Home > Analysis > A Response to a Japan Scholar’s Response: War Loot is Ours to Keep

A Response to a Japan Scholar’s Response: War Loot is Ours to Keep

In a recent comment, one of our readers pointed out:


I thought this is a funny read of a Japanese ‘scholar’ thinks that why ‘Senkaku’ islands belongs to Japan.

I don’t think the conclusion is “funny” at all.  I think it’s “serious.”  Below is a very quick response (sorry, lots of projects due).

First, to pugster’s credit, I did find many funny – actually perplexing – passages, such as this one.

According to Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, if Japan and China ever agree to refer China’s claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to the Court, the Court shall either apply … the general principle of estoppel….

the most important evidence for judging China’s claim legally is China’s demand before 1970 for self-determination of the U.S.-administered Ryukyu Islands, specifically including the “Senkaku Islands,” with an option of return to Japanese administration.

The Ryukyu people’s struggle against transformation of Ryukyu by the United States into a military base, against enslavement by the United States, and for freedom, liberation, and peace is not isolated; it is inseparable from the Japanese people’s struggle for independence, democracy, and peace; it is inseparable from the struggle of Asian and Pacific peoples and the peoples of all countries of the world to defend peace; therefore, despite the ongoing barbaric repression of the Ryukyu people by the U.S. occupiers, final victory belongs inevitably to the Ryukyu people.

Where did this come from? Using newspaper as the most damning legal evidence for a legal process that neither side recognizes? If it’s the author’s opinion, can you ground a legal case on a author own belief in deranged beliefs?

Isn’t it also ironic how accurately a 1950’s article calling for liberation still ring true today?  Ryukyu people’s path to today’s “Okinawa” is actually a path of colonial resistance.  Today most “Okinawan” continue to feel oppressed, as second class citizens in a Japan they don’t belong.

There is also this:

China demanded self-determination for the U.S.-administered Ryukyu Islands, with an option of return to Japanese administration, while specifically including the “Senkaku Islands”.

Reading the article over and over again, I don’t see how this conclusion is drawn from the article.  The article is focused on expelling the islands that U.S. occupied for military purpose, including the Okinawa and other surrounding islands.  It may have touched on diaoyutai, but it was focused on the entire range of islands being occupied by the U.S.  It was not focused on sovereignty issues of all these islands.  Those are dealt with in other articles, other forums.  Does silence on that issue in one article confer the view that the Chinese concedes Japanese sovereignty – albeit as a theoretical option?

If the scholar has any sort of intellectual honesty, he might consult his own country’s court document on the nature of the history he cites.  There is for example a case where Taiwan and Ryukyu Islands – both of which then under administration of Japan as militarily expanded throughout Asia – brought a case in the Japanese court system fighting over which “province” had jurisdiction of Diaoyutai.  The Court awarded it to Taiwan… a “province” which has since been returned to China (now under the control of ROC).

Of course, there is also the whitepaper recently published by China (as well as the widely cited historian Han Yi’s  work) regarding the depth of history regarding these islands that are easily accessible.

Finally, the important stuff, the conclusion that attempts to bypass the bulk of history:

I do not evaluate here Mr. Han-yi Shaw’s selection and interpretation of documents from the nineteenth century and before, because they are irrelevant to the estoppel over the most recently recognized border.

However, for the sake of argument, if Mr. Shaw’s interpretation were entirely correct, than the People’s Republic of China (and less explicitly, the Republic of China on Taiwan) has legally disowned the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands by mistake, through sheer lack of interest in the islands before 1970.

There are several problems.

First, it looks like this the Japanese is premising the entire issue of sovereignty on a news article – more precisely an op-ed.  When’s the last time – under international law – that legal status is based on an news article?  One article to offset an entire nation’s history?  If news articles are so powerful, let’s grab a few more articles from the Chinese side and total them up – let’s based on a consensus reading of all those materials!

It’s true that the Chinese government often states its position through newspaper op-eds.  However, just as often (perhaps more often), you get conflicting positions in op-eds.  Op-eds can be a channel for the Chinese government to voice its opinion, but it is not the official channel by a long shot.  The government in general does not control the opinions in its op-eds and allow a wide range of voices there.

It’s also simply incorrect that China didn’t show any interest in Diaoyu tai before 1970.  A good place is for the author to actually read Chinese newspapers, magazines, transcripts of radios and T.V., etc….

Second, even if assuming for argument’s sake that the scholar is right in that China didn’t show any interest in Diaoyu, what did that prove?

China was weak, was in a state of civil war, through much of 20th century.  Throughout the 1970’s, whatever the ROC interests, its interest must be subverted to U.S. demands as it depended on U.S. for protection against PRC.  The PRC had its own battles to fight, with Russia, Vietnam, India, S Korea, not to mention ROC, constantly undermining PRC sovereignty.  Whatever priorities it had, Daioyu tai was not at its very top.  At the height of Cold War, many of these issues are subverted compared to the bigger issues reigning that decade.

Third, even if assuming the Chinese people really didn’t obstruct what the U.S. did with Diaoyu tai until 1970, that Japan does in fact took over sovereignty over these islands, Japan need to return it.  China and U.S. have signed explicit treaties to return all of Japanese war loot since its industrialization back to China.  Silence has never been taken as agreement in International dealings, definitely not of the sort to overturn explicit agreements.  Holding on to the Diaoyutai islands falls under holding onto spoils of an unjust war.

But can’t one argue China gave Diaoyutai back to Japan by allowing the U.S. to hand back Diaoyutai to Japan?

When you steal something from someone you beat up, the fact that person does not immediately ask for his stolen goods back, and only asks when he got healthy, doesn’t mean the thief now has legitimate title over the spoil.

And yes, the aggression of Japan against Asia, China included, is an unjust war.  And the U.S. and China has signed a treaty to return all Japanese loot.  If we need to argue about the norm of Japan returning war loot (we are not even demanding apology for all the massacres and rapes yet), then there is not much to talk about.  Perhaps we need a new war to set a new world order, in which Japan is defeated for good and forced to face her history – in which we can all agree to define Japan’s past aggressions as unjust.

Or perhaps Japan can save us from that trouble of war by voluntarily facing history herself, as Germany has done, return all war loot, and allow herself to peacefully join the family of nations and sail into that next world order.

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  1. Black Pheonix
    October 5th, 2012 at 16:25 | #1

    1 bit of fact:

    The Japanese renamed the island group to “尖閣諸島” ONLY AFTER they proposed to annex the islands after the 1st Sino-Japanese War.

    No other nation recognized the Japanese name for the island group in any official maps until after the 1970’s (when Japan renewed its claim of the island group).

    The British recorded the names for the islands known by the Chinese name, “Diaoyu” (as did Japanese map makers prior to the 1st Sino-Japanese War).

    At most, the Chinese may have occasionally committed “Mistake of Facts” when referring to “尖閣諸島”, since they have no idea that the Japanese Government had a new and different name for the islands.

    And since the Japanese “Scholar” is fond of using “common law”, I will simply remind the fact that under “common law”, “mistake of facts” is a ground to void any contractual agreement / admission.

    Furthermore, it is clear that the Japanese Imperial government change the name of the islands as an attempt to conceal a military annexation of islands that they knew was already 1st discovered and exploited by the Chinese.

    Otherwise, Japan would have to explain how they could claim islands with Chinese character names!

    Which is to say, Japanese names “尖閣諸島” for the islands are clearly evidence of the history of Japanese Nationalist Brainwash.

  2. pug_ster
    October 5th, 2012 at 20:38 | #2

    Allen, this ‘response’ of why Diaoyu Islands belongs to Japan is as convincing as some idiot who thinks that China’s protest against Japan is state sponsored. To treat these individuals seriously is a joke. If you read the comments, not many people were convinced either. Meanwhile, this ‘scholar’ has to come with a more convincing argument that wouldn’t dupe a 10 year old.

  3. October 5th, 2012 at 21:37 | #3


    The reason I made this response a post because while the Han Yi Shaw postwas focused on history, the response of the scholar is focused on more recent events. Even recent events, formed by the actions of members of the same military alliance (U.S. and Japan) disrepecting a third party, I believe China still has a much much better claim over these islands than Japan.

  4. William
    October 6th, 2012 at 02:10 | #4

    There may have been stuff actually signed/agreed between China and Japan in the 1970s but we just don’t know. See Frank Ching in SCMP (this page is not behind their paywall): http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1047091/has-japan-reneged-1970s-diaoyu-pact

  5. pug_ster
    October 6th, 2012 at 03:58 | #5


    Gees, if China actually signed away the Daioyu Islands in the 1970’s we would’ve heard it from this Japanese ‘Scholar.’ The only thing China and Japan probably agreed on is put aside the Daioyu Island dispute in order to get relations between the 2 countries going. Both countries agreeing on mutual oil exploration does not mean succession. Besides, these right winged Japanese nuts who claimed that there were no shelving of dispute and China gave the Islands away to Japan, there must be some kind of treaty signed? No.

  6. William
    October 6th, 2012 at 04:30 | #6


    I meant it more in the other direction. Japan officially agreeing to leave the status of Diaoyutai till later means that the 2 countries normalised relations without China renouncing claims to the islands – as you put it as well.

    More generally, we have to take a massive step back when talking about People’s Daily editorials from the 1950s. The whole narrative pre-1978 was one of confidence, rather than victimhood. It’s very easy to forget that and just pick up on the victimhood (国耻) strand from earlier in the century and join the dots. So anyway, you can see the 1953 editorial (see this – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:%E4%BA%BA%E6%B0%91%E6%97%A5%E5%A0%B11953-03-18.jpg) in that light. It’s certainly not about renouncing territory, it is what it says it’s about – a particular part of the world trying to throw off American occupation. The People’s Daily of 1953 simply wasn’t interested in perceived 面子 issues from this or that territorial dispute. Taiwan apart, if you can even classify that as a … territorial dispute.

    Sometimes I just wish that the 乌有之乡 (et al) left would reorganise and start re-presenting things in the same confident manner that people used to. It’s much more effective than the victim narrative, which plays well domestically but atrociously further afield. Whereas if you can grab hold of the main story, make it one about ordinary Asian people working together and ignoring cynical rabble-rousing cranks like Ishihara, that’s much harder to argue with and a lot more persuasive.

  7. pug_ster
    October 6th, 2012 at 07:53 | #7

    Can’t believe the number of Japanese bootlickers who are contributing to NY Times. The latest one is Yan Lianke. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yan_Lianke


    Personally, I don’t see what’s the big deal of removing Japanese influence out of China when Chinese bookstores removing Japanese books. Japan never wanted any Chinese influence anyways. In the 1960’s and 1970’s America has its anti-Japanese sentiment towards Japanese made goods and China is just following its footsteps. By no means China wants to go to war with Japan over this and this incident is hurting Japan and everybody knows it. No need to call the Chinese overreacting.

  8. October 6th, 2012 at 14:45 | #8


    About Yan Lianke, this explains it all:

    I know little of territorial issues, politics and military matters. My love for literature and culture, however, knows no borders. Compared to those who devote all their attention to territorial aggrandizement, I am more devoted to world literature and culture

    Literature is informed by politics. The human existence is shaped by politics. Yan’s choice to live in a cacoon – in a formal art – is his. His laziness not to explore why of the world – the sad state affair of human exitence today – is his choice. His decision to be ignorant of history, of politics, of the human condition is his choice.

    Go ahead, be an ostrich Yan. What you write reflects that of an ostrich with a head in the sand, and is not only not interesting, but is devoid of soul, heart, reality, humanity.

    In the West, we are surrounded by books and movies about the holocaust. Should Yan – or perhaps this Japanese author he so revere – write a story about how they wish they can stop wallowing in history, how they might retreat from Middle East – so we can all live in peace, without blood again? I mean – I don’t anything about history, politics, or military – but these Jews are so noisy. Why don’t the Jews just go away and love the world???

    [Editor note: In case you think are pro-Palestinian, the Jewish example may not be appropriate, how about in the name of love the Palestinians stop making demands on Jerusalem, move to other Arab lands (there are plenty of them), and stop living in history and break the cycle of war and violence???]

  9. October 6th, 2012 at 14:48 | #9


    I disagree. I am neither for or against victmhood. But I think victimhood is the correct narrative if it explains reality – and it does so in so many ways. The notion it doesn’t play well to others is irrelevant. The citizens of the developed world for most part have choosen to be ignorant of history – others and their own. History is awash in blood, and they rather escape rather than confront. So what if victimhood doesn’t play well to these people, even if they hold the purse and guns today? The idea is to make sure what happened to China never happens again, it’s not to be popular with the West.

  10. no-name
    October 6th, 2012 at 16:49 | #10

    What happened to China in the past (example-over 200 cities/towns ruined after the failed boxer uprising against the west & the 35 million casualties/deaths in WW2) is rapidly being forgotten by the current crop of leaders. These guys think that they should win the friendship of the countries abroad. They are fools. In my place for example, outwardly, the stance is smiles towards China, but from time to time our national TV broadcasts and media blare out anti-Chinese and anti-China blasts.

  11. Rhan
    October 6th, 2012 at 19:41 | #11

    “In his essay, Murakami mentioned that his and the works of other Japanese authors had been removed from shelves in bookstores in China.”

    I think the act of removing Japanese books is childish. The Chinese should learn more about Japan and Japanese. This is where the Chinese depart from Muslim start 20 century, you study and learn from your enemy, and shall continue to do so, regardless positive or negative aspect.

  12. no-name
    October 6th, 2012 at 20:03 | #12

    I urge readers who are REALLY interested in learning more knowledge to please read these two articles (never mind whether you agree or disagree with them. A good mind knows how to appraise) at 1) http://www.scribd.com/doc/109053355 and 2) http://www.scribd.com/doc/109178279 and agree with me that one should never devour knowledge coming from just one side.

  13. October 7th, 2012 at 12:13 | #13

    It is not exactly true, most Japanese books are on the shelf. Some books are removed due to poor sales.

  14. pug_ster
    October 7th, 2012 at 19:59 | #14

    The Chinese government certainly didn’t order the removal of Japanese books, otherwise we will hear this is the Western Propaganda. Removing Japanese influence from China are mostly from the demand side, not from any mandate from the Government.

  15. October 7th, 2012 at 23:42 | #15

    pug_ster :
    Allen, this ‘response’ of why Diaoyu Islands belongs to Japan is as convincing as some idiot who thinks that China’s protest against Japan is state sponsored. To treat these individuals seriously is a joke. If you read the comments, not many people were convinced either. Meanwhile, this ‘scholar’ has to come with a more convincing argument that wouldn’t dupe a 10 year old.

    it would make more sense that the protests are ned sponsored. something rather odd about this anti japanese movement in China. first of all, the involvment of taiwan, and hong kong. these two regimes usually serve the interests of empire, to agravate, and subvert the mainland. now all of a sudden, they come out in support of confronting japan. if that isnt suspicious enough, then look at which city had one of the biggest protests in China- shenzhen. right around the corner from hong kong, where trained protestors/foreign agents can hop over into shenzhen and create a spectacle. other things that are suspicious includes when “Chinese protestors” attacked gary locke’s car, and foreign agent, ai weiwei just hapend to be in the right place at the right time to film the entire incident. all of this stuff perfectly synchronized with a bunch of Arab uprisings, and synchronized with the Chinese leadership transition.

  16. William
    October 8th, 2012 at 08:39 | #16


    Interesting stuff. To take it to its conclusion, I guess Gary Locke’s car will now have installed a cheap video camera of some sort? But yes, I’m always suspicious when journalists just happen to be standing around (North Koreans entering embassies, 2002-2003!). Ai Weiwei too. Though he could conceivably have come over to check out the demonstrations and then gone off to get some flowers at 莱泰 flower market requiring him to pass the US embassy… not that likely though. I don’t think he does his own shopping for that kind of thing.

    For the interested, its registration plate is (obviously) 使224-001 and it’s black. Spotted it about town once or twice, even spotted him getting out of it. If the US flag is flying from the front, that means he’s in the car.

  17. October 8th, 2012 at 14:47 | #17


    Interesting observations indeed.

    My take is that ordinary Chinese everywhere are no doubt indignant at recent Japanese actions. However, I also do believe it’s very possible – as you pointed out that foreign forces are coordinated in instilling a reaction in China. Japan from the outside, and NED – through Hong Kong and Taiwan – from the “inside.” Territorial integrity is a serious issue in China. Anything to get people riled up will put the gov’t a little off balanced…

  18. denk
    October 10th, 2012 at 23:54 | #18
  19. N.M.Cheung
    October 11th, 2012 at 12:35 | #19

    When I first read the Japanese scholar’s response I was totally incredulous. Did the Japanese scholarship sank so low that they want that to be printed in the NY Times? I am sure any lawyer and I don’t mean any international law experts can tear those arguments apart easily. It’s sad to see Japan fell so low, it would seen that if they keep silent it would be much better. Japan has been playing victim’s card as the loser in WW II and the atomic bombs for a long time. I am sure they wish they had accepted Soviet Union’s offer of 2 northern islands instead of trying for all 4. Even with the demise of Soviet Union I don’t think they’ll ever get any of those islands back.

  20. February 2nd, 2013 at 09:52 | #20

    The latest headline news is Japan Lets Its New Defense Budget Do The Talking Over Island Dispute. Only — in dollar term it has gone down by 13% in a year.

    On the other hand, China’s 2012 fiscal revenues was $1.88 tn, in dollar term a $460 bn increase from 2011. If 11% of that increase goes to defense, the defense spending increase alone will match the entire Japanese defense budget.

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