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Diaoyu Islands belong to China

Diaoyu Islands belong to China 2012-09-26


Diaoyu Islands belong to China

Historical documents dating back to the Ming Dynasty establish Diaoyu Islands as Chinese territory. The challenge to Chinese ownership came from Japanese annexation of the islands in 1894-5 following the first Sino-Japanese War.

Whatever the reasons for holding on to Diaoyu, Japan’s claim to ownership is weak. There are books, reports and maps from the 15th century, during the period of the Ming Dynasty, that establish in no uncertain terms that Diaoyu is Chinese territory. The books Voyage with a Tail Wind and Record of the Imperial Envoy’s Visit to Ryukyu bear testimony to this.

Even writings by Japanese scholars in the late 19th century acknowledged this fact. The challenge to Chinese ownership of Diaoyu came from Japanese annexation of the Islands in 1894-5 following the first Sino-Japanese War. China under the Ching Dynasty was too weak to fight back and regain lost territory. But annexation through military force does not confer legitimacy upon the act of conquest.

This is why when Japan was defeated in the Second World War the victors who included China and the US recognised that Diaoyu was Chinese territory. Both the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration acknowledged this though for administrative purposes Diaoyu was placed under US control as part of its governance over the Ryukyu Islands. The US was then the occupying power in Japan following the latter’s surrender. However, when China was taken over by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the US changed its position and began to treat the Islands as part of Japan. The Chinese communist leadership protested vehemently.

In 1971, the US Senate returned the Diaoyu Islands, together with Okinawa, to Japan under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty. Again, the Chinese government in Beijing objected, as did the Taiwan government which also regards the islands as part of China.

Since the normalisation of relations between China and Japan in 1972, both sides have agreed to allow their fishermen to operate in the waters surrounding the islands without resolving the issue of ownership. Of course, neither China nor Japan has relinquished even an iota of its claim in the last 40 years. Recent incidents have, however, forced this unresolved issue into the open.

Apart from taking the first step by abrogating its purchase of the islands, as we have proposed, Japan should also come to terms with undeniable historical, legal and ethical facts. It must accept the irrefutable reality that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China. We realise that there are powerful vested interests that will not allow Japan to embrace this truth. Nonetheless, we should all try to persuade the Japanese government and the Japanese people that it would be in their best interest to do so.

 It wouldn't be difficult to manage for the Chinese side. The Diaoyu Islands belong to China, and we will be able to manage it. What I want to state is that there are clear historical and legal grounds to China's sovereignty over Diaoyu Islands. In my conversations with the Japanese side on this issue, I often hear such assertions as: "the Islands have been an inherent territory of Japan". However, a look through historical evidence would find that before 1868, the year when the Meiji Restoration started, there were no Japanese historical records of the Diaoyu Islands being part of Japan. Contrast this with the many Chinese books and documents showing that the islands have always belonged to China.

Like people in other countries, the Chinese are capable of strong emotions over things they truly care about. What the Japanese government has done over the Diaoyu Islands was like rubbing salt into a deep open wound on the heart of the Chinese people.

The Diaoyu Islands are part of Chinese territory. Chinese maritime vessels, including marine surveillance ships, administrative ships and fishing boats, have the right to operate in these waters. This is our position. The potential for conflicts has made it all the more necessary for the two sides to deal with the dispute in a cool-headed way and seek to resolve it through peaceful negotiations.