Senkaku Islands dispute

Location of Senkaku Islands.
Blue : Uotsuri-shima (魚釣島) / Diaoyu Dao (釣魚島)
Yellow : Kuba-shima (久場島) / Huangwei Yu (黃尾嶼)
Red : Taishō-tō (大正島) / Chiwei Yu (赤尾嶼)
Uotsuri-shima, the largest of the Senkaku Islands at 4.3 km2 (1.7 sq mi), in an aerial photograph taken in 1978 by the MLIT, the omnibus ministry which operates the Japan Coast Guard.

The Senkaku Islands dispute, or Diaoyu Islands dispute, concerns a territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, the Diaoyu Islands in the People's Republic of China (PRC),[1] and Tiaoyutai Islands in the Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan).[2] Aside from a 1945 to 1972 period of administration by the United States as part of the Ryukyu Islands, the archipelago has been controlled by Japan since 1895.[3] According to Lee Seokwoo, the People's Republic of China (PRC) started taking up the question of sovereignty over the islands in the latter half of 1970 when evidence relating to the existence of oil reserves surfaced.[4] Taiwan (Republic of China) also claims the islands. The territory is close to key shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds, and there may be oil reserves in the area.[5]

Japan argues that it surveyed the islands in the late 19th century and found them to be terra nullius (Latin: land belonging to no one); subsequently, China acquiesced to Japanese sovereignty until the 1970s. The PRC and the ROC argue that documentary evidence prior to the First Sino-Japanese War indicates Chinese possession and that the territory is accordingly a Japanese seizure that should be returned as the rest of Imperial Japan's conquests were returned in 1945.

Although the United States does not have an official position on the merits of the competing sovereignty claims,[6] the islands are included within the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, meaning that a defense of the islands by Japan would require the United States to come to Japan's aid.[7]

In September 2012, the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed islands from their "private owner", prompting large-scale protests in China.[8] As of early February 2013, the situation has been regarded as "the most serious for Sino-Japanese relations in the post-war period in terms of the risk of militarised conflict."[9]

On 23 November 2013, the PRC set up the "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone" which includes the Senkaku Islands, and announced that it would require all aircraft entering the zone to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency or transponder information.


The Senkaku Islands are located in the East China Sea between Japan, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The archipelago contains five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks, ranging in size from 800 m2 to 4.32 km2.

Fishing rights

The issue of sovereignty has been carefully circumvented in bilateral fishing agreements. In the 1997 fishing agreement, the Senkaku Islands were officially excluded from China's exclusive economic zone, but in a letter of intent Japan explained that Japan would not prevent Chinese boats from fishing there. Some Chinese sources have subsequently argued that this letter constitutes a waiver of Japan's claim to exclusive fishing rights.[10]

In 2014 Taiwan (ROC) and Japan came to an agreement on fishing in the waters around the islands.[11]

Territorial dispute


Following the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government formally annexed what was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. The Senkaku Islands, which lay between the Ryukyu Kingdom and the Qing empire, became the Sino-Japanese boundary for the first time.

In 1885, the Japanese Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, Nishimura Sutezo, petitioned the Meiji government, asking that it take formal control of the islands.[12] However, Inoue Kaoru, the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, commented that the islands lay near to the border area with the Qing empire and that they had been given Chinese names. He also cited an article in a Chinese newspaper that had previously claimed that Japan was occupying islands off China's coast. Inoue was concerned that if Japan proceeded to erect a landmark stating its claim to the islands, it would make the Qing empire suspicious.[12] Following Inoue's advice, Yamagata Aritomo, the Minister of the Interior, turned down the request to incorporate the islands, insisting that this matter should not be "revealed to the news media".[12]

On 14 January 1895, during the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan incorporated the islands under the administration of Okinawa, stating that it had conducted surveys since 1884 and that the islands were terra nullius, with there being no evidence to suggest that they had been under the Qing empire's control.[13]

After China lost the war, both countries signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895 that stipulated, among other things, that China would cede to Japan "the island of Formosa together with all islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa (Taiwan)",[14] but yet the treaty does not clearly define the geographical limits of the island of Formosa and the islands appertaining or belonging to Formosa ceded to Japan.[13] The treaty was superseded in 1945 by the Treaty of San Francisco, which was signed between Japan and part of the Allied Powers in 1951 after Japan lost the Second World War.

In the treaty of San Francisco, Japan explicitly relinquished the control of Taiwan/Formosa together with all islands appertaining or belonging to it. There is a disagreement between the Japanese, PRC and ROC governments as to whether the islands are implied to be part of the "islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa" in the Treaty of Shimonoseki.[12] mainland China and Taiwan both dispute the Japanese claim by citing Yamagata Aritomo's reasons and decisions to turn down the request to incorporate the islands in 1885.[15]

Both PRC and ROC asserted sovereignty over the islands.[16] Japan points out that the islands were placed under the administration of the United States of America as part of the Ryukyu Islands, in accordance with Article III of the said treaty and China expressed no objection to the status of the Islands being under the administration of the United States under Article III of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Japanese government points out that "the Treaty of Shimonoseki does not clearly define the geographical limits of the island of Formosa and the islands appertaining or belonging to Formosa ceded to Japan by the Qing Dynasty of China, nothing in the negotiation history (or otherwise) supports the interpretation that the Senkaku Islands are included in the island of Formosa and the islands appertaining or belonging to it in Article 2b of the Treaty," and had "incorporated the Senkaku Islands into Okinawa Prefecture before the treaty was signed."[13]

In 1972, the United States ended its occupation of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Island chain, which included the Senkaku Islands.[17]

Korean academic Lee Seokwoo notes that "The significance of subsequent acts and behaviour of the interested parties is dependent upon the determination of the applicable critical date, which is defined as 'the date by reference to which a territorial dispute must be deemed to have crystallized,' since the outcome of this dispute will be fundamentally different depending on whether the critical date is January 1895, as claimed by Chinese side, when Japan incorporated Senkaku Islands into Japanese territory, or February 1971 in the case of Taiwan, or December 1971 in the case of China, when Japan made known its official standpoint with the signing of the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, as claimed by Japan."[18]

He concluded "... Accordingly, and having regard to the various factual and legal issues explored above, one is inclined to conclude that Japan has a stronger claim to the disputed islands. In other words, the critical date in this case should be February 1971 (in the case of Taiwan) and December 1971 (in the case of China), as claimed by Japan. This is the more so that historical evidence relating to territorial disputes does not have its own value as history alone, but should be evaluated within the framework of international law on territorial acquisition and loss."[19]

People's Republic of China and Republic of China positions

Pre-1970s position

Prior to the 1970s, neither the PRC nor ROC government make any official statements disputing or claiming the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. Several maps, newspaper articles, and government documents from both countries after 1945 refer to the islands by their Japanese name, while some even explicitly recognize their status as Japanese territory. It was only the early 1970s that Chinese documents began to name them collectively as the Diaoyu Islands, and as Chinese territory.

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The People's Daily, the organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), referred to the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese name "Senkaku Shotō" and described the islands were a part of (then) U.S.-occupied Ryukyu Islands. The article published on 8 January 1953 titled "Battle of people in the Ryukyu Islands against the U.S. occupation"[20] wrote "The Ryukyu Islands lie scattered on the sea between the Northeast of Taiwan of China and the Southwest of Kyushu, Japan. They consist of 7 groups of islands; the Senkaku Islands, the Sakishima Islands, the Daito Islands, the Okinawa Islands, the Oshima Islands, the Tokara Islands and the Osumi Islands."[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

A Chinese diplomatic draft written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC on 15 May 1950 referred to the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese name "Senkaku shotō" and "Sentō Shosho" and indicated Chinese recognition of the islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands. The 10-page document titled "Draft outline on issues and arguments on parts concerning territories in the peace treaty with Japan"[29] says the Ryukyus "consist of three parts—northern, central, and southern. The central part comprises the Okinawa Islands, whereas the southern part comprises the Miyako Islands and the Yaeyama Islands (Sentō Shosho)."[30] The parentheses appear in the original. It also says "It should be studied whether the Senkaku Islands should be incorporated into Taiwan due to an extremely close distance."[31] suggesting the Chinese government did not consider the islands part of Taiwan. The passages leave no doubt that Beijing regarded the Senkaku Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands as of 1950.[32][33]

There are many official maps published by both Chinas after 1945 that support they did not recognize their sovereignty over the islands and they recognized the islands as Japanese territory. PRC has been cracking down on erroneous maps in both print and digital forms and government agencies have handled 1,800 cases involving map irregularities and confiscated 750,000 maps since 2005. The National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation said "as China is involved in several disputes with neighboring countries, it is vital to raise public awareness of the country's due territory."[34]

The Washington Times states that this is a classified PRC government map from 1969 and that it lists the Senkaku islands as Japanese name "Senkaku Guntō".[35]
  • An atlas made by the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (中国国家测绘总局) in 1969 apparently referred to the overall group of islands as the Japanese name "Senkaku Guntō" (尖閣群島). The name of Uotsuri Island, the westernmost island in the group, was written in the Japanese name "Uotsuri-shima" (魚釣島).[35][36]
  • From 1946 to 1971, Taiwan Statistical Abstract published by the Taiwanese Provincial Government stated "the easternmost point of Taiwan is Mianhua Islet and the northernmost point is Pengjia Islet" excluding the Senkaku islands. In 1972, immediately after the Executive Yuan of the ROC announced that the islands belonged to Yilan County of Taiwan Province in December 1971, the description was revised and the points were extended to the Senkaku Islands: "the easternmost point of Taiwan is Taishō-jima and the northernmost point is Kuba-jima."[37]
  • The Grand Atlas of the World Vol. 1 (世界地圖集第一冊 東亞諸國) published in October 1965 by the National Defense Research Academy (國防研究院) and the China Geological Research Institute of Taiwan records the Diaoyu Islands with Japanese names: Uotsuri-shima (Diaoyu Islands), Taishojima (Chiwei Island), and Senkaku Gunto in the "Map of the Ryukyu Islands". Taiwan and the Senkaku Gunto were clearly divided by a national border. The revised version in 1971, "Senkaku Gunto" was changed to the "Tiaoyutai Islets". Furthermore, the national border was relocated to an area between the Daioyutai Islands and the Ryukyu Islands. However, in the English index, the name "Senkaku Gunto" remained unrevised.[37][38][39]
  • The National Atlas of China Vol. 1 published by the National War College of Taiwan did not include Diaoyutai Islands in the map of "Taipei and Keelung" in the first (1959), second (1963), or even third (1967) editions. However the fourth edition (1972) included an extra map of the "Taio Yu Tai Islets" as part of the ROC’s territory in the upper left corner of the map of "Taipei and Keelung".[37]
Partial image of map showing Senkaku Islands in World Atlas published in China in 1960
  • A world atlas published in November 1958, by the Map Publishing Company of Beijing, treats the Senkaku Islands as a Japanese territory and described them in Japanese name Senkaku Guntō (Senkaku Islands) and Uotsuri-Jima,[40]
  • In the 1970 junior high school geography textbook published by the National Institute for Compilation and Translation of Taiwan, the Diaoyutai Islands were named Senkaku Gunto in the "Physical Map of the Ryukyu Islands". Senkaku Gunto and the Ryukyu Islands were clearly not included in the ROC's territory by national border. However, in the 1971 edition, Senkaku Gunto was renamed Diaoyutai Islands, and the ROC national border was redrawn so that the Diaoyutai Islands were included.[37][41]

Post-1970s position

A 1785 Japanese map, the Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu (三国通覧図説) by Hayashi Shihei adopted the Chinese kanji (釣魚臺 Diaoyutai) to annotate the Senkaku Islands, which were painted red in the same color as all other lands that it did not rule.[12][42] The primary text itself can be found here.[43]

Although Chinese authorities did not assert claims to the islands while they were under US administration, formal claims were announced in 1971 when the US was preparing to end its administration.[44] A 1968 academic survey undertaken by United Nations Economic Council for Asia and the Far East found possible oil reserves in the area which many consider explains the emergence of Chinese claims,[45] a suggestion confirmed by statements made on the diplomatic records of the Japan-China Summit Meeting by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972.[46] However, supporters of China's claim that the sovereignty dispute is a legacy of Japanese imperialism and that China's failure to secure the territory following Japan's military defeat in 1945 was due to the complexities of the Chinese Civil War in which the Kuomintang (KMT) were forced off the mainland to Taiwan in 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party. Both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) respectively separately claim sovereignty based on arguments that include the following points:

  1. Discovery and early recording in maps and travelogues.[47]
  2. The islands being China's frontier off-shore defence against wokou (Japanese pirates) during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911).
  3. A Chinese map of Asia, as well as the Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu map compiled by Japanese cartographer Hayashi Shihei[48] in the 18th century,[47] showing the islands as a part of China.[47][49]
  4. Japan taking control of the islands in 1895 at the same time as the First Sino-Japanese War was happening. Furthermore, correspondence between Foreign Minister Inoue and Interior Minister Yamagata in 1885, warned against the erection of national markers and developing their land to avoid Qing Dynasty suspicions.[15][47][49][50]
  5. The Potsdam Declaration stating that "Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine", and "we" referred to the victors of the Second World War who met at Potsdam and Japan's acceptance of the terms of the Declaration when it surrendered.[49][51][52]
  6. China's formal protest of the 1971 US transfer of control to Japan.[53]

According to Chinese claims,[47] the islands were known to China since at least 1372,[54] had been repeatedly referred to as part of Chinese territory since 1534,[54] and were later controlled by the Qing dynasty along with Taiwan.[47] The earliest written record of Diaoyutai dates back to 1403 in a Chinese book Voyage with the Tail Wind (zh:順風相送),[55] which recorded the names of the islands that voyagers had passed on a trip from Fujian to the Ryukyu Kingdom.[12]

By 1534, all the major islets of the island group were identified and named in the book Record of the Imperial Envoy's Visit to Ryukyu (使琉球錄).[49] and were the Ming dynasty's (16th-century) sea-defense frontier.[49][54] One of the islands, Chihweiyu, marked the boundary of the Ryukyu Islands. This is viewed by the PRC and ROC as meaning that these islands did not belong to the Ryukyu Islands.[54]

Qing dynasty in 1820, with provinces in yellow, military governorates and protectorates in light yellow, tributary states in orange.

The First Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894 and after the Qing dynasty of China lost the war, both countries signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki on 17 April 1895. In Article 2(b) the Treaty stated that "the island of Formosa, together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa" should be ceded to Japan.[56] Although the Treaty did not specifically name every ceded island, the PRC and ROC argue that Japan did not include the islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture prior to 1894, and that the eventual inclusion occurred only as a consequence of China's cession of Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War.[54]

The Japanese government argues that the islands were not ceded by this treaty. In 1884, issues relating to the islands had been officially discussed by the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Inoue Kaoru and the Minister of the Interior Yamagata Aritomo before incorporating them in 1895.[15][47][49] shortly before Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War.[54] It is also claimed that Japanese references to these islands did not appear in governmental documents before 1884.[54]

The PRC and ROC governments claim that during negotiations with China over the Ryukyu Islands after the First Sino-Japanese War, the islands were not mentioned at all in a partition plan suggested by US ex-President Ulysses S. Grant.[54] The lease of the islands in 1896 and subsequent purchase in 1930 by the Koga family[54] were merely domestic arrangements made by the Japanese government which had no bearing on the legal status of the islands.

According to PRC, Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek failed to protest American decisions with regard to the disposition of the islands because he depended on the US for support.[5]

In April 2012, Taiwan declined an invitation from the PRC to work together to resolve the territorial dispute with Japan. Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Lai Shin-yuan said, "The ROC and Mainland China will not deal with the [Tiaoyutai Islands] disputes together. Mainland China said the two sides should solve these issues together, but that is not the approach we are taking because [Taiwan and Mainland China] already have sovereignty disputes. We insist on our sovereignty."[57]

Regarding Japan's argument about the 1953 People's Daily, Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University of China thinks that the article, which is anonymous, implies that Ryukyu Islands should be a sovereign state, also independent from Japan.[58] Other Chinese commentators, including a government research institution run by a retired People's Armed Police general,[59] extend the Chinese claim to the entire Ryukyu chain, including Okinawa.[60] In June 2013, The New York Times described the Chinese campaign "to question Japanese rule of [Okinawa and the Ryukyu] islands" as "semiofficial", noting that "almost all the voices in China pressing the Okinawa issue are affiliated in some way with the government."[61]

Japanese position

The stance given by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that the Senkaku Islands are clearly an inherent territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and the Senkaku Islands are under the valid control of Japan. They also state "there exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands."[13][62] The following points are given:

  1. The islands had been uninhabited and showed no trace of having been under the control of China prior to 1895.[63]
  2. The islands were neither part of Taiwan nor part of the Pescadores Islands, which were ceded to Japan by the Qing Dynasty of China in Article II of the May 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki,[63] thus were not later renounced by Japan under Article II of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.[64]
  3. A resident of Okinawa Prefecture who had been engaging in activities such as fishery around the Senkaku Islands since around 1884 made an application for the lease of the islands, and approval was granted by the Meiji Government in 1896. After this approval, he sent a total of 248 workers to those islands and ran the following businesses: constructing piers,[65] collecting bird feathers, manufacturing dried bonito, collecting coral, raising cattle, manufacturing canned goods and collecting mineral phosphate guano (bird manure for fuel use). The fact that the Meiji Government gave approval concerning the use of the Senkaku Islands to an individual, who in turn was able to openly run these businesses mentioned above based on the approval, demonstrates Japan's valid control over the Islands.[66]
  4. Though the islands were controlled by the United States as an occupying power between 1945 and 1972, Japan has since 1972 exercised administration over the islands.
  5. Japanese allege that Taiwan and China only started claiming ownership of the islands in 1971, following a May 1969 United Nations report that a large oil and gas reserve may exist under the seabed near the islands.[67][68]
  • The examples of Japanese valid control after the reversion to Japan of the administrative rights over Okinawa including the Senkaku Islands are as follows:
  1. Patrol and law enforcement. (e.g. law enforcement on illegal fishing by foreign fishing boats)
  2. Levying taxes on the owners of the Islands under private ownership. (in Kuba Island.)
  3. Management as state-owned land (in Taisho Island, Uotsuri Island, etc.)
  4. As for Kuba Island and Taisho Island, the Government of Japan has offered them to the United States since 1972 as facilities/districts in Japan under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.
  5. Researches by the Central Government and the Government of Okinawa Prefecture (e.g. Utilization and development research by Okinawa Development Agency (construction of temporary heliport, etc.) (1979), Fishery research by the Okinawa Prefecture (1981), Research on albatrosses commissioned by the Environment Agency (1994).).[13]

After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government surveyed the islands in 1885, which found that the islands were terra nullius and that there was no evidence to suggest that they had ever been under Chinese control.[67] At the time of this survey, however, Yamagata Aritomo, the minister of interior of the Meji government, took a cautious approach and put off the request to incorporate the islands. The Government of Japan made a Cabinet Decision on 14 January 1895, to erect markers on the islands to formally incorporate the Senkaku Islands into the territory of Japan through the surveys conducted by the Government of Japan, it was confirmed that the Senkaku Islands had been not only uninhabited but also showed no trace of having been under the control of the Qing Dynasty of China.[13][69]

Japan claims that neither China nor Ryukyu had recognized sovereignty over the uninhabited islands. Therefore, they claim that Chinese documents only prove that Kumejima, the first inhabited island reached by the Chinese, belonged to Okinawa. Kentaro Serita (芹田 健太郎) of Kobe University points out that the official history book of the Ming Dynasty compiled during the Qing Dynasty, called the History of Ming (明史), describes Taiwan in its "Biographies of Foreign Countries" (外国列传) section. Thus, China did not control the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan during the Ming Dynasty.[70]

A record in August 1617 of Ming Shilu, the annals of Ming dynasty emperors, shows that China did not control the Senkaku Islands. According to the record, the head of the Chinese coast guard[71] mentioned the names of islands, including one on the eastern edge of the Dongyin, Lienchiang, about 40 kilometers off the Chinese mainland, that was controlled by the Ming[72] and said the ocean beyond the islands was free for China and any other nation to navigate.[73] The Senkaku Islands are about 330 kilometers from the Chinese coast. This contradicts Beijing's claim that China have controlled Senkaku Islands since the Ming dynasty about 600 years ago and underlines Japan's position that they are an inherent part of this country's territory. An expert in international law, says "We know the Ming had effective control only of the coastal area from other historical sources. What is remarkable about this finding is that a Chinese official made a clear statement along these lines to a Japanese envoy. This proves the Senkaku Islands were not controlled by the Ming."[74][75]

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After a number of Chinese were rescued from a shipwreck in 1920, an official letter authored by the Chinese Consul Feng Mien (冯冕/馮冕) in Nagasaki on behalf of the Republic of China (中華民國) on 20 May 1921, made reference to "Senkaku Islands, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture, the Empire of Japan". The letter is on exhibition at Yaeyama museum.[76]

During a private visit 9 years after stepping down from office, former President of Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui, once said that the islands are part of Okinawa.[77]

United States' position

On 25 December 1953, U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus Proclamation 27 (USCAR 27) set geographical boundaries of the Ryukyu Islands that included the Senkaku Islands.[78] Moreover, during U.S. administration of the islands, the U.S. Navy built firing ranges on them and paid annual rent of $11,000 to Jinji Koga, son of the first Japanese settler of the islands.[79]

During the San Francisco Peace Treaty discussions, John Foster Dulles, chief U.S. delegate to the peace conference, set forth the concept that Japan had "residual sovereignty" over the Ryukyu Islands. According to an official analysis prepared by the U.S. Army, "residual Sovereignty" meant that "the United States will not transfer its sovereign powers over the Ryukyu Islands to any nation other than Japan." In June 1957, President Eisenhower confirmed this at the U.S.-Japan summit meeting, telling Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi that "residual sovereignty" over the Ryukyus meant that "the United States would exercise its rights for a period and that the sovereignty would then return to Japan." In March 1962, President Kennedy stated in an Executive Order for the Ryukyus that "I recognize the Ryukyus to be a part of the Japanese homeland and look forward to the day when the security interests of the Free World will permit their restoration to full Japanese sovereignty." Since there was no U.S. action to separate the Senkaku Islands from the Ryukyu, these applications of "residual sovereignty" appeared to include the Senkaku Islands.[79]

In the first quarter of 1971 U.S. officials became aware of and successfully opposed a Japanese proposal to set up a weather station on the islands.[80]

In May 1971, A report compiled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said "The Japanese claim to sovereignty over the Senkakus is strong, and the burden of proof of ownership would seem to fall on the Chinese". The CIA also said in related documents that any dispute between Japan, China and Taiwan over the islands would not have arisen, had it not been for the discovery around 1968 of potential oil reserves on the nearby continental shelf.[81]

On 7 June 1971, President Richard Nixon confirmed Japan's "residual sovereignty" over the Senkaku Islands just before a deal to return Okinawa Prefecture to Japan in a conversation with his national security adviser Henry Kissinger. Kissinger also told Nixon that "these (Senkaku) islands stayed with Okinawa" when Japan returned Taiwan to China after the end of World War II in 1945.[82]

The Nixon Administration removed the Senkakus from its inclusion in the concept of Japanese "residual sovereignty" in presenting the Okinawa Reversion Treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. On 20 October 1971, Secretary of State William Rogers sent a letter to U.S Congress. In his letter, Acting Assistant Legal Adviser Robert Starr stated "The United States believes that a return of administrative rights over those islands to Japan, from which the rights were received, can in no way prejudice any underlying claims. The United States cannot add to the legal rights Japan possessed before it transferred administration of the islands to us, nor can the United States, by giving back what it received, diminish the rights of other claimants... The United States has made no claim to the Senkaku Islands and considers that any conflicting claims to the islands are a matter for resolution by the parties concerned."[83] Several experts have attributed this Nixon Administration policy shift as having been influenced by White House overtures to China during 1971–1972, culminating in the Nixon visit to China.[79]

The United States Department of State has stated that it does not take an official position on who owns the islands. Top US government officials, however, have declared in 2004, 2010, and September 2012, that as Japan maintains effective administrative control on the islands, the islands fall under the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan which requires the US to assist Japan in defending the islands if anyone, including China, attacks or attempts to occupy or control them.[84]

On 29 November 2012, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an amendment to National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 stating the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands fall under the scope of a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan and Washington would defend Japan in the event of armed attacks.[85][86]

In May 2013, U.S. Department of Defense criticized the Chinese territorial claim in a report called "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2013".[87]

"In September 2012, China began using improperly drawn straight baseline claims around the Senkaku Islands, adding to its network of maritime claims inconsistent with international law."
"In December 2012, China submitted information to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding China's extended continental shelf in the East China Sea that includes the disputed islands."

On 30 July 2013, United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution condemning China's action over the Senkaku Islands. The Resolution titled "Senate Resolution 167—Reaffirming the Strong Support of the United States for the Peaceful Resolution of Territorial, Sovereignty, and Jurisdictional Disputes in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Domains", referring to the recent Chinese provocations near the Senkaku Islands, condemns "the use of coercion, threats, or force by naval, maritime security, or fishing vessels and military or civilian aircraft in the South China Sea and the East China Sea to assert disputed maritime or territorial claims or alter the status quo."[88][89][90]

In 2014 United States Pacific Commander Samuel J. Locklear said that he did not have sufficient resources to carry out a successful amphibious warfare campaign should the dispute lead to a war.[91] In April 2014 the United States will begin Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk patrols of the seas around the islands.[92]

On 23–25 April 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama made a state visit to Japan and held a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. President Obama expressed the commitments of Article 5 of Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan covered all territories under Japan's administration, including the Senkaku Islands in joint press conference and assurred by U.S.-Japan Joint Statement.[93][94] Barack Obama is the first president of the United States mentioned on Senkaku Islands covered under Article 5 of Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.[95]

Alternative approaches

When PRC-Japan diplomatic relations were established in 1972, both nations found reasons to set aside this territorial dispute.[96] According to negotiator Deng Xiaoping, "It does not matter if this question is shelved for some time, say, 10 years. Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will certainly find a solution acceptable to all."[97]

In 1969, the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) identified potential oil and gas reserves in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands. During subsequent decades, several rounds of bilateral talks considered joint-development of sub-seabed resources in disputed territorial waters. Such efforts to develop a cooperative strategy were unsuccessful.[98]

In 2008, a preliminary agreement on joint development of resources was reached but the agreement only includes the area far from these islands.[99]

In 2009 a hotline was agreed to (and in 2010 a military-to-military hotline), neither of which have been implemented.[100]

Disputes about the proximate causes

Explanations of the manifold causes of the intensified conflict involving the Senkaku Islands vary.[101][102] For example, some use the term "territorial dispute"; however, the Japanese government has consistently rejected this framing since the early 1970s.[103] An analysis of incidents and issues require distinguishing between disputes which are primarily over territory and those which merely have a territorial component.[104]

The real importance of the islands lies in the ... implications for the wider context of the two countries' approaches to maritime and island disputes, as well as in the way in which those issues can be used by domestic political groups to further their own objectives. – Zhongqi Pan.[105][106]

The media of various nations are closely monitoring developments[107] and attempting to explain the causes of the crisis, e.g.,

The historical record is a backdrop for each new incident in the unfolding chronology of these islands.[113][114]


While Taiwan and China first publicly claimed the islands in 1971 (in February[115] and December,[54][116] respectively), there were no major incidents between the three states regarding the islands until the 1990s. Since 2004, however, several events, including naval encounters, scrambled fighter jets, diplomatic efforts, and massive public protests, have heightened the dispute.

Incidents at or near the islands

ROC Coast Guard vessel and Japan Coast Guard vessel.

In 1996 the Hong Kong based activist David Chan Yuk-cheung drowned while attempting to swim to one of the islands. Since 2006, vessels from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have entered waters that Japan claims as part of its exclusive economic zone connected with the islands on a number of occasions. In some cases, the incursions have been carried out by Chinese and Taiwanese protesters, such as in 2006 when a group of activists from the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands approached the islands; the group was stopped by the Japanese Coast Guard prior to landing.[117] In June 2008 activists from Taiwan, accompanied by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, approached within 0.4 nautical miles (740 m) of the main island, from which position they circumnavigated the island in an assertion of sovereignty of the islands.[118] In 2011, a fishing boat carrying some activists navigated to within 23 nautical miles of the islands. Japan sent coast guard vessels to block the ship and a helicopter to monitor its actions, subsequent to which the Coast Guard Agency Keelung office of Taiwan sent five patrol vessels. After a short standoff between the two groups of vessels, the Taiwanese fleet returned to their own territory.[119][120] In July 2012, Coastguard vessels from Taiwan and Japan collided while the Taiwanese vessel was escorting activists to the area.[121] In August 2012, activists from Hong Kong were able to swim ashore after their boat was stopped by the Japan Coast Guard. The activists were detained and then deported two days later.[122] In January 2013, a boat carrying activists from Taiwan was intercepted by Japanese patrols and diverted from an attempted landing on the islands through the use of water cannons.[123]

In addition, a number of incidents have occurred due to the presence of Chinese or Taiwanese fishing vessels in sea zones claimed by Japan. In some cases, these incidents have resulted in a collision between boats. The first major event occurred in 2008, when a Taiwanese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel collided. The passengers were released, but the captain was detained for three days.[124] Later in June, after releasing video taken by the Taiwanese boat, Japan apologized for the incident[125] and agreed to pay NT$10 million (US$311,000) as compensation to the owner of the boat.[126] On 7 September 2010, a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the islands. The collisions occurred after the Japanese Coast Guard ordered the trawler to leave the area. After the collisions, Japanese sailors boarded the Chinese vessel and arrested the captain Zhan Qixiong.[127] Japan held the captain until 24 September.[128] Each country blamed the other for the collision.[62]

While Japanese government vessels regularly patrol the ocean surrounding the islands, Japanese civilians have also entered the area. In July 2010, nine Japanese boats fished in the area. A spokesman from Ganbare Nippon, which owned one of the vessels, stated it was done specifically to assert Japanese sovereignty over the islands.[129] In August 2012, Ganbare Nippon organized a group of four vessels carrying Japanese activists travelling to the islands,[130] carrying about 150 Japanese activists.[131] The Japanese government denied the groups the right to land, after which a number swam to shore and raised a Japanese flag.[132]

On some occasions, ships and planes from various Chinese and Taiwanese government and military agencies have entered the disputed area. In addition to the cases where they escorted fishing and activist vessels as described above, there have been other incursions. In an eight-month period in 2012, over forty maritime incursions and 160 aerial incursions occurred.[133] For example, in July 2012, three Chinese patrol vessels entered the disputed waters around the islands.[134] On 13 December 2012, a Chinese government aircraft entered Japanese-controlled airspace for the first time since records began in 1958,[135] following months of incursions by Chinese surface vessels.[136] The Japan Air Self-Defense Force scrambled eight F-15 fighters and an airborne early warning aircraft in response to the Chinese flight. The Japanese government made a formal diplomatic protest to China.[137]

The most direct confrontation to date between the countries' official vessels occurred in September 2012. Seventy five Taiwanese fishing vessels were escorted by ten Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels to the area, and the Taiwanese Coast Guard ships clashed with Japanese Coast Guard ships. Both sides fired water cannons at each other and used LED lights and loudspeakers to announce their respective claims to the islands.[138]

Military escalation continued in 2013. The two sides sent fighter airplanes to monitor ships and other planes in the area.[139] In February, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera revealed that a Chinese frigate had locked weapons-targeting radar onto a Japanese destroyer and helicopter on two occasions in January.[140] The Chinese Jiangwei II class frigate and the Japanese destroyer were three kilometers apart, and the crew of the latter went to battle stations.[141] The Chinese state media responded that their frigates had been engaged in routine training at the time.[142] In late February 2013, U.S. intelligence detected China moving road-mobile ballistic missiles closer to the coast near the disputed islands, this included DF-16s.[143] In May 2013, a warship flotilla from North Sea Fleet deployed from Qingdao for training exercises western North Pacific Ocean.[144] In October 2013 the Chinese Ministry of Defense responded to reports that if Chinese drones entered what Japan considered its territory Japan might shoot them down by declaring that China would consider such an action an "act of war." State-controlled media in China warned that "a war looms following Japan's radical provocation" while expressing confidence that "China's comprehensive military power... is stronger than Japan's."[145] USN Captain James Fanell has claimed that Mission Action 2013 was a dress rehearsal for a PLA seizure of the islands.[146]

Since October 2013, patrols by the Chinese Coast Guard in the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands have greatly decreased.[147]

The number of Chinese vessels entering the territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands.[148]


The number of Scrambling by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force against foreign aircraft. (2006–2015)[149][150][151][152][153][154]

  •   China
  •   Others

Diplomatic results

The various governments have lodged protests and criticisms of each other in response to the unfolding situation in and around the islands. For example, the Taiwanese government recalled its highest representative to Japan in the wake of the 2008 collision.[155] Similarly, the Chinese government protested the 2012 Ganbare Nippon incident.[156] The 2010 collision incident resulted in a significant increase in tensions between the two countries, both during the event as they argued over the release of the fishing boat crew, and after, as both said they would seek compensation from the other for damages.[157]


There have been a number of public protests in all three countries, often triggered by the specific incidents noted above. The first major set of protests revolved around the 2010 boat collision, with protests being held in Japan, China, and Taiwan. In 2012, major protests began in August 2012 after reports that the Japanese government was considering purchasing the islands. The protests continued after the formal purchase into the middle of September. At the height of the protests, there were demonstrations in as many as 85 Chinese cities,[158] along with Hong Kong[159] and the United States.[160] In many cases, these protests included anti-Japanese violence, vandalism, and arson.[161][162][163]


East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zones

China decided to implement an "Air Defense Identification Zone" around the islands and the broader region in order to "guard against potential air threats," according to the defence ministry. Japan reacted to the news by calling the move "very dangerous." On 23 November 2013, China then sent air force jets, including fighter planes, to carry out a patrol mission.[164] According to CNN, most of the zone was north of the islands.[165] On 26 November 2013, declaring the area international waters and airspace, the United States flew two B-52 bomber aircraft through the zone without incident. A spokesman for the United States military stated that "The U.S. military will continue conducting flight operations in the region, including with our allies and partners.... We will not register a flight plan, we will not identify our transponder, our radio frequency and logo."[166]

Since the imposition, U.S. B-52 aircraft and South Korean and Japanese military aircraft have violated it.[167] The U.S. also warned its commercial airlines to be cautious about the area.[168] China then sent fighter jets on patrol duty in the area[169] as a "defensive measure."[170]

According to a 2012 poll jointly conducted by mainland-based Global Times and Taiwan-based China Times, residents of Taiwan differ from their mainland counterparts in terms of willingness to ultimately resort to military means, with 91% of mainland residents saying warfare should not be ruled out versus only 41% on the island.[171]

To assist in the intruders detection in Senkaku Islands region, the Japan from 28 March 2016 has opened a radar station at Yonaguni island, resulting in a furious Chinese response.[172][173]


In 2014, the PRC complained about Japanese plans to teach students about ownership of the islands.[174]

Other incidents

See also


  1. Ogura, Junko (14 October 2010). "Japanese party urges Google to drop Chinese name for disputed islands". US: CNN.
  2. Kristof, Nicholas (10 September 2010). "Look Out for the Diaoyu Islands". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  3. JOHN W. FINNEYSpecial to The New York Times (11 November 1971). "SENATE ENDORSES OKINAWA TREATY – Votes 84 to 6 for Island's Return to Japan – Rioters There Kill a Policeman Senate, in 84 to 6 Vote, Approves the Treaty Returning Okinawa to Japan – Front Page". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  4. Lee, Seokwoo et al. (2002). Territorial disputes among Japan, Taiwan and China concerning the Senkaku Islands, pp. 11–12., p. 11, at Google Books
  5. 1 2 "Q&A: China-Japan islands row" BBC News 11 September 2012
  6. Philip J. Crowley, Remarks to the Press United States Department of State, 23 September 2010
  7. "U.S. says Senkaku Islands fall within scope of Japan-U.S. security treaty". Kyodo News. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  8. "Anti-Japan protesters rally in Beijing". Agence France-Presse.
  9. "Viewpoints: How serious are China-Japan tensions?". BBC. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  10. 【佐藤優の眼光紙背】1997年11月11日付の小渕書簡があるため日本政府は尖閣諸島周辺の中国漁船を取り締まることができない(眼光紙背) – BLOGOS(ブロゴス).
  11. UKAI, SATOSHI (25 January 2014). "Japan, Taiwan agree on fishing rules in waters around Senkakus". Asahi Shimbun. The Asahi Shimbun Company. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Unryu Suganuma (2000). Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 89–97. ISBN 0-8248-2493-8.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Q&A on the Senkaku Islands". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
  14. [Article II{b}], Treaty of Shimonoseki
  15. 1 2 3 Japan's action off Diaoyu raises concern, China Daily, 10 September 2010
  16. Durdin, Tillman. "Peking Claims Disputed Oil-Rich Isles," The New York Times. 6 December 1970.
  17. Durdins, Tillman. "Okinawa Islands Returned by U.S. to Japanese Rule; Agnew, in Tokyo, Declares 'Last Major Issue' of the Pacific War Is Resolved U.S. Returns Okinawa to Japanese Rule," The New York Times. 15 May 1972. See also, Reversion to Japan of the Ryukyu and Daito Islands, official text
  18. Seokwoo, Lee. "Territorial Disputes among Japan, China and Taiwan concerning the Senkaku Islands (Boundary & Territory Briefing Vol.3 No.7)": 10. ISBN 9781897643501.
  19. Lee, Seokwoo. "Territorial Disputes among Japan, China and Taiwan concerning the Senkaku Islands". Boundary & Territory Briefing. IBRU. 3 (7): 30. ISBN 1897643500. As this research has made clear above, the determination of the relevant "critical date"is the key point for resolving the territorial disputes over the Senaku Islands. Should it be January 1895, as claimed by the Chinese side, when Japan incorporated the Senkaku Islands into Japanese territory, or February 1971 (in the case of Taiwan) and December 1971 (in the case of China), as claimed by Japan, when Japan made known her official standpoint to both governments? China/Taiwan has mainly relied on historical evidence, whose probative value might be in doubt. On the other hand, Japanese arguments are premised on very recent acts of the exercise of state authority, which directly relate with the disputed Senkaku Islands. Accordingly, and having regard to the various factual and legal issues explored above, one is inclined to conclude that Japan has a stronger claim to the disputed islands. In other words, the critical date in this case should be February 1971 (in the case of Taiwan) and December 1971 (in the case of China), as claimed by Japan. This is the more so that historical evidence relating to territorial disputes does not have its own value as history alone, but should be evaluated within the framework of international law on territorial acquisition and loss.
  20. 琉球群岛人民反对美国占领的斗争
  21. 琉球群島散佈在我國台灣東北和日本九洲島西南之間的海面上,包括尖閣諸島、先島諸島、大東諸島、沖繩諸島、大島諸島、土噶喇諸島、大隅諸島等七組島嶼,
  22. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Q&A, Senkaku Islands, Q4/A4.3. "In addition, an article in the People's Daily dated 8 January 1953, under the title of "Battle of people in the Ryukyu Islands against the U.S. occupation", made clear that the Ryukyu Islands consist of 7 groups of islands including the Senkaku Islands.". Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  23. Representative Office of Japan to PNA, Newsletter #2, November 2010; see Item 3; "... an article in the People's Daily dated January 8, 1953, under the title of "Battle of people in the Ryukyu Islands against the U.S. occupation", made clear that the Ryukyu Islands consist of 7 groups of islands including the Senkaku Islands"; accord Embassy of Japan in Israel, Newsletter #2, October 2010 see Item 4.
  24. Suganuma, Unryu (2001). Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations: Irredentism and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. University of Hawaii Press. p. 127. ISBN 0-8248-2493-8. To make matters worse, when on January 8, 1953, Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], the official propaganda organ for the Communist Party, criticized the occupation of Ryukyu Islands (or Okinawa Prefecture) by the United States, it stated that "the Ryukyu Islands are located northeast of our Taiwan Islands...including Senkaku Shoto. According to this statement, the PRC recognized that the Diaoyu (J:Senkaku) Islands were a part of Liuqiu Islands (or Okinawa Prefecture). In other words, the Diaoyu Islands belonged neither to Taiwan nor to mainland China, but to Japan.
  25. Shaw, Han-yi (1999). The Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands dispute: its history and an analysis of the ownership claims of the P.R.C., R.O.C., and Japan, Issue 3. University of Maryland. p. 34. ISBN 0-925153-67-2. With respect to the PRC, a front page news report that appeared on the October 3, 1996 edition of the Sankei Shimbun, reported that the PRC government evidently recognized the disputed islands as Japanese territory as revealed in a government sponsored publication. This particular publication is identified as the January 8, 1953 edition of The Peoples' Daily, China's official party newspaper, in which an article entitled " The People of the Ryukyu Islands Struggle Against American occupation" noted the Senkaku Islands as one of the subgroups of islands that constituted the Ryukyu Islands.
  26. "Why Japan claims the Senkaku Islands". Asahi shimbun. Japan. 25 September 2010. Archived from the original on 29 September 2010.; "In his book "Gendai Chugoku Nenpyo" (Timeline on modern China), Masashi Ando referred to a People's Daily article dated 8 January 1953, which makes reference to the "Senkaku Islands in Okinawa".
  27. Ando, Masashi (2010). Gendai Chūgoku nenpyō, 1941–2008. [Modern Chinese Chronological Table 1941-2008] (in Japanese). Iwanami shoten. p. 88. ISBN 978-4-00-022778-0. 「人民日報」が米軍軍政下の沖縄の尖閣諸島(当時の中国の呼び方のまま. 現在中国は「釣魚島」という)で日本人民の米軍の軍事演習に反対する闘争が行われていると報道. 「琉球諸島はわが国台湾の東北および日本九州島の西南の間の海上に散在し、尖閣諸島、先島諸島、大東諸島、沖縄諸島、大島諸島、吐噶喇諸島、大隅諸島など7つの島嶼からなっている」と紹介(新華月報:1953-7); read Google Chinese-English translation
  28. "Maehara: People's Daily described Senkaku Islands as Japan's in 1953". Japan Times. 29 September 2010. The People's Daily described the Ryukyu Islands as "dispersed between the northeastern part of our country's Taiwan and the southwestern part of Japan's Kyushu Island" and as including the Senkaku Islands as well as the Sakishima Islands, Maehara said.
  29. 对日和约中关于领土部份问题与主张提纲草案
  30. 北中南三部 中部是沖縄諸島(...) 南部是宮古群島和八重山群島(尖頭諸嶼)
  31. 东經123° – 125° 北纬25° 30' – 26° 間之尖閣諸島及东經124° – 125° 北纬25° 30' – 26° 間之赤尾嶼亦是台灣甚近是非應划入台灣亦須研究
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  33. "As far back as 1950, China referred to Senkakus as part of Ryukyus". The Asahi Shimbun. 28 December 2012. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012.
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  39. Lee, p. 11., p. 11, at Google Books; excerpt: "Further support for Japan's claim is the fact that" in the World Atlas, Volume 1, East Asia Nations, 1st edition, published in October 1965, by the National Defense Research Academy and the China Geological Research Institute of Taiwan, and in the People's Middle School Text-book.
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  41. 「国民中学地理教科書・第四冊(Geography textbook for national junior high schools)」January 1970
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