Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands
China claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands (what the Chinese refer to as the Diaoyu Islands) in the East China Sea, territory also claimed by Taiwan and Japan. While the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, the United States Government acknowledges that they are under the administration of Japan and opposes any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine such administration.
Ahead of his arrival in Japan for security and economic talks, on 23 April 2014 US President Barack Obama told a Japanese newspaper that Washington would come to Tokyo's defense if there is ever a conflict over the islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims as its own. The commander of the US Marines stationed in Japan said earlier in April 2014 that the US would help Japan re-take the Senkaku Islands if China ever landed its forces on them. Obama told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper that islands fall under the U.S.- Japan Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty and Washington opposes any “unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of the islands."
Tomohiko Taniguchi, a professor at Keio University and special advisor to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Obama's statement was historically significant. "It is the most reassuring statement that the nation has ever heard from the top leader of the biggest economy, the biggest military power in the world, so nothing could be more reassuring," he said.
The US affirms that the unilateral actions of a third party will not affect the United States acknowledgment of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands, remains committed under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security to respond to any armed attack in the territories under the administration of Japan, and has urged all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.
Some hard-line public intellectuals have trained their cross-hairs on Japan as a surrogate in the struggle for mastery in maritime Asia. Ye Hailin, a scholar at the prestigious Chinese academy of social sciences, contends: "If Japan ultimately forces China to abandon its claims to sovereignty over the diaoyu Islands with us support, then the american - led asia-Pacific order underpinned by the US-Japan alliance would undoubtedly be reaffirmed. At the same time, China’s realization of its dream of transforming from a continental nation to a maritime nation would not be realized. On the other hand, if China successfully fulfills its sovereign claims over the Diaoyu Islands, then it would mean that the era of the United States dominating the Asia-Pacific maritime order according to its interests and even its preference will end on the spot. China will then become an important participant in the development and maintenance of the Pacific maritime order."
In January 2013, a Chinese naval ship allegedly fixed its weapons-targeting radar on Japanese vessels in the vicinity of the Senkaku islands, and, on April 23, 2013, eight Chinese marine surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone off the Senkaku Islands, further escalating regional tensions. The Government of the People’s Republic of China has taken other unilateral steps, including declaring the Senkaku Islands a ‘‘core interest’’, ‘‘improperly drawing’’ baselines around the Senkaku Islands in September 2102, which the 2013 Annual Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China found to be ‘‘inconsistent with international law’’, and maintaining a continuous military and paramilitary presence around the Senkaku Islands.
In a February 2013 interview with The Washington Post, Prime Minister Abe said on the Senkaku Islands issue, China’s coercion or intimidation will lead to, “losing the confidence of the international community, which will result in less investments in China. I believe it is fully possible to have China to change their policy once they gain that recognition."
Prime Minister Abe, campaighing on Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island on 17 July 2013, said his government would never make concessions to China on the Senkaku Islands. “The Senkakus are an inherent part of Japan’s territory in terms of history and international law and there is no territorial dispute" between the two countries, Abe said. It is rare for a prime minister to visit remote islands like Ishigaki ahead of a national election. Abe’s remarks will likely harden Beijing’s stance on the issue.
Japan controlled the Senkaku Islands until after World War II, when they came under temporary control of the United States. China does not recognize the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, under which Japan transferred control of the islands to Washington. In 1972, the United States transferred the islands back to Japan. China's Foreign Ministry announced on Dec. 30 of 1971 that such a move was "totally illegal" and reiterated that Diaoyu Islands and surrounding islets were "an integral part of the Chinese territory".
On the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed strong displeasure at the Japanese leader's remark on Diaoyu Islands, saying that it "sabotages China's territorial sovereignty." Hong stressed that the Diaoyu Islands and surrounding islets "have been the inherent territory of China since ancient times" because they "were first found, named and used by the Chinese." The earliest historical record of Diaoyu Islands can be dated back to China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in a book titled "Departure Along the Wind" (published in 1403), in which the names of "Diaoyu Islet" and "Chiwei Islet" were used. The names refer to the nowadays Diaoyu Islands and Chiwei Islet, Hong said. He went on to say that Hu Zongxian, the Zhejiang governor of Ming Dynasty, marked Diaoyu Islands and surrounding islets in China's maritime defense. "It demonstrated that these islands were at least within China's maritime defense sphere since the Ming Dynasty," Hong said.
On 02 February 2009 media reported that Japan's Maritime Safety Agency stationed for the first time PLH (patrol vessels large with helicopter) in the waters of Diaoyu Islands, saying that the action was aimed to defend against "invasion" from Chinese marine survey ships. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said "The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been China's inalienable territory since ancient times. China has undisputable sovereign rights over them. Any action by the Japanese side to strengthen actual control over the islands constitutes an infringement upon China's territorial sovereignty, which is illegal and invalid, and should be stopped immediately."
On September 7, 2010, a Chinese fishing boat was found to be within Japan’s EEZ near the Senkaku Islands by two Japanese Coast Guard vessels. The fishing boat collided with the Coast Guard vessels. The Japanese arrested the captain and 14-member crew of the fishing boat. The fishing boat crew was released on September 13, 2010, but the fishing boat and the captain were held in custody by Japan. China was perturbed by this action, and requested that the ship and the captain be released. When Japan refused to release the captain and the boat, China embarked upon a trade embargo program in which Rare Earth Elements (REEs) were no longer exported to Japan.38 REEs are critical inputs to many products produced by Japan and, at the time, China produced about 95% of the worlds REEs. On September 23, 2012, Japan blinked and released the fishing boat captain.
On 23 August 2012 Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said “there is no doubt" that the islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, “are an integral part of Japan" and he denied that sovereignty over the island chain is being disputed. The Meiji government incorporated the Senkaku Islands into Okinawa Prefecture in 1895 after it had confirmed that the islands were not under the control of the Qing Dynasty, Noda said, adding that China had not asserted sovereignty over the Senkaku until the 1970s when it learned that the islands are possibly situated nearby large reserves of oil.
On 25 September 2012, China published a white paper entitled, “Diaoyu Dao, an ’Inherent Territory’ of China." In addition, in September 2012, China began using improperly drawn straight baseline claims around the Senkaku Islands, adding to its network of maritime claims inconsistent with international law. In an attempt to bolster its claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea, China presented the United Nations what it says is geological evidence proving the islands belong to Beijing. Lianzeng Chen, the deputy head of China’s State Oceanic Administration, submitted the claim 13 December 2012. He said Beijing has the right to claim the undersea continental shelf beyond the normal 200 nautical miles because it is a “natural prolongation" of China's land territory into the East China Sea. Chen said the geological characteristics of the continental shelf in the East China Sea differ greatly from those of the Okinawa Trough to the east, and accordingly, the trough should be seen as the end of China’s continental shelf.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the new Japanese government will carefully consider stationing officials on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in a interview on 28 December 2012, according to JiJi Press, a Japanese news agency. Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party, which was recently returned to power after being sidelined for three years, promised to consider placing officials on the disputed islands during the campaigning leading up to the December 16 elections.
On 25 December 2012, Japanese media reported that Tokyo had scrambled fighter jets over the East China Sea after reports of a Chinese marine surveillance plane in disputed airspace near the contested islands.