China’s principled stand on Diaoyu Islands

By S. M. Hali

Japan’s annexation of the Diaoyu Island along with the affiliated Nan Xiaodao and Bei Xiaodao through its illegal purchase and subsequent nationalization of the islands is unlawful and contrary to historical facts. Recorded legal documents indicate Chinese possession since ancient times. The islands were discovered, laid claim by the Chinese and its territorial waters have been exploited by Chinese fishermen since primeval era.Records of these islands date back to as early as the 15th century. They were referred as Diaoyu in books such as Voyage with a Tail WindShùnf?ng Xi?ngsòng(1403) and Record of the Imperial Envoy's Visit to Ry?ky?;  Sh? Liúqiú Lù (1534). Adopted by the Chinese Imperial Map of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese name for the island group Diaoyu) meaning fishing, the documented accounts show that the Diaoyu Islands were put under the jurisdiction of Chinese Navy as affiliated islands of Taiwan since the Ming Dynasty. The first published description of the islands in Europe was in a book imported by Isaac Titsingh in 1796. Japan on the other hand refers to them asSenkaku Islands. The island group consists of five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks. These minor features in the East China Sea are located approximately 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland and 200 nautical miles southwest of the Japanese island of Okinawa.

In contemporary era, during the Sino-Japanese War at the fag end of the 19th Century, while China faced imminent defeat, in 1895, Japan forced the Qing government to sign the unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki and cede to Japan "the island of Formosa (Taiwan), together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the island of Formosa". At the end of the Second World War, following Japan’s defeat, the US laid claim to all Japanese territory. However, in accordance to the Potsdam Declaration (which Japan accepted as part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty) Japan was forced to relinquish control of all islands except for the islands of Honsh?, Hokkaid?, Ky?sh? and Shikoku, which comprise modern Japan. Thus China regained its ownership of the Diaoyu Islands. In 1953, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands arbitrarily expanded its jurisdiction to include the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands, which had become in fact Chinese territories. Japan contested China’s ownership but remained inactive till 1968, when United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) identified potential oil and gas reserves might be found under the sea near the islands, prompting Japan to lay stake over the Diaoyu Islands. In 1971, Japan and the United States signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement, which arbitrarily included the Diaoyu Islands in the territories and territorial waters to be reversed to Japan. The Chinese government has, from the very beginning, firmly opposed and never acknowledged such backroom deals between Japan and the United States concerning Chinese territories.

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During the negotiations on the normalization of China-Japan relations in 1972 and on the signing of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978, the then leaders of the two countries, acting in the larger interest of China-Japan relations, reached important understanding and common ground on "leaving the issue of the Diaoyu Island to be resolved later". This opened the door to normalization of China-Japan relations and was followed by tremendous progress in the bilateral ties and stability and tranquility in East Asia in the following 40 years. 

Since the advent of 2012, Japan has stirred up the issue and things came to a head on 18 August, when a flotilla of four boats carrying about 150 Japanese activists organized by right-wing group Ganbare Nippon arrived at the islands. The activists stated that they wished to commemorate Japanese World War II deaths in the area. When the activists were denied permission to land, several of them swam to the islands, making an unauthorized landing on Uotsuri, where they raised Japanese flags.

China’s Foreign Ministry protested the event stating that unilateral action by Japan on the islands "is illegal and invalid." China also lodged a formal complaint, and urged Japan to prevent frictions from escalating further. The flotilla incident at the archipelago also set off anti-Japanese rallies in major Chinese cities demanding that the Japanese leave the islands. Chinese protestors overturned Japanese-branded cars and smashed windows of Japanese-themed businesses.

In the first week of September 2012, the Japanese government announced the purchase of the disputed islands for ¥2.05 billion bid for the Senkaku Islands from Kunioki Kurihara and nationalized them. China declared the move as illegal and invalid. On 11 September, China sent two patrol ships to the islands to demonstrate its claim of ownership. On 13 September, Chinese government submitted a nautical chart with baselines of the territorial sea on Diaoyu Islands to the United Nations. On 16 September, China officially announced to submit the plan to request natural extension of their continental shelf up to Okinawa Trough extend the EEZ to UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.


Meanwhile, there were protests in Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as a petition to the US government and Congress to take a neutral stance over the dispute was submitted. The protests in Hong Kong and various other Chinese cities continued; the situation was aggravating rapidly, till the Chinese government urged its citizens to demonstrate restraint.

The visit of the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to Tokyo and Beijing, came when the dispute had become red hot. On 17 September, K?ichir? Gemba sullied the waters through his statement that there was a mutual understanding that the United States would defend the islands. However, Mr. Panetta displayed maturity by not taking sides to the issue and urged both Japan and China to resolve the matter diplomatically. Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping denounced Japan’s decision to buy the disputed islands as a farce and warned that Tokyo should “rein in its behaviour” while  the Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, after meeting his US counterpart, said his country reserves the right to take “further actions” to resolve the dispute. But he said he hopes the feud could be settled peacefully.