Getting Senkaku History Right (Page 2 of 4)

Under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in April 1895, the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands to Japan. No mention was made of the Senkaku Islands. There is no record of any discussions taking place on the Senkaku in the bilateral negotiations on the treaty. The incorporation of the Senkaku into Japan’s territory by exercising its rights of “acquisition through occupation” based on the legal principle of terra nullius was carried out three months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki was concluded.

During the 50-year period from 1895 to 1945, when Japan ruled both Taiwan and the Pescadores under the jurisdiction of the Governor-General of Taiwan (Formosa), the Senkaku Islands were under the jurisdiction of the Okinawa prefectural government as part of the prefecture’s Nansei Islands, a chain of islands extending from southwestern Kyushu to waters north of Taiwan. Administrative jurisdiction over the Senkaku was entirely separate from the administration of Taiwan and the Pescadores.

Searching for options, the Chinese government has recently begun quoting the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration as evidence of its claims. Beijing argues that Japan’s acceptance of these declarations means that it agreed to return the Senkaku to China (the Republic of China) along with Taiwan and the Pescadores as “islands appertaining to Taiwan.”

To be sure, the Cairo Declaration obliged Japan “to restore to the Republic of China all the territories Japan has stolen from the Qing Dynasty of China such as Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores.” Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration stipulated, “The Cairo Declaration shall be implemented.” However, there is no evidence that shows that the Allied powers, including the Republic of China, recognized the Senkaku Islands as among “the islands appertaining to Formosa.”

The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in September 1951, defined the territory of Japan after the war: Article 2 (b) of the treaty stipulated that Japan renounced territorial sovereignty over Formosa and the Pescadores, which the treaty said had been ceded by China to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War. However, the Senkaku Islands were not included “in the islands appertaining to Formosa” in the treaty. Had the Senkaku, at that time, been recognized as “islands appertaining to Taiwan,” the U.S. would not have placed the Senkaku under its administration as part of Okinawa prefecture. In this respect, China’s claims are without legal foundation.

No Agreement on “Shelving”

The term of “shelving” an issue refers to the acknowledgement by two parties that an issue exists, and the agreement to postpone resolution to a future date. Japan and China never agreed to “shelve” any issue related to the territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Documents recently released by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs make this clear.

At the time of negotiations between Japan and China in 1972 to normalize diplomatic relations, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai briefly exchanged words on the Senkaku Islands. One document quotes Tanaka as asking Zhou: “What is your view on the Senkaku Islands? Some people say things about them to me.” The exchange ended abruptly with Zhou’s response: “I do not want to talk about it this time. If there wasn’t oil, neither Taiwan nor the United States would make this an issue.” That is the entire exchange, and it simply cannot be equated with an argument in favor of shelving the issue.

The record also reveals what Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping said about the Senkaku Islands in 1978 to then Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. Deng was visiting Japan for an exchange of instruments ratifying the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship. During his meeting with Fukuda, Deng said, “There’s no need to raise subjects like this [the issue of what is called the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan] at a meeting like this.” Deng also said: “There’s probably insufficient wisdom to resolve this issue in our generation, but with the next generation likely to be wiser than us, they will probably be able to find some resolution to the issue.” Fukuda made no response.

At a press conference on the day he met with Fukuda, Deng reiterated his desire to leave a solution to the Senkaku problem to the next generation, as “people of our generation don’t have sufficient wisdom to settle this problem…Even if this means the issue is temporarily shelved, I don’t think I mind. I don’t mind if it’s shelved for 10 years,” Deng added.

As these records show, there was never any recognition that a territorial or sovereignty problem existed between Japan and China or that an accord or agreement to shelve the matter existed. Although Deng’s remarks were carefully and skillfully phrased at the press conference, he was merely offering his own opinion.

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Getting Senkaku History Right (Page 3 of 4)

However, if China complied with an ICJ ruling on the Senkaku, Beijing could be inundated with calls to accept ICJ rulings on other “core interests,” including Taiwan, Tibet, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and even the South China Sea. Given that, it seems highly unlikely that China would run the risk of an adverse ICJ ruling.

For Japan, deferring to the ICJ carries the risk of having the legitimacy of its sovereignty over the Senkaku decided by a third party. Would all 15 ICJ judges be well versed in Japan’s assertions? In a territorial dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua over a group of islands, the ICJ recently handed down a ruling that split the islands between the two countries. Colombia relinquished its ICJ affiliation in protest. If it were to agree to ICJ arbitration, Japan would have to be prepared to face a similar situation.

Personally, I see no need for Japan to run such a risk in light of this country’s extremely well laid-out position both in terms of legality and historical facts. Japan should continue to hold to the position that it has maintained for more than 100 years. Compromising on territorial integrity and sovereignty could open the door to more challenges.


What Will China Do?

Any improvement in China-Japan relations should be welcome. Both countries refer to it as “a strategic relationship of mutual interest.” Needless to say, Japan and China should maintain dialogues and exchanges and use compromise where possible to contain tensions.

That does not mean, however, rushing to compromise at the expense of a nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Japan wants China to act as a responsible Asian power and to play a constructive role by adopting a policy of international cooperation. This is roughly what Americans have in mind when they call for a “China as a responsible international stakeholder.”

Will China adopt a policy of international cooperation or will it pursue a hegemonic path that uses its military strength to flout international law? In light of recent events in the East China and the South China Seas, it seems clear that China has superpower status in mind. China’s defense outlays – those that have been made public – have consistently risen at a double-digit clip over the past two decades.

Article II of the 1978 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China stipulates, that “Neither of the two countries should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.” Is this stipulation still valid or has it become a remnant of the Cold War? Japan and China should have a candid exchange of views on this point.

While Deng Xiaoping’s remarks proposing the shelving of the Senkaku sovereignty issue are widely known, few people are aware that Deng made a statement to the effect that Japan should object if and when China began to show signs in the future of seeking hegemony. This brings to mind a 1980s statement by the chief of the general staff Wu Xiu-quan of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who said – probably in reference to China’s military tensions with the then Soviet Union at the time – that Japan should spend at least 2 percent of its gross national product on its defense, double Japan’s actual defense spending at the time.

As China’s economic growth slows, it is likely to face social unrest over wealth disparities, corruption, environmental issues and human rights. There is an obvious temptation for the government to distract from these issues by casting Japan as a “villain.”

On the Senkaku issue, Beijing has been making outrageous claims implying that Japan is going to ruin “the postwar peace order.” It has been trying to link today’s Japan with its 1940s version, as exemplified by a statement by Premier Li Keqiang that China will “never accept any comments or actions that seek to deny or glorify the history of fascist aggression.”

China’s moves are mainly designed to hold Japan in check while at the same time trying to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States. China’s rigid diplomatic stance today is likely to remain unchanged at least for the immediate future, particularly given the domestic problems it faces.

Japan should maintain the position that it is always ready to talk with China about any issue without condition. At the same time, Japan should bolster its alliance with the United States. It should also maintain an effective defense of the Nansei Islands, which include the Senkaku in Okinawa. In other words, seek peace by all means, but prepare to defend its own core interests.

 Tadashi Ikeda is Visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan University and was formerly Director-General of Asian Affairs Bureau, Deputy Vice-Minister at the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chief Representative to Taiwan.