The Senkaku Islands Territorial Disputes

Words: 2796
Topic: History
Updated:

Introduction

The current state of relationship between Japan and China is largely due to their conflict with regards to control of Senkaku Island. The two countries have been engage in a conflict to control the islands for a very long time. Senkaku Islands are situated in the East China Sea and lies between China and Japan (Hook 43). The archipelago comprises five islands. It has been the main cause of disagreement between Japan and China. In past years, the two countries have signed fishing agreements that did not solve their dispute.

In a fishing agreement signed in 2007, the exclusivity that Japan enjoyed with regard to control of the islands was abolished (Lee 55). Therefore, china could fish in the waters surrounding the islands. China argued that the agreement was a sign that Senkaku was not Japan’s exclusive economic zone. In 2014, the two countries signed another agreement that allowed the two countries to fish around the islands.

Differences in the foreign policies of china and Japan have contributed to the gridlock that exists between them regarding the exact location of the islands. In addition, the involvement of other nations such as the U.S. further complicates the issue because of lease agreements and treaties that were signed many years ago. China and Japan should consider signing an agreement to share the resources of the islands as a way of solving the conflict.

The Senkaku Islands conflict

Between 1945 and 1972, the United States of America administered the Senkaku Islands. Prior to that period, the islands were under the administration of the Japanese from as early as 1895 (Lee 55). In 1971, the U.S. presented a proposition that wanted to hand over the administration of the islands to Japan (Hook 46). The People’s Republic of China disputed the proposal by claiming that the islands were situated in their economic zone and should be awarded to them.

Since then, the two countries have bickered regarding the administration of the islands. The main reason why both countries claim the islands is the presence of numerous economic opportunities (Lee 57). These include key shipping lanes and fishing grounds. In addition, possibilities of the existence of oil reserves in the islands have been stated. According to Japan, a survey they conducted revealed that the islands belonged neither to them nor to China.

They argue that since they have controlled the islands since 1895, then China should not present any claims regarding the administration of the islands (Lee 52). From 1895 until 1970, China allowed Japan to administer the islands and did not object. Japan argues that the islands were part of territories that were seized from them by the Chinese. In past years, the United States has refrained from the sovereignty battles between Japan and China.

However, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security that was signed between Japan and the U.S. requires the U.S. to support Japan according to their agreement (Hook 49). In 2012, Japan acquired three of the islands from the purported private owners in effort to end the dispute. However, the purchase sparked widespread protests in China because according to the Chinese, the islands belong to them.

Analysis of the Conflict

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan formed the Okinawa Prefecture by reorganizing the Ryukyu Kingdom (Hook 47). This happened in the year 1879. The Senkaku islands were situated between the Ryukyu Kingdom and the Qing Empire that belonged to China. Therefore, the islands were neither part of China nor part of Japan, thus formed the boundary between the two nations. In 1885, the governor of Okinawa asked the Meiji authorities to take over Senkaku islands (Lee 58).

However, Japanese foreign minister objected. He argued that the islands were nearer to the Qing Empire than they were to Okinawa. He also argued that they had Chinese names and should therefore belong to them. The minster also referred to a Chinese newspaper that had claimed that Japan inhabited islands that were located on its coast.

The minister expressed fears that if Japan continued to inhabit the islands, then the Qing Empire would react and defend the acquisition of the island by Meiji. In 1895, Japan annexed the Senkaku islands to the Okinawa Prefecture (Lee 58). They claimed that their surveys had shown that the islands did not belong to the Qing Empire. This acquisition of the islands by Japan took place during the first Sino-Japanese war. China lost the war to Japan.

The loss led to the signing of a treaty referred to as the Treaty of Shimonoseki (Lee 63). In the treaty, China agreed to relinquish the administration of Formosa Island and others that belonged to Formosa. The treaty had a weakness that contributed in its failure. It did not outline the islands that belonged to Formosa or its geographical coverage area (Hook 51).

After Japan was defeated in the Second World War, it signed the Treaty of San Francisco that did not solve the dispute as to whether Senkaku islands were part of the islands that belonged to Formosa. Japan did not object the occupation of Senkaku islands by the United States. The U.S. administered the Ryukyu Islands that comprised the Senkaku Islands. The dispute intensified when United States ended its administration of Okinawa and the Senkaku islands (Hook 47).

Before the 19070s, the People’s Republic of China and Republic of China did not issue official claims to the islands (Lee 61). They even referred the islands using Japanese names. Some newspaper articles claimed that the islands were situated in the Japanese territory. Evidence of maps published by China that reveal that China did not consider the islands as part of their territory exist. However, both governments that claim that the islands do not belong to Japan have confiscated these maps.

Between 1946 and 1971, a publication published by the Taiwanese provincial Government proved that the islands did not for part of the territory (Lee 63). According to the Taiwan Statistical Abstract, the furthest pint on the east was Mianhua Islet and Pengjia on the north.

This excluded the Senkaku islands. This description was changed in 1972 after the Executive Yuan of Taiwan claimed that the Senkaku islands belonged to them (Nordquist and Moore 66). According to a world atlas published in 1958, the islands belong to Japan. The various pieces of evidence available did not solve the dispute between China and Japan.

China lodged claims to the islands after the United States announced that it was ready to cede administration of the islands in 1971. Prior to 1971, China has not made any official statement to claim the islands. Historians claim that China decided to claim the islands after the possibility of the presence of oil reserves in the islands were announced (Nordquist and Moore 67). The United Nations Economic Council for Asia and the Far East conducted a survey in the islands that came up with the claim.

Experts this claim by citing the statements given by Zhou Enlai during the Japan-China Summit Meeting that took place in 1972. In their defense, the Chinese offered their reason for not claiming the islands. They argue that the complexities of the Chinese Civil War. During the war, loyalists of the Chinese Communist party drove the Kuomintang to Taiwan (Hook 51). The Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China both claim the Senkaku islands.

They use evidence collected from historical maps, the Postdam Declaration, outcomes of the First Sino-Japanese War, and territorial boundaries of the Ming and Qing dynasties (Nordquist and Moore 68).

The dispute has lingered for a long time because each of the involved countries presents its facts that have historical basis. The Chinese claim that their knowledge of the islands dates back to the 1370s. They claim that from 1534, the islands were part of their territory until they went under the control of Taiwan and the Qing dynasty (Hook 53).

One of the issues that comprise the conflict is the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The treaty was signed in 1895 after the Qing dynasty was defeated in the Sino-Japanese war. Article 2(b) of the treaty required china to relinquish the administration of Formosa and its constituent islands to the Japanese (Nordquist and Moore 71). Since the treaty did not include the names of individual islands that China was required to cede to Japan, the islands of Senkaku became the cause of disagreement.

China argued that the islands were not among those referred to in the treaty. Another issue that contributed to the disagreement is the absence of the islands in the government’s documents of Japan. The Chinese argued that absence of the islands in Japan’s government documents was proof enough that the Chinese did not consider the m as part of their territory (Suganuma 42).

Position of China

According to statements from the Republic of China and the people’s republic of china, Senkaku Islands were not part of the discussions that ensued after the end of the First Sino-Japanese War (Suganuma 45). After the war, the then president of the U.S. proposed a partition procedure that did not include Senkaku Islands. Afterwards, the Koga family, through the Japanese government, purchased the islands.

The Chinese government claimed that the sale of the islands was conducted without sufficient knowledge regarding the official location of Senkaku islands. The People’s Republic of China claims that the main reason why its leader did not object to the decision by the U.S. to relinquish administration to Japan was that he relied on them for support and financial aid (Suganuma 46).

The dispute between the people’s republic of China and Taiwan complicates the conflict further. Lack of unity between the two countries has squashed any efforts to end the conflict. Recent attempts to solve the dispute have been unsuccessful because neither of the two countries is ready for dialogue. PR wanted to work together with Taiwan in order to solve the conflict with Japan.

The position of the Japanese

The Japan government has issued several statements furnishing evidence as to why the Senkaku islands belong to them. The Japanese base their arguments on historical facts. They argue that prior to 1895, the islands had been inhabited and did not reveal any signs of control by the Chinese (Suganuma 48). On the other hand, the islands had been given Japanese names. The Qing Dynasty of China ceded the administration of only Pescadores Islands after the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki (Hook 55).

The Senkaku Islands were excluded from the treaty. The leasing of the islands to a resident of Okinawa by the Meiji government was proof enough that they belonged to the Japanese (Nordquist and Moore 70). The resident operated several businesses that included construction of piers, coral collection, cattle rearing, and manufacture of canned goods. During that lease, the Chinese government did not object. According to the Japanese, the leasing of the islands by the Meiji government was a clear sign of Japan’s control (Suganuma 56).

The U.S. administered the islands for a brief period before they relinquished control over the islands. The Japan government argues that they have controlled the islands long before China presented a sovereignty claim. According to the Japanese, Taiwan and China presented their claims only after 1971 when the U.S. announced that it would be leaving the islands (Nordquist and Moore 73).

This was after a report that projected the possibility of oil reserves in the islands. Japan has exercised various forms of administrative activities that reveal their control over the islands. They patrol the islands and enforce laws that govern fishing around the islands by foreigners. They also levy taxes on private occupants of islands such as Kuba. In Taisho and Uotsuri islands, the Japan government administers them as property owned by the government.

The United States has occupied the islands of Taisho and Uotsuri through a lease agreement for more than three decades. The lease is administered under the Status of Forces of Agreement between the two countries (Nordquist and Moore 81). According to the lease, the islands are constituent districts of Japan. The Japan government has also conducted several research studies on the islands. For instance, it has conducted fishery research, utilization and development research, and other forms of research.

These studies were commissioned and funded by the Japan government. The initial occupation of the islands by Japan occurred after the Meijii Restoration. A survey they conducted in 1885 revealed that the islands did not belong to any of the two nations. Therefore, they gained control over them. In 1895, Japan constructed several landmarks on the islands as a sign of its administrative authority (Nordquist and Moore 84). Development of infrastructure on the islands officially incorporated them as part of Japan’s territory.

Research studies revealed that there was no evidence of the islands, habitation by the Chinese. The history of the Ming Dynasty describes Taiwan as a foreign country. This implies that China controlled neither Taiwan nor the Senkaku islands. In addition, a Japanese consul gave a statement that referred to the islands as part of Japan.

After a ship accident in 1921, a Japanese consul referred to Senkaku Islands as part of Japan while giving an official statement regarding the accident (Suganuma 54). The letter is available at the Yaeyama museum where it is displayed for the public as proof of Japan’s control of the islands.

The situation as it is today

The conflict has not yet been resolved. The U.S has declined to give an official statement regarding the matter on who legally should administer the islands. However, the U.S. has claimed that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security that it signed with Japan requires the U.S. to support Japan defend the islands (Nordquist and Moore 87). The statement was issued in 2004, 2010, and 2012.

In 2012, the Unite States’ senate validated the aforementioned treaty and maintained that their country would assist Japan in defending the islands in case war erupted due to the long-standing conflict. In 2013, the U.S. government published a statement that criticized the Chinese for wanting to take over the administration of the islands from Japan.

Attempts to end the conflict have proved futile because the involved countries have declined to engage in dialogue. Recent purchase of the islands from private developers by the Japan government led to protests in China. The conflict has been described as a volatile situation that could involve military intervention from both countries. Japan is confident because the U.S. has promised to intervene in case China attacks the island.

What can be done in future?

In order to solve the conflict, it is imperative for china and Japan to hold discussions that will evaluate and analyze the evidence of administration from both sides. They could study historical evidence and maps in order to determine which nation is legally entitled to administer the islands. Alternatively, they can enter into an agreement to share the resources of the islands. However, this approach could be ineffective because both previous agreements were violated.

The other alternative could involve abdicating the conflict and proclaiming the islands as belonging to neither China nor Japan in order to find a lasting solution. They could agree to exploit the waters surrounding the island through fishing as they resolve the dispute regarding the islands.

Conclusion

The Senkaku islands conflict has lasted for many years since the 1970s. It commenced after the United States made a proposal to relinquish the administration of the islands to the Japanese. The Chinese objected to the proposal and prompted a dispute that has not yet been resolved. The Japan government claims that China disputed the proposal because of a report released that states the possibility of oil reserves in the islands. According to Japan, a survey they conducted revealed that the islands belonged neither to them nor to China.

They argue that since they have controlled the islands since 1895, then China should not present any claims regarding the administration of the islands. According to statements from the Republic of China and the people’s republic of China, Senkaku Islands were not part of the discussions that ensued after the end of the First Sino-Japanese War. The dispute has led to a bad relationship between the two countries.

On the other hand, their foreign policies have also contributed to the conflict. It is imperative for China and Japan to reach an agreement through dialogue. Experts have predicted that the conflict could lead to military intervention in case the two countries do not resolve the conflict.

It is necessary to study historical facts regarding the location and administration of the islands in order to determine the nation that is supposed to own the islands. If a solution is not found, then the dispute could lead to war between the two countries and their supporters.

Works Cited

Hook, Glenn. Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics, and Security. Honolulu, Hawaii: Psychology Press, 2005. Print.

Lee, Seokwoo. Territorial Disputes among Japan, China, and Taiwan Concerning the Senkaku Islands. New York: IBRU, 2002. Print.

Nordquist, Myron, and Moore, John. Maritime Border Diplomacy. Leiden, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012. Print.

Suganuma, Unryu. Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations: Irredentism and the Diayou/Senkaku Islands. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2000. Print.