Tensions erupted over the Senkaku Islands (also known as Diaoyutai Islands) in the East China Sea recently when Japanese activists landed on an island claimed by Japan, Taiwan and China. The nationalists in both Taiwan and China see the islands as unquestionably theirs. So which of these countries has the best claim to the islands?
For almost four decades, Taiwan has disputed Japan’s sovereignty over the small, rocky Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. A mountain of historical evidence indicates the Senkaku Islands have been Chinese territory since the 14th century. The Republic of China (Taiwan) has never renounced its inherent ownership over the archipelagoes. The Japanese snatched these uninhabited isles during an aggressive military expansion in the late 19th century, and they occupied the islands for an extended period during the Cold War by taking advantage of the international circumstances of that period.
Japan’s claim of ownership over the Senkaku Islands is based on three arguments: First, when Japan found the islands, they were uninhabited, then Japan put the islands under its formal jurisdiction after it seized them in 1895 and finally, the islands are part of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and its ownership over Ryukyu Islands is recognized by the United States.
But as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Chinese government included the Senkaku Islands in the coastal defense scope of Fujian Province. Japan’s snatching of the Senkaku Islands by force in 1895 does not mean the ownership of the islands has changed hands. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of geography knows the Senkaku Islands have no direct link with Japan’s Ryukyu Islands. The Senkaku Islands lie on the periphery of the continental shelf in the East China Sea, divided from the Japanese Islands by the Okinawa Oceanic Trough.
The Senkaku Islands lie less than 62 miles from Taiwan and it is a historical fact the Senkaku Islands constitutes an entity with Taiwan’s territory. The Taiwan government, on behalf of its Taiwanese people, claims ownership of the Senkaku Islands. Japan’s argument is not even worthy of refuting and Japan’s claim that its ownership is recognized by the United States is also shaky.
Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, Taiwan