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Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands - Competing Claims

Sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands is disputed. The Senkaku Islands (the Chinese call them the Diaoyutai, which means "fishing platform" in Chinese), claimed by both China and Japan, are oil-rich and near key international shipping routes.

The People's Republic of China (China) is the world's most populous country and the second largest energy consumer (after the United States). Rising oil demand and imports have made China a significant factor in world oil markets. China also surpassed Japan as the world's second-largest petroleum consumer in 2003. Japan is the world's fourth largest energy consumer and was the second largest energy importer (after the United States).

The Tiao Yu Tai islands (called "Senkaku" in Japanese) are a group of eight uninhabited islands on the continental shelf, separated from the Liu Chiu islands by a deep underwater trench. These eight uninhabited islands and barren rocks have a land area of only 6.3 square kilometres. The islands are approximately 120 nm northeast of Taiwan, 200 nm east of the Chinese mainland, and 200 nm southeast of Okinawa. Most of the islets are clustered around the largest island, Uotsuri/Diaoyu, which covers roughly 8 hectares and lies 170 km northeast of Taiwan and 410 km west of Okinawa. Two outlying islets, Kobi-sho/Huangwei Yu and Akao-sho/Chiwei Yu, are located 31 km and 108 km from Uotsuri/Diaoyu Island, respectively. Diaoyu is at 2545'N 12329'E. The elevations of the highest points of islands: Diaoyutai 383 m, Beixiaodao 135 m, Nanxiaodao 149 m, Chongbeiyan 28 m.

Japan claims the islands as official Japanese territory in 1895. From 1885 on, surveys of the Senkaku Islands had been thoroughly made by the Government of Japan through the agencies of Okinawa Prefecture and by way of other methods. Through these surveys, it was confirmed that the Senkaku Islands had been uninhabited and showed no trace of having been under the control of China. Based on this confirmation, the Government of Japan made a Cabinet Decision on 14 January 1895 to erect a marker on the Islands to formally incorporate the Senkaku Islands into the territory of Japan. Since then, the Senkaku Islands have continuously remained as an integral part of the Nansei Shoto Islands which are the territory of Japan. These islands were neither part of Taiwan nor part of the Pescadores Islands which were ceded to Japan from the Qing Dynasty of China in accordance with Article II of the Treaty of Shimonoseki which came into effect in May of 1895. Accordingly, the Senkaku Islands are not included in the territory which Japan renounced under Article II of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. They came under US control after World War II.

The United States kept that group of small islets for occasional bombing practice targets, largely for its Liu Chiu based Air Force. Japan claimed that the Diaoyutai Islands are part of Liu Chiu. The Senkaku Islands have been placed under the administration of the United States of America as part of the Nansei Shoto Islands, in accordance with Article III of the said treaty, and are included in the area, the administrative rights over which were reverted to Japan in accordance with the Agreement Between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands signed on 17 June 1971. The facts outlined herein clearly indicate the status of the Senkaku Islands being part of the territory of Japan. According to Japan, the fact that China expressed no objection to the status of the Islands being under the administration of the United States under Article III of the San Francisco Peace Treaty clearly indicates that China did not consider the Senkaku Islands as part of Taiwan. It was not until the latter half of 1970, when the question of the development of petroleum resources on the continental shelf of the East China Sea came to the surface, that the Government of China and Taiwan authorities began to raise questions regarding the Senkaku Islands.

According to China, Chinese historical records detailing the discovery and geographical feature of these islands date back to the year 1403. For several centuries they have been administered as part of Taiwan and have always been used exclusively by Chinese fishermen as an operational base. In 1874, Japan took Liu Chiu Islands from China by force. Diaoyutai, however, remained under the administration Taiwan, a part of China. Taiwan (including Diaoyutai) was ceded to Japan in 1895 after the first Sino-Japanese War. Originally, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the Diaoyutai Archipelago came under the jurisdiction of Taipei Prefecture.

The perception among the Chinese public is that China defeated Japan. And so they think that America should have given the Senkaku Islands back to China when the war ended. After the close of the Second World War, when U.S. troops were stationed on the Ryukyu and Diaoyutai Archipelagoes, the KMT government which had received Taiwan did not immediately demand that that the US give them sovereignty. Diaoyutai was returned to China at the end of World War II in 1945 based upon the 1943 agreement of the Big Three in Cairo. Diaoyutai was part of Taiwan hence was included in that package.

China argues that Okinotorishima island, the southernmost island in the Japanese archipelago, is merely a rock, not an island, in an attempt to nullify Japan's claim of an exclusive economic zone around the small island, which is under Tokyo jurisdiction. The Chinese said they had "differences of opinion," citing Okinotorishima and the Senkaku Islands. While Beijing acknowledges that Okinotorishima belongs to Japan, it stressed that it did not fall under the classification of an island as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but is instead a rock, which cannot be used to designate an exclusive economic zone, as the Japanese government has done.

In 1969, a report by the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) indicated the possibility of large reserves of oil in the vicinity of the Diaoyutai Archipelago. This report set off a political dispute between Taiwan, China and Japan which has been going on now for over thirty years.

In 1969, when the Okinawa Reversion Treaty was signed between the US and Japan, it included the Diaoyutai Islands. Since then Japan insists repeatedly that the islet group is part of Japan's territory. The Senkaku Islands have been under the administrative control of the Government of Japan since, having been returned as part of the reversion of Okinawa. On April 9, 1971, the U.S. State Department issued a statement that President Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Sato Eisaku had reached an agreement, by which the US would return Okinawa and the "South-western islands" which included the Senkaku, to Japan, in 1972.

Japan has objected to Chinese development of natural gas resources in the East China Sea in an area where the two countries Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims overlap. Japan claims a division of the EEZ on the median line between the countries' coastlines. About 40,000 square kilometers of EEZ are in dispute. China and Japan both claim 200 nautical miles EEZ rights, but the East China Sea width is only 360 nautical miles. China claims an EEZ extending to the eastern end of the Chinese continental shelf which goes deep into the Japanese EEZ beyond the median line.

According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the stipulation, should act according to the fair principle development negotiations, seeks means which both sides both can accept. When there is disagreement on the demarcation of EEZs between any countries, the law stipulates that the parties concerned should avoid anything that could undermine an eventual agreement. China's gas field drilling near the median line between the two countries is regarded by Japan as an obvious infringement of the spirit of this law. Tokyo's proposal, which has not been accepted by Beijing, has been to divide the sea equally between the two countries, which would put China's Chunxiao claim only three miles from Japanese territory. China's offers to jointly develop the oil field have been rebuffed.

The specific development in dispute is China's drilling in the Chunxiao field, which is three miles west of the median line, but which Japan contends may be tapping natural gas reserves which extend past the median line. The Chunxiao gas field in Xihu Sag in the East China Sea is estimated to hold reserves of more than 1.6 tcf of natural gas and is expected to become a major producer in the next ten years. Commercial operation was expected to begin in mid-2005 at a production rate of 70 bcf per year, rising to 282 bcf by 2010. Sinopec Star has reserves of 7 tcf of gas, 1.9 tcf of which is held in the Chunxiao area. China has proven reserves of natural gas of about 53.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf). Most of China's gas fields are in the the western and north-central parts of the country, though offshore basins are becoming increasingly important.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2014 19:01:39 ZULU