Note: Here’s an article from Shukan Bunshun, a Japanese weekly tabloid. Reprinted here not as an endorsement, but to give readers an idea of what Japanese media are saying about the Senkaku islands situation. The essay was published before the events of Friday. Thanks to our ever-helpful JSW pal for the translation!

An MSDF P-3C patrols the Senkaku Islands (Source: AP)

An MSDF P-3C patrols the Senkaku Islands (Source: AP)

The reasons why the Senkaku islands are Japan territory

(By Akira Ikegami, Weekly magazine “Shukan Bunshun”, 13 September 2012)

Suspicious incidents have been occurring lately — the Korean President landed on Takeshima, and a group of Chinese activists landed on one of the Senkaku Islands.  I wrote about the reasons why Takeshima belongs to Japan in my article last week; so for this week, I’d like to write about the reasons why the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, and what the Chinese really want.

History proves that in the past, Korea did not dispute that Takeshima was Japanese territory, and China did not dispute that the Senkaku islands were also Japanese territory.  In fact, there are historical records that both countries acknowledged those facts.

However, matters changed when the United Nations Far East Asia Economic Committee released a report of their discovery that oil reserves might be found under the sea near the Senkaku islands.   The following year, in 1970, Taiwan and China simultaneously claimed the Senkaku Islands as their territory.

It is obvious where the sudden interest sprouted from.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China.  During the negotiation phase of the diplomatic relations normalization process between the two Prime Ministers in 1972, Kakuei Tanaka asked Zhou Enlai, “What are your thoughts on the Senkaku islands?  I have many people complaining about this issue.”  Tanaka failed to clearly communicate that Japan is claiming Senkaku as Japanese territory in that statement.  Zhou’s response was, “I do not wish to discuss the Senkaku issues.  This is not the right time to bring this up.  It became an issue because of the oil reserves.  If there weren’t any reserves, there wouldn’t be an issue — even with the U.S. or Taiwan.”

Essentially, China wanted to put that issue on the backburner while the normalization process was taking place, but Zhou clearly stated that the fundamental issue with the Senkaku is the “oil reserves”.

In 1978, after the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China was finalized, a meeting between Japan’s Prime Minister (Takeo Fukuda) and China’s deputy Prime Minister (Deng Xiaoping) was held.  Deng Xiaoping stated during this meeting, “Our nations face many issues.  For example, we call the disputed islands Diaoyu Islands but Japan calls it the Senkaku Islands.  This issue is too complicated to discuss at this time.  We may not be able to find resolution to this issues due to lack of ideas, but our next generation may be smarter and find a resolution.”

It appears this generation doesn’t have any ideas to resolve this issue either, but it appears China feels it’s smart to continue to claim the islands if oil reserves are found under the sea.

The Senkaku islands became Japan territory in January of 1895.  The islands were uninhabited and were not under the control of the Qing Dynasty.  Japanese began settling there and the manufacture of bonito flakes began.  Japan won the Sino-Japanese War and occupied Taiwan and the Penghu islands, but the Senkaku islands were already Japanese territory back then.  Although Japan released Taiwan and the Penghu islands, the Senkaku islands were not a part of the series of Taiwan-related occupations, so they remained Japan territory.  The Senkaku islands fell under the U.S. occupation, along with the islands of Okinawa, post WW-II, but were returned to Japan after the 1972 Okinawa Reversion Agreement.

There are many documented proofs that China and Taiwan recognized the Senkaku islands as Japanese territory.  For example, when a Chinese fisherman from Fujian was lost at sea in the vicinity of the Senkaku in 1919, residents of Uotsuri-Jima (one of Senkaku islands) saved him.  The next year the Chinese Ambassador at the time wrote a letter of appreciation and clearly stated that the man was lost in the vicinity of “Senkaku Islands, Yaeyama County, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan”.  Furthermore, in an article about the Ryukyu (Okinawa) islands written by the People’s Daily in China, the Senkaku islands are listed as a part of the Ryukyu islands.

There’s more.  In maps published by Taiwan and China between the years of 1930-1960, Senkaku Islands are not listed as Taiwan territory.  Both Taiwan and China have recognized in their own publications and documents that the Senkaku islands are Japanese territory — their claims do not make any sense.

Even so, China has long-term plans.  They intend to subsume Taiwan.

Taiwan claimed territorial rights to the Senkaku islands in 1970.  China followed that lead and began claiming territorial rights too.  China’s logic is:  ”Taiwan owns Senkaku”, “China owns Taiwan”, therefore “China owns Senkaku”.  China’s hidden message is that they are not competing with Taiwan to claim the Senkaku islands.  Their view is that Taiwan IS their territory, so if the Senkakus fall under Taiwan, they naturally fall under China too.

Currently, Taiwan’s policy is to refrain from competing against China in terms of the Senkaku Islands.  They do not want to take any chances of being engulfed by China.

China wants to absorb Taiwan more than anything.  We truly cannot use the term “return” in this case, because Taiwan was never a part of China.  However, China cannot resort to forceful option because the U.S. is obligated to protect Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, and China will avoid that at all cost.  China is currently scheming a plan of attack that will not get the U.S. involved … and the only way to do that is to have territorial rights to the East China Sea (ECS).

China decided to build an aircraft carrier for this long-term strategy.  They plan to deploy an aircraft carrier, with tactical bombers and fighter jets, in the middle of ECS, and also deploy large numbers of submarines, so even the powerful U.S. Navy will not be able to approach Taiwan.  In order to claim the ECS, China must be able to dispatch their Naval vessels in the vicinity of Senkakus whenever they want.

Initially, it was believed that China simply wanted the oil reserves by claiming rights to the Senkaku islands, but it seems their “true intent” is to subsume Taiwan.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch