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. Japan controls the islands. China and Taiwan claim them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory, in terms of history and international law. It says there is no issue of sovereignty to be resolved over them. 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.
Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and Biden agreed to strengthen further the Japan-US alliance in their first telephone conversation on 12 November 2020. Suga said that Biden expressed Washington's commitment to applying Article Five of the Japan-US Security Treaty to the Senkaku Islands. China reacted sharply to the remarks by US President-elect Joe Biden on the US commitment to helping Japan defend the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo and US Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller reaffirmed that Article Five of the Japan-US Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Article Five obliges the United States to defend territories under Japan's administrative control. Kishi and Miller spoke by phone for about 35 minutes on 14 November 2020. Kishi told Miller of Japan's opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion. His remark came as China continues to increase its maritime activities in the East and South China seas.
A group of lawmakers from Japan's main ruling Liberal Democratic Party said 18 September 2020 it will urge the government to step up the function of its control over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The group, led by former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Sato Masahisa, decided to submit a proposal to the government. It came in response to China's increased activities in waters around the islands.
The proposal includes joint exercises of Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the US military on and around Japan's southwestern remote islands, including the Senkakus. The lawmakers proposed an arrangement that would allow the SDF to use airports and ports on the islands. They also said the Japan Coast Guard needs to enhance its capabilities. They say it needs air-surveillance radars on its patrol ships and collaboration with the SDF against airspace violations. They requested a higher budget for the coast guard in order to increase its personnel and patrol ships.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin commented on the proposal. He said the islands are China's inherent territory. He urged Japan to work with China "to safeguard the overall improvement and development of China-Japan relations with concrete actions."
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.
The Roadmap to Ryukyu (Liu Qiu Guo Hai Tu) in the Record of the Imperial Title-Conferring Envoys to Ryukyu (Shi Liu Qiu Lu) written by imperial title-conferring envoy Xiao Chongye in 1579 (the seventh year of the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty), the Record of the Interpreters of August Ming (Huang Ming Xiang Xu Lu) written by Mao Ruizheng in 1629 (the second year of the reign of Emperor Chongzhen of the Ming Dynasty), the Great Universal Geographic Map (Kun Yu Quan Tu) created in 1767 (the 32nd year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty), and the Atlas of the Great Qing Dynasty (Huang Chao Zhong Wai Yi Tong Yu Tu) published in 1863 (the second year of the reign of Emperor Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty) all marked Diaoyu Dao as China’s territory.
The book Illustrated Outline of the Three Countries written by Hayashi Shihei in 1785 was the earliest Japanese literature to mention Diaoyu Dao. The Map of the Three Provinces and 36 Islands of Ryukyu in the book put Diaoyu Dao as being apart from the 36 islands of Ryukyu and colored it the same as the mainland of China, indicating that Diaoyu Dao was considered part of China’s territory. Besides, the Maps and Names of Provinces and Cities in Japan published in 1892 did not mark Diaoyu Dao as part of Japanese territory.
At the end of the 19th century, Japan grabbed Diaoyu Dao during the Sino-Japanese War and forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki and cede to Japan “the island of Formosa (Taiwan), together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa”. That included Diaoyu Dao. In December 1941, the Chinese government officially declared war against Japan, together with the abrogation of all treaties between China and Japan. In December 1943, the Cairo Declaration stated in explicit terms that “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa (Taiwan) 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.”
In July 1945, the Potsdam Proclamation stated in Article 8: “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.” On 2 September 1945, the Japanese government accepted the Potsdam Proclamation in explicit terms with the Japanese Instrument of Surrender and pledged to faithfully fulfill the obligations enshrined in the provisions of the Potsdam Proclamation. On 25 October 1945, the ceremony for accepting Japan’s surrender in Taiwan Province of the China War Theater was held in Taipei, and the Chinese government officially recovered Taiwan. China has all along stressed that Japan should, in accordance with international legal documents such as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, return to China all territories it has stolen from China, and that naturally includes Diaoyu Dao.
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. The Okinawa Reversion Agreement, signed between the United States and Japan on 17 June 1971, stated that the power of administration over the Ryukyu Islands and other islands shall be returned to Japan, and arbitrarily included Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands into the territories to be returned.
On 30 December 1971, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China issued a statement, stressing that the backroom deals between the United States and Japan over Diaoyu Dao and other islands were completely illegal and could by no means change the People’s Republic of China’s territorial sovereignty over the Diaoyu Dao Islands. China's Foreign Ministry announced 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.
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