan. However, in order to fend of this accusation of being soft on national sovereign issue, the current PM Noda Yoshihiko escalated the issue by “nationalizing” the islands. This action sparked the protest and stiff respond from the mainland.

    In August, due to falling approval rating the S.Korean president also pulled a similar stunt by visiting Dokto, which raised his rating by 10 points. As we can see the current Japanese administration was under tremendous pressure to act, first by Ishihara then by the Korean. Unfortunately, his action also caused the Chinese side to react.


  14. September 21st, 2012 at 13:37 | #14

    However, I am very optimistic there will be a peaceful solution to the Diaoyutai dispute. In many ways, the issue is very straight forward as the islands are uninhibited.

    Here’s just three land disputes in SE Asia that are much much more complex. Malaysia/Thailand, Thailand/Kampuchea, Malaysia/Philippines.




  15. Black Pheonix
    September 21st, 2012 at 17:01 | #15


    It will likely to be peaceful.

    Japan have fewer ships by number, and specially fewer submarines. They can’t perform interdiction 1 on 1 against the Chinese ships (and perhaps the Taiwanese ships).

    And if Japan fire upon a Chinese vessel 1st, it would shoot itself out of the “Mutual Defense” Treaty with US.

    US won’t join the fight if Japan fires 1st.

    China just needs to ignore Japan, and keep sending more and more ships (and subs) to the area. (And then, build a military installation on the islands).

    *And then let’s see who gets Nationalistic.

  16. Black Pheonix
    September 21st, 2012 at 18:32 | #16

    1 Possible “Peaceful Solution”:

    Since Japan is in violation of Chinese territories by holding onto its pre-WWII claim on Chinese territories, Japan is technically in violation of its treaty obligations signed as part of its surrender at the end of WWII.

    Technically, (and practically), that means Japan has disavowed its surrender, (being unrepentent).

    Consequently, Japan, by its present actions, has also disavowed that it has committed any wrong doing in WWII.

    China, (PRC and ROC), along with both Korea’s, thus have the option of reviving their claims of war crime charges against Japan as a nation.

    As an option, (and I would recommend it, if nothing, for symbolic reasons), press formal charges of Genocide against Japan in the International Court.

    And let’s face it, Japan didn’t actually pay for Genocide, and still denies the Nanjing Massacre.

    *You know what, the People of Asia waited long enough!

    It is time to bring Japan to answer for its past crimes in WWII in court!!

    Otherwise, it will never admit that it was ever in the wrong! And it will never give up its past “claims”!!

  17. raffiaflower
    September 24th, 2012 at 19:30 | #17

    Found this new post (Sept 24, propertyprofblog) by Prof Stephen Clowney, an asst prof of law @ Ky Univ, which shares Kristof’s (rare) opinion that leans in favour of China’s rightful historic and legal ownership of Diaoyu islands.
    The best but shaky assertion that Japan can make for its case is probably the time factor, ie, the lapse since China began to stake its legitimate rights over DYT.
    Japan disingenuously charges that PRC/ROC revived its claims only after oil was discovered – ironically, by a team that also included Taiwanese!
    Actually China began its protestations when US handed administration of DYT to Japan: US obviously did not want to hand them over to a state with which it had no diplomatic relations, and not to ROC which in reality was just Taiwan.
    As for the rest of time before, China was shut out of international fora, while ROC/Taiwan was basically under American protection. Their voices were muted, but there were protests, especially after the illegal San Francisco peace treaty.
    Until 1945, China was a victim of Japanese aggression, and had neither will or power to cite ownership over DYT; the civil war following that, also distracted both PRC and ROC with more urgent matters.
    But for no particularly long time – especially since China got back on its feet – has the country or Chinese people ever disavowed ownership of DYT.

    Below is Prof Clowney’s article.

    The Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands Dispute
    There’s been a lot of coverage in the news about the protests in China over Japan’s attempt to sell the Senkaku Islands (as they are called in Japan)/ Diaoyu Islands (as they are called in China). Both countries claim sovereignty over the islands, and protesters in China claim that Japan’s attempt to buy them from private owners violates China’s claim over them.
    Much of the coverage I saw last week (for example: The New York Times 9/19 and the BBC) was focused primarily on the nature of the protests. Not only were there demonstrations outside the Japanese embassy, there was “extensive rioting and vandalism” last weekend (The New York Times 9/19), and Japanese car manufacturers halted operations in China for a few days. Also, interestingly, evidently the Chinese government did not immediately shut down these protests (The New York Times 9/17).
    Most commentators refrained from speculating on where sovereignty over the islands actually lies, instead reporting that both countries claim it – China on the grounds that they controlled the islands “since ancient times” and that the islands should have been returned to them after World War II (WWII) and Japan because of their control of them more recently. I thought I’d dig a bit deeper and see if I could find a clearer answer here. Actually, I thought that if we looked back far enough or with a neat property/ international law framework in mind, perhaps there would be an clear legal answer – an answer which would probably be complicated by politics or time – but an answer nonetheless. ..
    As it turns out, the answer is not so clear, in part because politics and time are part of the determination of sovereignty in the case of claims over unoccupied land.
    Luckily, there are a few journal articles which help explain the competing claims. In particular, an article in 1996 by the late Professor Hungdah Chiu of the University of Maryland School of Law explains the Chinese claims in detail, and I encourage readers to take a look in order to learn more (citation below).
    As detailed by Chiu, there is plenty of historical evidence China controlled the islands from at least the 15thcentury – hence the assertion in the articles above that the islands are theirs “since ancient times” – and that Japan was aware of this claim. The press articles above and others seemed to gloss over the ‘ancient times’ assertion as a kind of awkwardly articulated legal claim, separate from the claim that post-WWII treaties should have been interpreted differently. A closer look at the history and China’s legal assertions prior to this event, though, show that these claims are hardly inseparable and in fact are stronger and more coherent when read together. China is basically claiming that the islands were always theirs, that Japan knew this and stole them after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and that Japan’s subsequent claim to sovereignty over them is illegal. As a result, China claims that these islands should have been returned to them under the post-WWII treaties in 1945. In support of this claim, China has actively protested alternate (Japanese or other) legal interpretations of the international law regarding international boundaries extending from their continental shelf and the ‘return’ of these islands to Japan in 1972 (as a result of post-WWII treaties).
    Japan’s claims rest not only on a different interpretation of the post-WWII settlement, but relatedly on international law which recognizes sovereignty of uninhabited land (terra nullius) through occupation. According to Japan, an application of this law would necessarily find Japanese sovereignty over the islands because Japan surveyed them, found no trace of Chinese occupation , and then took control of them in 1895. Japan’s account of their survey and investigation in 1895 is disputed by (China and) Han-Yi Shaw, a Taiwanese scholar who recently wrote an article on Nicholas Kristof’s blog (citation below) . If Japan had in fact gained control over these islands terra nullius in 1895, then the islands wouldn’t be part of the land that required to be returned to China after WWII (Ramos-Mrosovsky, citation below).
    So, the legal situation is unclear, in part because of the time and politics involved. (After reading through these materials, I don’t fault the press for glossing over the finer points of actual sovereignty.) What is actually stake? Not just uninhabited islands in the ocean and diplomatic relations – evidently in 1969 a UN Committee with members from Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and assistance from the US concluded that the area might contain vast reserves of oil and gas. On that note, Japan also claims that China didn’t dispute their sovereignty over these islands until the 1970s, after the oil was (maybe) discovered. This part was really interesting. Could China’s “motive” be used to discredit them (legally or diplomatically)? Also, on the time factor, under the customary international law of prescription, “a state that fails to contest other states’ assertions of sovereignty over its territory can lose its rights for failure to insist upon them” (Ramos-Mrosovsky, citation below). However, the law isn’t clear as to how much time must pass in order for the invader to claim sovereignty. China’s repeated public assertions that they didn’t recognize Japanese sovereignty would of course cut against this claim; but if in fact they didn’t protest until the 1970s, then perhaps they waited too long? In any case, it looks like Japan is setting up an argument for their sovereignty on several (perhaps cloudy) grounds of international law, should this dispute end up in an international court (for more on this, take a look at their Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this subject, website below).

  18. September 26th, 2012 at 10:25 | #19

    Fallows is almost like a caricature of a journalist. It’s like he’s trying to lampoon the profession but failed at the humor aspect of lampooning.

  19. September 26th, 2012 at 10:46 | #20

    On any given day, Fallows will come across as fair and objective. However, especially recently, he has trotted out some really outrageous – essentially racist – views.


    by me:

    Like Allen, it was on NPR when I first heard Fallows taking swipes, and in that instance accusing the Chinese outright ‘racist.’ This was about 3 years ago. I recall him saying it with so much of matter of fact, and he went on to ‘defend’ it by ‘explaining’ why the Chinese were such. I don’t recall the exact words. He was a speech writer for Carter. I guess making vicious views palatable must’ve come with that type of job. I was stunned while on the road!

  20. September 26th, 2012 at 10:48 | #21

    Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying talks to Japanese journalists about current disputes and expresses Chinese concerns.

    China Daily Editor:

    Editor’s note: On Sept 14, Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying gave an interview on the issue of Diaoyu Islands at the Chinese Foreign Ministry to journalists from 16 Japanese media outlets, including Jiji Press, Kyodo News, Mainichi Shinbun, Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo Shinbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Sankei Shinbun, TV Asahi and TV Tokyo. The main points of the interview ran as follows:

    Proceedings below:

    The Japanese government’s explanation for its “purchase” of the islands was to prevent an earlier “purchase” proposal by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, which would involve development and construction on the islands. The Japanese government feared that Ishihara’s “purchase” would make it difficult for it to manage the islands and would lead to damaged relations with China. Why has such a course of action still caused a strong backlash from the Chinese side?

    It wouldn’t be difficult to manage for the Chinese side. The Diaoyu Islands belong to China, and we will be able to manage it. What I want to state is that there are clear historical and legal grounds to China’s sovereignty over Diaoyu Islands. In my conversations with the Japanese side on this issue, I often hear such assertions as: “the Islands have been an inherent territory of Japan”. However, a look through historical evidence would find that before 1868, the year when the Meiji Restoration started, there were no Japanese historical records of the Diaoyu Islands being part of Japan. Contrast this with the many Chinese books and documents showing that the islands have always belonged to China.

    The Japanese claim that the Islands were “terra nullius” before 1895 does not square with facts. You may look through the 1972 book by Japanese historian and Kyoto University Professor Kiyoshi Inoue The Historical Analysis of Diaoyu Islands. He used numerous historical facts to show that Diaoyu Islands were not “terra nullius” but Chinese territory. This was not unknown to the then Japanese government.

    Why has the Chinese side responded so strongly to the Japanese government’s “purchase” of the islands? The simple reason is that according to international law, Japan has no right to buy or sell the Diaoyu Islands when it does not even have sovereignty over them in the first place. China on its part has exercised self-restraint on the basis of the common understanding reached between the leaders of the two countries years ago on the Diaoyu Islands dispute. And this has largely contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability around these islands over the past decades. Should such common understanding be denied or reneged on, what basis would there be for China to continue exercising restraint?

    The 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan relations falls later this month. In the context of the recent incident, how would the Chinese side mark this anniversary?

    This year is of great significance to China-Japan relations, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of our diplomatic ties. We had hoped to move bilateral relations forward to a new level by holding a series of commemorative activities. Yet, such hopes have clashed with the flare-up of the Diaoyu Islands dispute. The irresponsible acts by the Japanese government are neither comprehensible nor acceptable. We are deeply concerned as to which direction the situation would develop.

    Recently there has been massive coverage in the Chinese media about the “purchase of the islands” by Japan, showing rising anti-Japan emotions among the Chinese people. Yesterday, several attacks against Japanese nationals took place in Shanghai. And more protests would take place over the weekend. What will China do to protect the safety and security of Japanese citizens and companies in China?

    Both the Foreign Ministry and relevant authorities in China have gone to great lengths in their statements and measures to urge rational and law-based expressions of feelings and demands by the Chinese people. Public security authorities have also made tremendous efforts to protect the safety and security of Japanese people and entities in China. You may have observed that despite the scale of protests, things have remained stable and under control.

    In recent years there has been a big increase in the number of foreigners living in China. I assume you have many Chinese friends here, so you know how the Chinese people welcome and respect foreigners. Yet they were totally outraged by the Japanese government’s irresponsible act over the Diaoyu Islands. Being here, you must have felt for yourselves the strong and natural expressions of common emotions by an entire nation.

    Political contentions between countries should not stand in the way of economic and cultural exchanges. Forty years ago, it was the extensive exchanges between the two peoples that led to the normalization of ties between the two countries. Do you agree that the restrictions of economic and cultural ties as a result of political differences go against international norms?

    I am not sure whether you know this, but Yomiuri Shimbun published an editorial about these Islands on May 31, 1979, reminding people that they should not become a seed of trouble. The article made explicit references to the consensus China and Japan had reached on how to manage this dispute. I agree that we should go down the road of friendship that was opened by our leaders 40 years ago, rather than going against their consensus, which would only undermine the basis of our relations.

    Since Sept 10, I have kept receiving notice about the canceling of planned exchanges with Japan, and now such spontaneous cancellations have increased exponentially. Many people felt that in the current circumstances, it is no longer possible to continue business-as-usual. People are deeply hurt by Japan’s actions. I cannot but feel that what used to be a warm spring of interactions between our peoples had given way to an arctic winter which suddenly arrived. The many cancelations were like lamps switching off one after another. We hope that the Japanese government can recognize how grave the situation is and come back to the existing common understanding between the two countries.

    There have been repeated episodes of confrontations between China and Japan in the past decade, especially in 2005 and 2010. Each time it would take big efforts on both sides to turn their relationship around. What purpose would be served by China’s tough counter-measures and strong-worded statements this time around?

    Like people in other countries, the Chinese are capable of strong emotions over things they truly care about. What the Japanese government has done over the Diaoyu Islands was like rubbing salt into a deep open wound on the heart of the Chinese people.

    The Diaoyu Islands issue is highly sensitive as it not just concerns territory and sovereignty, but also brings back memories of the Sino-Japanese sea war of 1895 and Japan’s invasion of China during World War II. It’s hardly surprising that it should have stirred strong emotions among the Chinese people, who expect and trust that today’s China is better able to protect its national interests. Official statements from China about Japan’s “purchase” of the islands are reflections of the views and feelings of the Chinese nation. These statements are highly principled and send clear signals.

    Based on my many years of experience in Sino-Japanese relations, I cannot but feel deeply concerned about this truly grave moment of crisis in our relations. How it is seen and handled will exert a far-reaching impact on the future of China-Japan relations.

    Given the difficulty in reconciling the positions of the two sides, has China ever considered seeking a solution in an international framework? What makes China oppose both the “nationalization” and the “purchase” of the islands by the Tokyo Governor? Is there any other alternative acceptable to China?

    What the two sides should do is to put this issue in a bigger international context, and seek to address the profound perception gap between the two sides. The world around us is changing fast. The most important and pressing task for China and Japan as two major countries in the world is to address the lingering effect of the international financial crisis. China and Japan working together to address common challenges is what the region expects of us.

    Such a confrontational course of our relations serves no interests, neither our two people’s nor those of the region. Japan should come back to the right track of stable management of the dispute, as led by the older generation of our leaders.

    The historical facts are clear. We have full confidence in the solid historical and legal basis for our claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese claim does not hold water in international law. The way out from our point of view is for getting discussions started through bilateral channels to work toward a reasonable solution.

    Several Chinese surveillance ships entered Japan’s “territorial waters” around the islands this morning. Is China concerned about the possibility of confrontation with Japan’s Coast Guard, which has occurred in the past?

    The Diaoyu Islands are part of Chinese territory. Chinese maritime vessels, including marine surveillance ships, administrative ships and fishing boats, have the right to operate in these waters. This is our position. The potential for conflicts has made it all the more necessary for the two sides to deal with the dispute in a cool-headed way and seek to resolve it through peaceful negotiations.

    There has also been much discussion in the media on the question of ownership of Okinawa, which is used to weaken the legal grounds for Japan’s “actual control” of the islands. What is China’s comment on this?

    I have also noticed media reports about Okinawa. This is mainly because Japan’s claims to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands are seen to be related to Okinawa. That is how many Chinese not just in the mainland, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan became interested in the history of Okinawa, and started to probe into questions such as what happened to Ryukyu Islands, and what is the relationship between Ryukyu and the Diaoyu Islands.

    Much historical evidence has been presented that serves to show that the Diaoyu Islands have never been part of Ryukyu in history. As far as I understand, the academics are trying to prove in another way that the Diaoyu Islands are part of China and became so many centuries ago.

    As things stand, the situation is tense and volatile. The Japanese side needs to have no illusions about the severity of the situation. I agree with the view that the two sides should find a way through diplomatic talks to move things in the right direction.

    It has been 40 years since China and Japan normalized their relations. And four political documents have been signed including the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which have sustained our relations through the decades. The two governments, peoples and societies should have the wisdom and capability to properly handle this issue and prevent matters from slipping further along a dangerous track.

    (China Daily 09/21/2012 page8)

  21. persimmon5
    September 29th, 2012 at 18:55 | #22

    I believe the Japanese government urged the Kuriharas to sell to them rather than to the Tokyo mayor who was in the process of negotiating a deal, because they didn’t want a vocal nationalist in control of the islands. By buying the islands the central gov’t could monitor the islands better and control visits by Chinese protestors as well as rein in its own Japanese nationalists. Japan has its own internal problems and its government is not always at liberty to say exactly why it does what it does. It just doesn’t make sense to me that their motive was to provoke.

    I think that each side has some valid points, and it may turn out that a COMPROMISE must be reached — yes a compromise, as opposed to having the “one correct viewpoint or line” win out. In Mao Zedong’s China there was/is a strong emphasis on uniting behind the correct line. In the main I actually agree with that way of thinking when it comes to many things. For instance, I who believe that the earth is round won’t compromise with someone who says the earth is flat by agreeing to agree that the earth is a disk. BUT there are some issues that are greatly subject to interpretation and misunderstanding and are colored by historical circumstances and context. I think this may be such an issue. So a compromise may be unavoidable. I hope that there will be a negotiated agreement — ideally one with a win-win-win outcome meaning everyone leaves at least a bit happy. I would add that there is actually a fourth party in this discussion and that is Mother Earth. I personally would be delighted to see countries peacefully fishing together (in a green way), but after seeing what has happened to New Orleans and parts of lovely Canada, I’m not enthusiastic about more oil drilling! Anyway, I think all countries would be exhibiting the ultimate in patriotism and internationalism by showing the world they have jointly come up with a creative, peaceful solution to this dilemma!

  22. raffiaflower
    September 29th, 2012 at 20:53 | #23

    Persimmon, sometimes different parties will have their own Rashomon-like versions of events, ie, what and how things happened.

    But Japan’s claim is weak,imo – based on a 1920s letter from the Chinese consul in Nagasaki, thanking the Japanese govt of the day, for the rescue of Chinese fishermen near Diaoyu. Given the arrogant and racist attitudes of the Japanese at that time, the consul probably had no choice but to write the letter to gain the release of the captives.

    Against the total historic evidence, and also the WW2 Allied agreements, which China has produced, Japan’s citation of “international law” can hold up only with US backing that they are currently under their administration only, but with disputed sovereignty.

    China has reason to suspect backroom deals between PM Noda and Tokyo’s Ishihara. As a commentor noted on another forum, Noda could have delayed the “purchase” by Ishihara by citing constitutional challenges (can Diaoyu fall under Tokyo city’s purview??), legal or even held back by environment assessment studies, etc.

    At best, it is a quick political fix by Noda against very-near elections – in the same bracket as the alleged manipulation/organization of the anti-Japan protests by the Chinese govt. Yet the Western media has largely ignored that earlier part.

    There is surely patriotism/nationalism on both sides. China is noisier, but it is driven by a sense of justice; the less charitable may call it grievance. This anger really runs deep, and not just channeled so-called `patriotic education’ in schools.

    With Japanese nationalists, it is the pride – the belief that somehow, they never lost the war to China. That is a more self-indulgent sentiment, imo, and has weaker sustaining value if the countries really went to war. Superior arms alone never won a fight, eg, Afghanistan.

    The compromise mooted by Deng Xiaoping for Diaoyu was the truce for decades, until Japan unilaterally broke it. So far, it is also the Japanese government that has refused to compromise, while pretending to hold itself up as the voice and face of reason.

  23. persimmon5
    September 30th, 2012 at 02:08 | #24

    Hi Raffiaflower,
    With respect, we will never know the exact reason why the Chinese Consul’s 1920 (?) letter of thanks was addressed in a manner that acknowledged that Senkaku/Diaoyu was Japanese territory. I don’t think we can assume that the letter was written under duress or prompted by fear of ” arrogant Japanese.” I think to do so imbues an event in the distant past with a meaning colored by our own personal emotions and assumptions today about how people must have felt way back then, and is only speculative. The bottom line is that the Chinese official in Nagasaki sent a letter of thanks for the rescue of the fisherman, and the address of the letter seems to indicate he was aware that the rescue happened by Japanese on Japanese territory: the S/D islands.

    Believe me, I understand the desire for justice and I think anybody who has done some study of the history of Asia knows that Imperial Japan wreaked havoc on China, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to say China’s claim is driven by a sense of justice, while the Japanese claim is based on national pride.

    Just because a Japanese person feels that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands belong to Japan doesn’t automatically make him/her a nationalist-type or right winger. Japanese are used to thinking of those islands as theirs since 1895 for all the reasons they give. One might not agree with those reasons, but I believe most Japanese have grown up with that assumption. So to them it feels like another country is trying to take away what was rightfully claimed by their country over 100 years ago. And that claim (via terra nullius) was reinforced by the fact the Allied occupying forces relinquish the islands to Japan in 1972. Japan has been administering the islands ever since and most citizens (many of who weren’t even born at that time) have just assumed it was part of their territory. So they feel they are simply protecting what is theirs. So yes, some may be virulently right-wing militarist types but I daresay most are just ordinary people who are rather bewildered by all the controversy. I understand China’s frustration that they were not present at the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, but that wasn’t Japan’s fault. Japan as a defeated power was not in a position to decide who was to be invited to the party! It was also not Japan’s fault that they were given back the islands by the Allied Occupying force in 1971 or 1972. This is my own speculation, but had the Allies decided the islands were to go to any other country Japan would have just accepted that fact. But Japan was given back the islands, and so they naturally assume it is their territory.

    I still say the solution has to be some kind of creative compromise. It’s funny isn’t it how we human beings are so much better at waging war than waging peace. Waging Peace 101 should be taught in all the schools! And as a popular car bumper sticker says: Visualize Whirled Peas (world peace).

  24. Tseng Kin-Wah
    September 30th, 2012 at 06:04 | #25

    I too was in Hong Kong in 1989 & watched the whole event unfold non stop on TV right up to the crackdown clearance on the 5th. I also did not see any “massacre” but I did see TV footage of a trapped APC being torched & later the burnt out corpse of soldiers right alongside their APC. During the days leading up to the 4th, I saw agitators (the most prominent being HK’s Lee Cheuk Yan) milling around & commiserating with the crowd as well as distributing tents/food. Up till today, I’ve always wondered how he could be back in HK on the 5th & without harm the moment things turned nasty. Same too with all those main characters who got out to the West safe & sound & rich. Now with hindsight & looking at the various coloured/flower revolutions, it’s easy to conclude that this “protest” had all the political hallmarks of an organised uprising which did not succeed & all those western vituperations were just sour grapes.

  25. raffiaflower
    September 30th, 2012 at 07:34 | #26

    Persimmon, yes, there can be an element of speculation, which complicates the issue.

    But this only validates the argument that Japan’s case is flimsy – it has deliberately chosen to complicate the matter with the “evidence” such as the letter from the Chinese consul; relatively minor against the body of historic and legal facts that China has assembled.

    Whatever speculation there can be is mitigated by the circumstances and realities of that era – Japan was the ruling power of East Asia and brute force was its method to get the message across.

    During that time, Japan had: 1. presented 21 Demands that would have turned China into a Japanese protectorate. 2. Grabbed more territory from China after World War 1, with the approval/complicity of US & Britain, though China was on the Allied side.

    Given the fact that China was struggling for survival as a country, the possibility -as you suggest – that the consul wrote the letter under duress wouldn’t be surprising at all. This is not being emotional, but extrapolating from the situation in 1919.

    At no point have I accused all Japanese of being right-wingers/nationalists, just as not all the Chinese who took part in the anti-Japanese protests are vandals.
    Japan was never given the islands – it was only handed the administration – by US,not the Allied powers, of which China was one. Again,you have tried to obfuscate the issue.

    There can be a compromise, but it is Japan that is saying there is room for none. That compromise was proposed by Deng Xiaoping, and is the baseline for rapprochement between China and Japan.

    Moderators, plse get rid of that irrelevant comment by the troll at 25, thanks.

  26. persimmon5
    September 30th, 2012 at 09:33 | #27

    Hi Raffiaflower,
    I didn’t think you were accusing all Japanese of being right-wingers, but yes I did think you were counter-posing Chinese claim as being driven by a sense justice versus Japanese claim as being a reflection of a dangerous nationalism. I re-read your post this morning, and I see now that you were comparing the origins or driving force between the two nationalisms. Sorry Raffiaflower, I should have read your post more carefully. I shouldn’t read and post at 2 am! But I wasn’t trying to obfuscate anything.

    Curious. What was Deng Xiaoping’s compromise proposal? All I know is he wanted to postpone discussion of this issue until a time when everyone would be wiser and better equipped to come to a good solution.

    I may not be able to post back. I have to get on with my Sunday. But it has been a pleasure conversing with you!

  27. September 30th, 2012 at 10:12 | #28

    The problem lies mainly with the Japanese govn’t.

    The Chinese position is that the islands belong to China but since it is disputed want to negotiate.

    The Japanese position is that the islands belong to Japan and no negotiation is needed.

    The Japanese hold the same position against the Korean and Russian too hence they are not making any progress.

  28. persimmon5
    September 30th, 2012 at 10:26 | #29

    I just saw this http://ajw.asahi.com/article/economy/business/AJ201209290044 It is strong criticism by the Japanese business community of the truculence and mis-handling (or non-handling) of this situation by the Japanese government. I take this as a positive sign.

  29. December 10th, 2012 at 00:27 | #30

    Hong Konger :
    Thank you for posting this.
    “This is a dispute that both sides should refer to the International Court of Justice, rather than allow to boil over in the streets.”
    I agree!
    China can prove it, it can claim the land, it can ask the international community to back its case — it can do many things to solve this.
    But angry mobs calling for genocide, firebombing factories, attacking foreigners (now, no longer just Japanese, but other “non-Chinese” too) — this only hurts China’s case.
    As for the boycotts and destroying factories, restaurants and shops — that only hurts China’s economy, as almost all of the workers, managers and consumers at those places are Chinese themselves.
    What does it help to attack a local sushi joint in Shanghai or Beijing that has probably never employed a single Japanese person?
    I don’t know how much to believe of the wilder accusations of people killing Japanese dogs, of kidnapping the small child of a mother who was driving a Japanese car, etc. But it really makes all of us Chinese look terrible.
    On one hand, it’s really interesting to see Chinese, HK and Taiwan flags all flying together.
    On the other hand, I feel bad that two Japanese Hong Kong residents here were violently attacked while walking on our usually peaceful waterfront.
    Several months ago, yinyang wrote a nice blog post asking for China to stay calm during this. It’s amazing how well yinyang can tell the future!

    ask urself this, my little honger, would you feel half as bad if a mainlander was beat up in a hong kong subway for eating?

    ive also written about how the anti japanese protests in China were orchestrated by the ned, and the likes of optor. the u.s regime has been pushing for japan to remilitarise for decades. they need these kinds of uprisings to justify it. also, u.s. auto sales in China was up 40%, while japanese auto sales were down by just as much. looks like u.s. multinationals profit immensely from the disputes. i’d say it’s a rather lucrative investment to rent a mob, mainlanders, taiwanese, and hongers, all included in the rent a mob. 1 package deal. your mission- make your gwailo masters rich. by the way, it is not a coincidence that the biggest riots were in shenzhen, and guangzhou, very near to hong kong where the profesional protest coaches lay on stand by

  30. pug_ster
    August 22nd, 2013 at 19:46 | #31


    Figures that there’s never a shortage of idiots in the American government. It seems that moron McCain thinks that Diaoyu Islands belongs to Japan.

  31. Black Pheonix
    December 30th, 2013 at 08:11 | #32

    Revisiting an often cited Japanese nationalist assertion:

    That China (and Taiwan) between 1950 and 1971 did not use Chinese names for Diaoyu, and used only Japanese names.


    Well, part of the problem with that theory is, most of the Japanese names for the islands came from the original Chinese names for the islands.

    FOR example:

    Islands in the group
    No. Japanese name Chinese name Coordinates Area (km2) Highest elevation (m)
    1 Uotsuri-shima (魚釣島)[44] Diàoyú Dǎo (釣魚島) 25°46′N 123°31′E 4.32 383
    2 Taishō-tō (大正島)[45] Chìwěi Yǔ (赤尾嶼) 25°55′N 124°34′E 0.0609 75
    3 Kuba-shima (久場島)[46] Huángwěi Yǔ (黃尾嶼) 25°56′N 123°41′E 1.08 117
    4 Kita-kojima (北小島)[47] Běi Xiǎodǎo (北小島) 25°45′N 123°36′E 0.3267 135
    5 Minami-kojima (南小島)[48] Nán Xiǎodǎo (南小島) 25°45′N 123°36′E 0.4592 149
    6 Oki-no-Kita-iwa (沖ノ北岩)[49] Dà Běi Xiǎodǎo (大北小島/北岩) 25°49′N 123°36′E 0.0183 nominal
    7 Oki-no-Minami-iwa (沖ノ南岩)[50] Dà Nán Xiǎodǎo (大南小島/南岩) 25°47′N 123°37′E 0.0048 nominal
    8 Tobise (飛瀬?)[51] Fēi Jiāo Yán (飛礁岩/飛岩) 25°45′N 123°33′E 0.0008 nominal

    With the exception of islands #2 and #3, the other 6 islands all have Japanese names that came from original Chinese names!

    So look at the Chinese maps cited in the 2011 Japanese study above, On pages 5 and 6.

    Page 5, a 1960 PRC map, indicating #1 魚釣島 and #2 赤尾嶼. NOTE: the map didn’t use the Japanese name for island #2, 大正島!!

    Page 6, a 1967 ROC map, indicating nearly all the islands (except #6-#8) by both Japanese and Chinese names. For a closer view, http://image.freejapan.info/Mizuma/jpg.ja/ja_20080806_sapio__P083.jpg

    The fact that Japan still uses mostly Chinese names for the individual islands is acknowledgment of Chinese historical claims for the islands.

  32. Black Pheonix
    December 31st, 2013 at 08:14 | #33

    Japan’s own maps prove Japan purposefully changed island names to lay claims.


    This map was published by Japan in use from 1946 to 1972, indicating #2 and #3 islands by their Chinese names, 赤尾嶼 and 黃尾嶼.

    Later on, Japan changed the names of those 2 islands in the official maps to Taishō-tō (大正島) and Kuba-shima (久場島).

    In fact, Japan has consistently used the Chinese names for these 2 islands ever since learning the Chinese names from China.

    Check out all of these references in Japan referring to the Chinese name of 黃尾 for #3 island:





  33. Black Pheonix
    December 31st, 2013 at 09:25 | #34

    Inconsistent Japanese assertions: Japan calls the #3 island in Diaoyu as 久場島, but there is another 久場島 on the Japanese map, in the Kerama Islands group about 20 miles west of Okinawa.

    In 1969, UN ECAFE 1st identified potential gas and oil in the area. Same year, May, Japanese government declares changes to the names of #2 and #3 Islands, and places markers with the new names on the islands.


  34. Black Pheonix
    December 31st, 2013 at 10:11 | #35

    Additionally, Japan asserted that US military rented 久場島 from a private owner since 1960, http://blogimg.goo.ne.jp/user_image/38/81/47e86043f42c7179d7511dde528a3cbd.jpg

    However, if there was another island with the same name near Okinawa, then the contract in 1960 was clearly NOT referring to the #3 island in Diaoyu.

    Indeed, in WWII and after, US military commonly referred to “Kuba Island” 久場島 as the one near Okinawa.

    Subsequently, after 1972, US military referred to the #3 island in Diaoyu as “Kobi-Sho”.

  35. June 8th, 2014 at 22:26 | #36


    Another decent summary of the diaoyutai history to understanding today’s dispute between China and Japan, this time from Australia.

    Japan, China, Senkaku, Diaoyu
    Why is Australia taking sides in the East China Sea?
    Linda Jaivin

    January, 2014

    When a friend of mine was a little boy in Taiwan, and his parents fought, his father would run onto the street to scream at his mother, who was still inside, so that the neighbours would hear all his complaints. His father, from inland China, had joined Chiang Kai-shek’s army to fight against the Japanese invasion in 1937. When the Japanese surrendered, he fought the communists. When the communists won, he fled to Taiwan. Although his father’s behaviour was atrocious, my friend knew it was the result of the trauma of war and exile. In the end, my friend’s mother could bear it no longer and left. There are two points about that story that relate to the crisis unfolding in north-east Asia: history matters, and so does face.

    Both Japan and China have laid claim to a group of islands in the East China Sea. On 23 November last year, China unilaterally declared that it was expanding its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the islands Japan calls Senkaku and China calls Diaoyu. China would subject any aircraft that failed to get clearance first to “emergency defensive measures”. Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, expressed emphatic concern about the potential threat to regional peace. In the Asian context, by choosing to call in China’s ambassador she acted like my friend’s father, yelling from the street. Then, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pugilistic instincts kicking in, joined her there. He proclaimed that Australia is a “strong ally of Japan” (a claim made more extraordinary for being non-factual) and KO-ed any suggestion that taking sides might hurt economic ties: “China trades with us because it is in China’s interest to trade with us.”

    Days later, the Fairfax correspondent Peter Hartcher reported from the third annual Australia–China forum in Canberra that it was clear that “Chinese officials believed the prime minister had escalated the disagreement merely by restating the government’s position”.

    Bishop made her first official visit to Beijing the following week. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, used the photo op before their meeting, normally an occasion for an exchange of pleasantries, to state that Chinese people across the board were “deeply dissatisfied” with Australia’s public criticism, which jeopardised “bilateral mutual trust” and relations. Bishop wore a stunning blue outfit and a stunned expression, but maintained her courteous smile. It couldn’t have been easy. Professor Stephen FitzGerald, who was Australia’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, told me that he had never seen a senior Chinese official “air a disagreement in this way” – not even, significantly, “in meetings with Japanese at difficult times in their relations”. Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Canada, Germany, the European Union and Vietnam had also voiced concern at the ADIZ announcement, but we alone copped such blowback.

    China’s slapdown was the result of an accumulation of grievances, including our government’s mixed signals on Chinese investment in Australia. But top of the list was Abbott’s conspicuous cozying up to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; Abbott even described Japan as Australia’s “best friend in Asia”. Commentators in both China’s official press and lively blogosphere accused Australia of “taking sides” in a dispute in which we have no direct interest, even aligning against China at the behest of our American masters. The kindest thing the Chinese have said about Abbott and Bishop is that they are inexperienced novices.

    At the centre of the deepening international crisis – mirrored by other disputes between China and its neighbours in the East China Sea – are five or so uninhabitable rocks dispersed over a patch of sea on the edge of the Chinese continental shelf. The ANU historian and Japan scholar Gavan McCormack has done extensive research into the history of Senkaku/Diaoyu. Islets covering less than 7 square kilo­metres in total, they first appeared in 14th-century historical records as markers on maritime routes, linking coastal China with what was then the archipelago kingdom of Ryukyu (called Okinawa by the Japanese). Ryukyu was a tributary state of the Chinese empire. In 1879, Japan invaded Ryukyu, taking it by force. China strongly protested. Japan favourably considered a Chinese proposal to split the Ryukyu islands into three groups: one under Japanese sovereignty, one to be ceded to China and one retaining its independence as a kingdom. But negotiations collapsed and Japan assumed control. Later, following the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, Japan quietly annexed the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as well.

    In 1943, the United States’ president, Franklin Roosevelt, considered China’s claim on not just the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands but all of Okinawa so strong that he twice offered them all to the Chinese president, Chiang Kai-shek, as part of any postwar settlement. Chiang declined. Roosevelt, Chiang and Winston Churchill’s Cairo Declaration of that year proclaimed that the Allies’ purpose was “that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied” since 1914, “and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed [and] in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” Following Japan’s defeat in 1945, the US administered Ryukyu/Okinawa from 1951 to 1972.

    The US unilaterally proclaimed the world’s first ADIZ in 1950, covering North America. It set up a second one over Japan during its postwar occupation and another over South Korea during the 1950–53 Korean War – itself the result of a messy Cold War solution to Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The US also ruled the seas around Senkaku/Diaoyu, using two islands as bombing ranges.

    In 1968, a geological survey revealed that the Senkaku/Diaoyu group might have valuable oil and natural gas deposits. Japan, China and Taiwan all sat up like meerkats. When the US turned over the Ryukyu islands to Japan in 1972, it granted Japan administrative control over Senkaku/Diaoyu – but not sovereignty. As McCormack has written, the arrangement amounted to “implicit admission that the islands might be subject to competing claims”. Chiang Kai-shek reportedly rued his failure to take up Roosevelt’s offer.

    Japan normalised relations with China in 1972. Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei and Premier Zhou Enlai agreed to leave the Senkaku/Diaoyu problem in the too-hard basket for the time being. Over the years, the odd inflamed Chinese or Japanese nationalist sailed from Hong Kong, Taiwan or ports in Okinawa to try and plant a flag, but neither government wanted trouble.

    Then, in 2010, with neo-nationalism on the rise, Japanese maritime authorities arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain close to the islands. Tokyo declared for the first time that there was “no room for doubt” that they belonged to Japan. China responded furiously. Anti-Japanese riots broke out in a number of Chinese cities, and China reportedly halted rare-earth shipments to Japan. The Japanese backed down, releasing the fisherman. But instead of proceeding to bilateral negotiations, Japan sought (and received) assurance from the US that the islands were covered by the US–Japan Security Treaty.

    When Tokyo’s right-wing governor, Ishihara Shintaro, announced later that year that his city would buy three of the islets to secure them against claims from China, he further incited Chinese anger. Then, on 7 July 2012, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s invasion of China, the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, declared Japan would nationalise the islands – and defend them militarily, calling them “intrinsic Japanese territory”. Campaigning for the National Diet at the end of 2012, Noda’s successor, Shinzo Abe, asserted: “What is called for in the Senkaku vicinity is not negotiation but physical force incapable of being misunderstood.” His militaristic rhetoric alarmed the US: the then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urged Japan to negotiate directly with China, but to no avail. When Abe visited the US in February 2013, Washington pointedly denied him both a state dinner and a joint press conference. (Abbott, by contrast, has invited Abe to address the Australian parliament.)

    By 2013, Beijing had had enough. Government newspaper People’s Daily characterised the islets as a “core interest” – and provocatively suggested that it was time to revisit the status of Okinawa. This tapped into Japanese anxiety about the archipelago’s small but reportedly growing movement for independence, which is fed by resentment at US bases there. One issue is that since 1972 American military personnel have committed some 6000 crimes, a number of them violent, including the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in 1995.

    In July 2013, Abe made a highly publicised visit to Okinawa.

    That same month, an official Chinese news outlet published an article titled ‘Revealing the Six Wars China Must Fight in the Coming 50 Years’. They would recover, in successive five-year blocks, Taiwan, the islands of the South China Sea, ‘South Tibet’ (India’s Arunachal Pradesh), Senkaku/Diaoyu and Ryukyu, (‘Outer’) Mongolia and, finally, historic Chinese territories now under Russian control. The article fits a trend towards muscular rhetoric. The historian Geoff Wade has pointed to a 2013 book titled China Is Not Afraid: New threats to national security and our strategic responses and a film, Jiaoliang Wusheng (‘Silent Contest’), that claims the US wants to bring China under its control through political, cultural and other forms of subversion.
    Increasing bellicosity on the parts of both China and Japan demands a careful, even-handed response.

    On 23 November, Beijing announced its ADIZ. The US Department of State’s response asserted that “freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace are essential to prosperity, stability and security in the Pacific”. Yet, as the Singaporean academic and former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani wrote in the New York Times, if American leaders wanted China to act as a “responsible stakeholder” in the global system, they should have been leading by example, committing to “simple and clear multilateral rules”. The US, he noted, remained the only major country that had yet to ratify the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty. (Australia signed on in 1994.)

    Two weeks after China’s announcement, South Korea declared it would expand its ADIZ over airspace also claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo. Through a spokesperson, Foreign Minister Bishop told me that South Korea had consulted with the Australian government, as it had with Japan, China and the US, in advance of its announcement – hence the relatively mild international reaction.

    South Korea, like Japan, like Australia, is an ally of the US. Its political system has little in common with that of China, North Korea’s own (if sorely tested) “best friend” in Asia. Yet the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has held two friendly meetings with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to promote what she calls a “strategic cooperative partnership” with China. She has thus far refused to meet with Abe, who continues to refuse to express contrition for or even acknowledge Japanese war crimes in World War Two.

    At the end of December, Abe visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine honours convicted war criminals alongside Japan’s other war dead, including those responsible for the savage treatment of Australians in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Its on-site museum presents an extreme right-wing narrative that the seasoned American correspondent James Fallows calls “as slanted as anything I’ve seen in a totalitarian country”. The museum’s ultra-nationalist narrative of war blames US economic and military encirclement for Japan’s entry into World War Two and credits Japan for “liberating” Asia and bringing stability and development to Manchuria and Nanjing – two places where Japanese war crimes, including Nazi-style medical experimentation, rank among the worst of the war’s brutalities. Our “best friend in Asia” has not, in short, always been Asia’s best friend.

    The visit sparked protests across the region. Bishop’s spokesperson informed me that the Australian government had raised the question of the visit to the shrine with the Japanese embassy. Shortly after, Abe stated his determination to change the Japanese constitution to allow Japan a full-fledged military.

    Increasing bellicosity on the parts of both China and Japan demands a careful, even-handed response. This should be based on understanding each country’s complex domestic political landscape and, just as important, the history of the issue, including that of America’s involvement. We need informed discussion and debate.

    Writing in the Australian, Griffith University’s Ross Fitzgerald slammed criticism of this government’s pro-Japanese posturing as pro-Chinese “appeasement”. The article, along with a similar fusillade by Gerard Henderson, was published on 4 January.

    It seems neither commentator noticed that days earlier, Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper had published revelations that Chinese military officers had in fact informed Japanese government officials of its ADIZ expansion more than three years earlier, at a meeting in May 2010 in Beijing. Noting that China’s new ADIZ covered Senkaku/Diaoyu and overlapped with Japan’s ADIZ, the Chinese suggested that the two countries work out rules to prevent accidental clashes. According to minutes of the meeting acquired by Mainichi Shimbun, the Japanese Defense Ministry official told the Chinese that Japan would not comment before China made a public announcement. China’s ADIZ declaration, in other words, did not take Japan by surprise.

    Mainichi Shimbun also reported that one year before that meeting, in 2009, China submitted a tentative application to the UN to extend China’s continental shelf; it made a formal (pending) application in 2012.

    Subsequent events – including Abe’s call on 20 January for a summit meeting and “frank discussion” with South Korea and China to diffuse the crisis – need to be evaluated in this context. Granted, this may prove inconvenient to the Australian equivalent of what the American political science scholar Peter Hays Gries calls the “conservative China bashers” of Capitol Hill, whose rhetoric fosters “a Manichean vision” of international relations. It’s not the “panda huggers” who live in a black-and-white world.

    Hugh White, the strategic defence analyst, has urged Australians to “think deeply about where our real interests and values lie – not the vapid political slogans but the concrete foundations of an international environment that will support Australia’s security and prosperity in the very different Asia of the Asian Century”. The author of The China Choice doesn’t in fact advocate making a simple choice: “Choosing sides in any way,” he writes, “is not the answer.”

    Even the conservative commentator Tom Switzer, the editor of Spectator Australia and Sydney University’s American Review, has written that the US president Barack Obama’s response to the crisis, including flying bombers over the disputed islands, risks pushing “an insecure China into an anti-foreign posture” and thus creating a situation where “accidents or miscalculations” could spark a conflict. He notes that this view is shared by Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and Henry Kissinger alike.

    In January, Sino-Japanese relations took a surreal twist when the two countries’ respective ambassadors to the United Kingdom exchanged Harry Potter–inspired insults. It may indeed take a wizard to sort this one out. Let’s hope our government is looking for one. If the government is to act in the national interest, it needs more alert, unaligned and fearless advice than it has been relying on to date.

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