In light of Bill Gertz's Jan. 9 "Inside the Ring," which includes mention of a declassified CIA report from May 1971 that addressed the Diaoyutai (Senkaku in Japanese) islets dispute in the East China Sea, we feel the need to set the record straight about the islands' history and ownership.
The historical documents show that these islets have been under Chinese rule since the Ming dynasty in the 15th century. The waters around the islets were a popular location for Taiwan's fishermen, who fished in that area every spring and even went ashore to gather bird eggs. To this day, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is the only claimant to actually use the islands. Later on, the Diaoyutai islets, along with Taiwan, became the territory of Qing China. They were placed under Kavalan County, Taiwan, by gazetteers starting in the mid-18th century, well before the earliest Japanese references were made in the late 19th century, as mentioned in the report.
In fact, Japanese claims of sovereignty over the islets extend from a secret Cabinet decision in 1895 in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War. The confidential decision was contrary to established conventions, such as when Japan annexed the Ryukyu Islands in 1879 through the Japanese emperor's public decree.
After World War II, Japan returned Taiwan and "the surrounding islands" to the ROC (Taiwan). When the United States transferred administrative rights over the Diaoyutai islets to Japan in 1972, it clearly reiterated that this did not constitute a transfer of the islets' sovereignty to Japan. The United States has since maintained a policy of neutrality.
The resolution of the sovereignty issue will take time, but there are steps we can take immediately to reduce tension and foster peace. ROC President Ma Ying-Jeou proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative on Aug. 5, 2012, to relax the growing tension, by offering a framework through which claimants may resolve territorial disputes. The initiative would replace confrontation with dialogue and shelve controversies through consultations. Through this approach, the parties can also examine the feasibility of jointly exploring and developing resources in the East China Sea.
FRANK YEE WANG
Director, Press Division
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States