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The U.S. Role in the Sino-Japanese Dispute over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, 1945–1971*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009

Extract

In 1996, the Sino-Japanese conflict over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands intensified to the point where the American mass circulation periodical Time asked: “Will the next Asian war be fought over a few tiny islands?” That such a question could be asked seems incredible given that the Diaoyu Islands, which lie north-east of Taiwan and west of Okinawa, consist of only five small islands and three rocky outcroppings with a total landmass of no more than 7 square kilometres or 3 square miles. Apart from their miniscule size, the islands are uninhabited, are incapable of supporting human habitation for an extended period of time and are unlikely to support any economic life of their own from indigenous resources.

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Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The China Quarterly 2000

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References

1. “In an ocean of controversy,” Time, 7 10 1996, p. 30.Google Scholar

2. Dzurek, Daniel J., “Effect of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute on maritime delimitation,” paper presented at the IBRU Conference on Borderlands Under Stress, University of Durham, 16 07 1998, pp. 19Google Scholar. The islands are Diaoyu (Uotsurishima), Huangwei (Kubashima or Kobishō), Chiwei (Taishōjima or Akao-Shō), Beixiao (Kitakojima) and Nanxiao (Minamikojima). The rocks are Dabeixiao (Okino Kitaiwa), Dananxiao (Okino Minamiiwa) and Feilaidai (Tobise). From 1945 to 1971, the U.S. referred to the Diaoyu Islands in several ways: Sakishima Cuntō (which represents the collective name for the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands); the Yaeyama Islands (which included Senkaku Rettō); Senkaku Rettō (which included Uotsurishima, other islands and Sentō Shōshō); and the Sentō Shōshū or Diaoyu islets. Office of the Language Aid, HCRI, A Gazetter of the Ryūkyū Islands, pp. 1418Google Scholar, Map 5, RG 260 (USCAR), Records of the Office of HCRI, Box 6, National Archives—College Park.

3. Ma, Ying-Jeou, “The East Asian seabed controversy revisited: the relevance (or irrelevance) of the Tiao-Yu-T'ai (Senkaku) Islands territorial dispute,” in Chiu, Hungdah (ed.), Chinese Yearbook of International Law and Affairs, Vol. 2 (1982) (Taipei: Chinese Society of International Law, 1983), pp. 2833, 4344.Google Scholar

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5. Ibid. pp. 32–33; Ma, Ying-Jeou, “The East Asian seabed controversy revisited,” pp. 24Google Scholar; Kristof, Nicholas D., “Would you fight for these islands?” New York Times, 20 11 1996, http://www.mtholoyoke.edu/acad/intrel/diaoyu.htmlGoogle Scholar; and Dzurek, , “Effect of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute on maritime delimitation,” p. 1Google Scholar. Ma presents a legal analysis that rejects the notion that the islands convey any continental shelf/EEZ rights. “The East Asian seabed controversy revisited,” esp. pp. 2833, 4344.Google Scholar

6. Suiter, Robert G., “East Asia: disputed islands and offshore claims – issues for U.S. policy,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 28 07 1992, p. CRS7Google Scholar; and Guoxing, Ji, “Maritime jurisdiction in the three China seas: options for equitable settlement,” gopher://gopher-igcc.ucsd.edu.Google Scholar

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8. Hereinafter I use the term Diaoyu Islands to refer to the disputed islands.

9. Quoted in Niksch, Larry A., “Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands dispute: the U.S. legal relationship and obligations,” PacNet Newsletter, No. 45 (8 11 1996), http://www.csis.org/html/pac45.htmlGoogle Scholar. This is an U.S. Congressional Research Service analysis.

11. Niksch, , “Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands dispute.”Google Scholar Apparently, an earlier Congressional Research Service Report came to the same conclusion. This is reported in Kristof, , “Would you fight for these islands?”Google Scholar A copy of the 1960 agreement appears in Grenville, J. A. S. and Wasserstein, Bernard, The Major International Treaties Since 1945: A History and Guide with Texts (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 124–26Google Scholar. In an agreed minute to the 1960 treaty, Japan stressed its residual sovereignty in the Okinawa chain and expectations of consultations and discussions with the U.S. in the event the islands were threatened or attacked. The U.S. stated it intended to take measures for the defence of the islands.

12. Even though an agreed minute to the 1971 reversion treaty incorporated the Diaoyu Islands as part of the Ryūkyū Islands being returned to Japan, the U.S. government took the position that “this treaty does not affect the legal status of those islands at all.” See United States Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Okinawa Reversion Treaty. Hearings, 92nd Congress, first session, Ex. J. 92–1, October 27–29, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1971), p. 11.Google Scholar

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14. This does not imply that the Japanese do not have a valid legal claim.

15. See, for example, Suganuma, Unryū, “The Diaoyu Islands according to Chinese record of Ming times,” Chinese Historians, Vol. 9, No. 16 (1996), pp. 7596CrossRefGoogle Scholar and the works identified in nn. 1–9, 21, 22, 25, 26.

16. On China's efforts to develop a blue-water navy, see Ji, You and Xu, You, “In search of blue water power: the PLA Navy's maritime strategy in the 1990s,” The Pacific Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1991), pp. 137149CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wortzel, Larry M., “China pursues traditional great-power status,” Orbis, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Spring 1994), pp. 157175CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Labrousse, Henri, “Les ambitions maritimes de la Chine,” Defense Nationale, Vol. 50 (Autumn 1994), pp. 131141Google Scholar; and Ji, You, “A blue water navy: does it matter?” in Goodman, David S.G. and Segal, Gerald (eds.), China Rising: Nationalism and Interdependence (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 7189.Google Scholar

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18. As Ma notes, it is fallacious to claim that the dispute began at this time since Chinese and Japanese nationals visited and used the islands after U.S. administration began and both sides claimed the islands as their own. It is more accurate to assert that the discovery of energy “activated” the dispute. “The East Asian seabed controversy revisited,” pp. 2526 n. 80.Google Scholar

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20. In Article I of the 1971 reversion treaty, the U.S. relinquished all special rights and interests in the Ryūkyūs it acquired pursuant to Article III of the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan and returned to Japan full responsibility and authority for the exercise of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the islands. An agreed minute to the treaty provides the territorial definition of the Ryūkyūs that includes the Diaoyu Islands. The agreement is printed in U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 1672, 12 07 1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1971), pp. 35, 37.Google Scholar

21. Niksch, , “Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands dispute”Google Scholar; Dzurek, , “Effect of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute on maritime delimitation,” p. 6 n. 18Google Scholar; and Lautenschutz, , “Japan, China, and the Senkaku Islands,” p. 33Google Scholar. In June 1971, the ROC informed the U.S. that the Diaoyu Islands belonged to them by reason of location, geological structure, historical association and use. It asserted that it had continuously informed the U.S. and Japan that the islands belonged to it. Kao, Ting Tsz, The Chinese Frontiers (Aurora: Chinese Scholarly Publishing Co., 1980), p. 98.Google Scholar

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24. The 1978 treaty appears in Grenville and Wasserstein, , The Major International Treaties Since 1945, p. 306Google Scholar. Among other provisions, the accord called for both sides to oppose hegemony in Asia, to develop economic and cultural relations, and to maintain relations on the basis of principles such as respect for each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

25. Tretiak, Daniel, “The Sino-Japanese Treaty of 1978: the Senkaku incident prelude,” Asian Survey, Vol. 18, No. 12 (12 1978), pp. 1235–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lautenschutz, , “Japan, China, and the Senkaku Islands,” p. 32Google Scholar; and Deans, , “The Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute.”Google Scholar

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28. Dzurek, Daniel, “The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute,” 18 10 1996Google Scholar, (mailbaseadmin@mailbase.ac.uk) (a revised and updated version of this paper appears at www- ibru.dur.ack.uk/senkaku.html); Dzurek, , “Effect of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute on maritime delimitation,” pp. 14Google Scholar; and Downs, and Saunders, , “Legitimacy and the limits of nationalism,” pp. 131–35.Google Scholar

29. The Chinese case is made in Dushu, Su, “Some notes on problems concerning defence,” p. 81Google Scholar; and Zhongguo zhoubian guanxi yu anquan huanjing (China's Relations with Its Neighbours and Its Security Environment) (Shaanxi: People's Education Press, n.d.) in Joint Publications Research Service-China (JPRS-China)-93–037, 8 06 1993, pp. 2526Google Scholar. For official comments, see “On Diaoyu Islands issue,” and “History proves Diaoyu islands are China's territory,” both at http://www.china-embassy.org. Other important statements of the Chinese positions appear in Inoue, Kiyoshi, “Japanese militarism and Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Island – a Japanese historian's view,” http://www.interlog.com/~yuan/diaohist.htmlGoogle Scholar; and Zhong Yan, “China's claim to Diaoyu Island chain indisputable,” http://ss5.ihep.ac.cn/ins/Book/Bjreview/November/96-45-10.html. The Inoue article originally appeared in Beijing Review, Vol. 15, No. 19 (12 05 1972)Google Scholar while the Zhong piece appeared in Beijing Review, Vol. 39, No. 45 (4–10 11 1996).Google Scholar

30. A copy of the treaty is included in Israel, Fred L. (ed.), Major Peace Treaties of Modern History, 1648–1967 (New York: Chelsea House and McGraw-Hill, 1967), Vol. II, pp. 1101–10, esp. p. 1102.Google Scholar

31. These declarations appear in Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), Government Section, Political Reorientation of Japan: September 1945 to September 1948 (Grosse Pointe: Scholarly Press, 1968), pp. 411, 413.Google Scholar

32. Pursuant to Article II of the 1951 Treaty of Peace, Japan renounced all claims to Korea, Formosa, the Pescadores, the Kuriles, part of the Sakhalin peninsula, the Antarctic, the Spratlys and Paracels, and numerous mandated territories. Article III changed the administrative status of various Japanese islands. For the treaty, see Israel, , Major Peace Treaties, Vol. IV, pp. 2641–56.Google Scholar

33. On Japan's claims, see “The basic view on the sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands,” http://www.mofa.go.jp/ja/Senkaku.html. See also Ma, Ying-Jeou, “The East Asian seabed controversy revisited,” pp. 3132Google Scholar; Prescott, J. R. V., The Maritime Political Boundaries of the World (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 244–46Google Scholar; Dzurek, , “Effect of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute on maritime delimitation,” p. 5Google Scholar; and Guoxing, Ji, “Maritime jurisdiction in the three China seas.”Google Scholar

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35. A SCAP map shows that the Ryūkyū chain is not associated with Japan proper and also that it is not part of Taiwan. At this time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and SCAP defined “Japan” to include the four main islands of Japan (Hokkaido, Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku) and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryūkyū (Nansei) Islands south of 30° North latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island). “Memorandum for the Imperial Japanese Government from General Headquarters, SCAP,” 29 01 1946Google Scholar, in SCAP, Political Reorientation of Japan, p. 477.Google Scholar

36. Shiels, Fredrick L., America, Okinawa, and Japan: Case Studies for Foreign Policy Theory (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1980), pp. 53, 56Google Scholar; and Coox, Alvin D., “The Pacific War,” in CHOJ: Vol. 6, p. 367.Google Scholar

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39. U.S. Department of State, Administrative Subdivisions of Japan: Atlas and Gazetteer, and Appendix, RG 59 (State Department), Records of the Geographer, Series 007 331/A/08/05, National Archives—College Park.

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114. (Emphasis added) “Memorandum of a Conversation,” 21 06 1957Google Scholar, in FRUS, 1955–1957: Vol. 23, Part 1, pp. 408410.Google Scholar

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123. According to one source, Kennedy did this not only to improve U.S.—Japan relations, but also to get rid of the “ugly American” image that he thought was damaging U.S. relations with the Third World, a bloc whose support was vital for winning the Cold War. Maga, , Hands Across the Sea?, pp. 1820.Google Scholar

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130. Ibid. pp. 80–81, 177–181; and Schaller, , Altered States, pp. 205206Google Scholar. In August and September, the U.S. contemplated asking Japan for a quid pro quo in exchange for returning the islands to Japan. Buckley, , U.S.—Japan Alliance Diplomacy, p. 114Google Scholar; and Schaller, , Altered States, p. 204.Google Scholar

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133. See n. 20.

134. United States Senate, Okinawa Reversion Treaty, p. 11.Google Scholar

135. Ibid. p. 91.

136. On 19 June 1971, Japanese Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi publicly stated that the 1971 reversion accord has settled the issue of the Diaoyu Islands as far as Japan and the U.S. were concerned. United States Senate, Okinawa Reversion Treaty, p. 76.Google Scholar

137. United States Institute of Peace, “The South China Sea Dispute: prospects for preventive diplomacy,” 08 1996, pp. 1617.Google Scholar

138. One only has to look at the Navy's obstinate stand with respect to the return of the strategically meaningless Bonin Islands to get a flavour for this thinking. Schaller, , Altered States, p. 204.Google Scholar

139. United States Senate, Okinawa Reversion Treaty, pp. 93, 115, 147Google Scholar. See also Schaller, , Altered States, pp. 214–15, 229231.Google Scholar

140. This explanation is suggested inter alia by Welfield, John, An Empire in Eclipse, Japan in the Postwar American Alliance System (London: The Athlone Press, 1988), p. 310Google Scholar; Schaller, , Altered States, pp. 243–44Google Scholar; and Downs, and Saunders, , “Legitimacy and the limits of nationalism,” p. 125Google Scholar. Despite the appeal of an explanation based on realpolitik, a conclusive answer must await the declassification and publication of more archival material by the U.S. government.

141. For an attempt to conduct analyses of the interests involved in territorial disputes, see Kimura, Masato and Welch, David A., “Specifying ‘interests’: Japan's claim to the northern territories and its implications for international relations theorizing,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (1998), pp. 213244CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Downs, and Saunders, , “Legitimacy and the limits of nationalism.”Google Scholar

142. See nn. 5–7.

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144. Mendl, , Japan's Asia Policy, pp. 51, 81.Google Scholar

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