Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Sunday, May 25, 2003

China's Diaoyu Islands Sovereignty is Undeniable

The Diaoyu Islands are only eight uninhabited rocks in the vast East China Sea - many would scarcely call them islands. Yet, they have been at the heart of a long-standing sovereignty dispute between China and Japan as both claim them as part of their territory.


The Diaoyu Islands are only eight uninhabited rocks in the vast East China Sea - many would scarcely call them islands. Yet, they have been at the heart of a long-standing sovereignty dispute between China and Japan as both claim them as part of their territory.

No matter what they are named, the Diaoyu Islands, as the Chinese refer to them, or the Senkaku islands, according to Japan, one thing is clear: China has indubitable sovereignty over them.

However, turning a blind eye to this indisputable fact, Japan stubbornly persists with its sovereignty claim.

According to Japanese media, showing their "determination" to safeguard their claimed sovereignty, seven members of a right-wing group left Tokyo under the cover of darkness last Wednesday and attempted to land on the Diaoyu Islands. They were foiled due to bad weather.

This is just one of a string of activities by right-wing groups over the past decades, which have aroused strong protests from China.

Apparently, such activities are largely attributed to and encouraged by the attitude of the Japanese Government.

Zhang Biqing, a researcher with the Institute of International Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Japan threw in all of its cards to claim sovereignty of islands because of their resources.

Rich oil reserves were discovered in the continental shelf beneath the East China Sea, more particularly around the Diaoyu Islands, in the late 1960s. The waters around the isles are also especially rich fishing grounds.

During the 1970s, for the sake of regional stability and the normalization of bilateral relations, both China and Japan agreed to shelve the territorial dispute.

But the Japanese side failed to keep its pledge and violated from time to time its agreement with China.

Several serious outbursts have occurred over the past decades, when Japan has attempted to create an impression that it has sovereignty over the islands.

In January, the Japanese Government leased three of the eight Diaoyu Islands from a "private owner" at the annual rate of 22 million yen (US$183,500).

By leasing the isles, the Japanese Government attempted to strengthen its position in the territorial dispute.

Zhong Anxi, a research fellow with the Institute of Modern History Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted: "From whatever point of view, geography, history or law, the Diaoyu Islands belong to China."

Scattered 102 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan's Chilung and 230 nautical miles both east of Fuzhou and west of Okinawa, the Diaoyu Islands are geographically closer to China than Japan.

Japan's claim for the islands is based on their inclusion in the Ryukyu island chain, which includes Okinawa.

However, according to He Yu, a researcher with the Institute of Qing History Studies at the Renmin University of China, "lying within the 200-metre isobath, the Diaoyu Islands, at the eastern edge of the East China Sea, are part of the Chinese geologic continental shelf. They are clearly separated from the Japanese Ryukyu islands by the 2,270-metre-deep Okinawa Trough."

Moreover, Zhong pointed out: "According to international laws, in principle, the sovereignty of territories owned by nobody belong to those who first discover, name and administrate them."

From the viewpoint of history and law, China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands can be dated back to the early 15th century when the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) reigned supreme.

The local scholars are of the opinion that the Chinese discovered and named the islands much earlier than the Japanese.

The name "Diaoyutai" first appeared in 1403 in the Chinese book "Shun Feng Xiang Song (Voyage with the Tail Wind)." It recorded the names of the islands that the Chinese had passed during their voyage from Fujian to Ryukyu, an independent kingdom up until its annexation by Japan during the late 19th century.

In the book "Shi Liu Qiu Lu (Record of the Imperial Envoy to Ryukyu)" by Chen Kan in 1534, all the major islets of the Diaoyu Islands had been identified and named.

Chen's book clearly proves the Diaoyu Islands, which were used as navigational markers during China-to-Ryukyu voyages, belonged to China and were not part of the Ryukyus.

In fact, according to historical records, the Diaoyu Islands were considered as important frontiers for China's off-shore defence against "wokou" (Japanese pirates) during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), according to He.

The map of the Asian continent made during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in late 18th century, which was also the earliest and most complete map of the continent in the world at the time, unambiguously shows the islands were part of China.

Even in 1873, Japan's official "Complete Ryukyu Islands Map" did not include the Diaoyu Islands.

Japan argues that surveys of the islands, which were made by the Japanese Government through the agencies of the Okinawa Prefecture from 1885 onwards, confirm that they were uninhabited and had no trace of Chinese control.

Based on that information, the Japanese authorities made a Cabinet decision on January 14, 1895 to erect a marker on the islands to formally claim sovereignty.

The Okinawa Reversion Treaty is put up as further proof of their sovereignty claim over the islands.

The Diaoyu Islands were included in the group of islands which the US returned to Japan in 1972 under the treaty.

However, Chinese experts point out that after it annexed Ryukyu in 1879, Japan began looking to the Diaoyu Islands.

In 1884, Japanese Interior Minister Yamagada Akimoto petitioned the Okinawa Prefecture to erect national markers on the Diaoyu Islands.

But the then Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Inouye Kaolu, replied that such an act "would attract the attention of the Ching Nation (China) " and hence they "should await (for) a more opportune time," according to Japan's Foreign Affairs Archives.

It shows that Japan knew the islands were not under its rule and that they could not annex it outright, but merely bide their time.

Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War (July 1894 - February 1895) spurred them on.

In December 1894, Japan's interior minister again consulted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the case of annexing the area. The Cabinet approved the move in early 1895, three months earlier than signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki that ceded Taiwan to Japan.

Nevertheless, Japan still hesitated to publicly announce its annexation of the islands in its official publications.

In fact, as Zhang noted, it was not publicized until December 1950 - 55 years later.

During World War II, the Allied powers committed themselves in the Cairo Declaration of 1943 to restore to China all the territories Japan had seized from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Taiwan and the Pescadores or Penghu Islands. This was reaffirmed in the Potsdam Proclamation of 1945.

Japan later officially expressed its acceptance of the declaration in writing after it surrendered to the Allied forces.

It means the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, which are part of Taiwan, should have been returned to China at the end of World War II.

What makes the issue complicated is that the Americans took over the Diaoyu Islands in 1945 and wrongfully returned them, along with Okinawa, to Japan instead of China in 1972 under the Japan-US Okinawa Reversion Treaty, which was signed without China's participation or recognition.

Japan bases its argument largely on the treaty.

The United States in 1990 reiterated that according to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan, the US had only administrative authority over Okinawa, therefore the 1972 handover to Japan of the disputed islands was not legitimate.

It all adds up to overwhelmingly show that Japan's persistent sovereignty claim is groundless and plainly wrong.

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