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History may not be enough to cement Diaoyutais claims

Publication Date : 17-09-2012


Who really owns the Diaoyutai Islands? “In resolving the Diaoyutais controversy, the most important basis is history. Then it's international law. Pumping up the patriotism and the nationalism is futile,” said former President Lee Teng-hui in the latest edition of Japanese weekly Shukan Bunshun.

Lee has long insisted that as far as history in concerned, the true owner of the Diaoyutai Islands is Japan.

“The Dioayutais have always belonged to Japan,” said Lee, citing his years of study on Japanese and Taiwanese history.

Nearly instantly, Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi hit back with what we have heard for weeks — that the Diaoyutais are Taiwan's, have always been Taiwan's and should for posterity belong to their rightful owner, which is, naturally, Taiwan.

In the din of territory claiming, it's instinct to raise the government banner. Still, it's crucial to know if our government line has any basis in truth. Fan Chiang could be right — but it's perfectly plausible too that Lee could be.

For that matter, so could every other party that has dug in its heels over the archipelago that's said, but not proven, to hold rich oil reserves beneath its surrounding ocean floor. In the Diaoyutais controversy, each party and every nation has an opinion founded on private interest.

Who is most right? Let's see what history says.

In the 15th century, the Diaoyutais were part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was a tributary state of China's Ming Dynasty.

In 1609, Japan invaded and occupied the Ryukyu Kingdom, which included the Diaoyutais. Japan formally claimed the Diaoyutais in 1895, incorporating them into the Okinawa Prefecture after winning the Sino-Japanese War.

In 1945, Japan lost World War II. And here's the contention.

The terms of their surrender — spelled out in the Potsdam Declaration — bound Japan to the 1943 Cairo Communique. The communique stipulated that “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.” All territories included the Diaoyutais.

The problem is that the final peace terms — the Treaty of San Francisco — superseded the Potsdam Declaration. Under Article 3 of the treaty, the Ryuku Islands were handed over to US trusteeship. The US considered the Diaoyutais part of the Ryukyu territory, and was thereby theirs to administer as they wished.

The Kuomintang and the PRC, neither of which were invited to the treaty negotiation, were not in a position to object.

In 1972, US-Japan negotiations resulted in the US signing the Diaoyutais over to Japan. It was also at this time that the ROC and the PRC began to declare ownership.

Bottom line? Each claimant is partly right. But going purely by history, the Chinese government has the oldest claim. The Chinese government also has a claim sanctioned by the fairer treaty — the one that was signed and openly discussed by all the stakeholders. The Chinese administration at the signing of the Cairo Communique was Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang, which is currently based in Taiwan.

So the answer is that it's us — we really can float a legitimate claim on the Diaoyutais.

On the downside, the aggravating thing about being right is that it usually doesn't matter. If there's anything that's consistent about the way the world works, it's that victory is rarely on the side of the righteous. It wasn't with the Mayans during the Spanish conquest, and it wasn't with the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears.

Victory is on the side of the big guns. These include literal guns and other armaments, economic might, cultural clout, patriotic conviction and pure aggression — all resources that win friends and influence people around the globe. Former President Lee could be partly right about Japan's claim on the Diaoyutais, but he's beyond wrong about how any nation can truly cement a territorial claim. Forget history, forget treaties. Try nationalism.


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