retro cession

Senkaku Islands

The , also known as Diàoyútái Qúndǎo (釣魚台群島 (Traditional Chinese), 钓鱼台群岛 (Simplified Chinese)), or the Pinnacle Islands, are a group of disputed, uninhabited islands currently controlled by Japan, but also claimed by the Republic of China (as part of Toucheng Township in Yilan County, Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China. The islands are located roughly northeast of Taiwan, due west of Okinawa, and due north of the end of the Ryukyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Their status has emerged as a major issue in foreign relations between the People's Republic of China and Japan and between Japan and the Republic of China. Japanese government regards these islands as a part of Okinawa prefecture. While the complexity of the PRC-ROC relation has affected efforts to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty over the islands, both governments agree that the islands are part of Taiwan province.


Diaoyutai Islands

The first recorded naming of the islands dated back to the Ming Dynasty of China (14th-17th century) in books such as Voyage with the Tail Wind (順風相送), Journey to Ryu Kyu (使琉球錄). The Chinese Imperial Map of the Ming Dynasty also used Diaoyudao Islands.

The Chinese name for the island group (Diaoyu) and the Japanese name for the main island (Uotsuri) both literally mean "Angling".

Pinnacle Islands

In the 19th century, the Pinnacle Islands or Pinnacle Group was an English-language name used for the rocks adjacent to, but not including, the largest island Uotsuri Jima/Diaoyu Dao (then called Hoa-pin-su). Neither Kuba Jima/Huangwei Yu (then called Ti-a-usu) nor Taishō Jima/Chiwei Yu (then called "Raleigh Rock") were part of the Pinnacle Islands either.

However, in recent years the name "Pinnacle Islands" has come to be used to refer to the entire island group, as an English-language equivalent to "Diaoyu" or "Senkaku".

Senkaku Islands

In the late 19th century, and were translations used for these "Pinnacle Islands" by various Japanese sources. Subsequently, the entire island group (including Uotsuri Jima/Diaoyu Dao and all the others) came to be called Senkaku Rettō, which later evolved into Senkaku Shotō.


The islands group

The islands sit on the edge of the continental shelf of mainland Asia, and are separated from the Ryukyu Islands by a sea trench. Japan argues that these islets are part of the Ryukyu Islands. They are north of Ishigaki Island, Japan; northeast of Keelung, Taiwan; and west of Okinawa Island.

The group is made up of five small non-volcanic islands:

Uotsuri Jima/Diaoyu Dao

Uotsuri Jima (魚釣島) or Diaoyudao (釣魚島) is the largest island of the Senkaku Islands. The Island located at has an area of 4,3 km² (1,7 sq mi) and a highest elevation of 383m (1,256 ft).

Uotsuri jima has a number of endemic species such as the Senkaku mole ( Nesoscaptor uchidai) and Okinawa-kuro-oo-ari ant, but these have become threatened by domestic goats that were introduced to the island in 1978 and whose population has increased to over 300 since that time.

Kuba Jima/Huangwei Yu

Kuba Jima (久場島) or Huangwei Yu (黃尾嶼) is located at has an area of and a highest elevation of .

Taishō Jima/Chiwei Yu

Taishō Jima (大正島) or Chiwei Yu (赤尾嶼) is located at has an area of and a highest elevation of . Both the People's Republic of China and Republic of China claim it as their easternmost island.

The US Navy used Kuba Jima/Huangwei Yu and Taisho Jima/Chiwei Yu as maneuver areas after World War II.

Kita Kojima/Bei Xiaodao

Kita Kojima (北小島) or Bei Xiaodao is located at and has an area of 0.31 km² (77 acres) and a highest elevation of 125 m (410 ft).

Nan Xiaodao/Minami Kojima

Minami Kojima (南小島) or Nan Xiaodao is located at and has an area of 0.40 km² (100 acres) and a highest elevation of 139 m (456 ft).

Minami Kojima is one of the few breeding places of the rare Short-tailed Albatross.

Other islands

There are also three larger rocks:

  • , highest elevation 2m (6½ ft)

Territorial dispute

The islands are currently administered by Japan as a part of Ishigaki City, Okinawa prefecture. According to both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC), the islands are part of Taiwan Province (Daxi Village (大溪里), Toucheng Township, Yilan County).

Beginning of the dispute

From the end of World War II until 1972, the United States occupied Okinawa, and controlled the disputed islands. In 1971, the US expressed its intention to hand over the occupied territories, including the disputed islands, to Japan. In response, both the PRC and ROC governments protested and reiterated their sovereignty over the islands. The ROC made the official announcement on June 11, 1971, followed by the PRC on December 30. Despite the Chinese protests, the United States handed over the disputed islands to Japan in 1972. However, the US has not taken a definitive position on the sovereignty of the territory, treating the islands only as Japan's "administrative territory". The dispute appears to date from the 1968 announcement by two Japanese scientists that there may be large reservoirs of oil under the continental shelf below the islands. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives a 200 nautical mile "exclusive economic zone" and sovereignty over the seabed resources therein, meaning that whoever owned the Senkakus would gain economic control over important seabed resources.

Chinese claims

The Chinese claim to Senkaku Islands, in brief, proceeds as follows: the islands were known to the Chinese at least since the Ming Dynasty, and were controlled by the Qing Dynasty along with Taiwan; they were ceded to Japan under an Unequal Treaty in 1895 along with Taiwan; Between 1895 and 1945, Japan administered the islands as part of Taiwan; Unequal Treaties are null and void; and in any case sovereignty to the disputed islands was returned to China along with Taiwan in 1945. It should be noted that well after WWII the Chinese referred to the islands as belonging to Japan. For example, a Nov 1953 Renmin Ribao article on the "Ryukyun People's Struggle Against US Occupation" has an opening sentence that refers to "the Senkakus," using the Chinese version of the Japanese name and identifying them as part of Japan. As late as 1969 maps from China showed the Senkakus as Japanese. Similarly, before 1969 maps issued from Taipei either ignore the islands or depict them as lying outside Republic of China sovereignty.

Ming Dynasty claim

China claims that the islands were within the Ming Dynasty's sea-defense area and are a part of Taiwan. According to the Chinese, China's sovereignty over the islands is dated to early 15th century, during the reign of the Ming Dynasty. The name Diaoyutai first appeared in 1403 in the Chinese book Voyage with the Tail Wind (順風相送), which recorded the names of the islands that voyagers had passed on a trip from Fujian to the Ryukyu Kingdom. By 1534, all the major islets of the island group had been identified and named in the book Record of the Imperial Envoy to Ryukyu(使琉球錄).

Qing Dynasty claim

From 1624 until 1662, Taiwan and some of its surrounding islands, though not the Senkakus, were controlled by the Dutch as a base for commerce. In 1662, the Dutch were driven out by ex-Ming Dynasty general Zheng Chenggong (more popularly known as Koxinga). Zheng Chenggong and his successors established the Kingdom of Tungning and controlled the area until 1683. That year, Zheng's grandson Zheng Keshuang was defeated by Qing Dynasty forces led by Admiral Shi Lang. From then on, Qing Dynasty China gained effective control over Taiwan and its surrounding islands, including the islands in dispute today.

Unequal Treaties

After losing the First Sino-Japanese War, Qing China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki on 17 April, 1895. This Unequal Treaty ceded Taiwan and its surrounding islands to Japan. The Chinese governments see the disputed islands as having been included in the islands ceded to Japan by the treaty, because of the historical evidence discussed above, even though the Treaty did not explicitly enumerate all the islands ceded under it.

On this basis, they argue for Chinese sovereignty over the islands for two reasons. First, that all the Unequal Treaties are null and void and thus the islands are still part of Taiwan Province of China. Secondly, that since the disputed islands were ceded along with Taiwan in 1895, therefore when Japan returned to China all territories it had obtained from China since the First Sino-Japanese War at the end of World War II, the disputed islands were returned along with Taiwan to China.

Tokyo court ruling

China also asserted that in 1944, the Tokyo court ruled that the islands were part of Taihoku Prefecture (Taipei Prefecture), following a dispute between Okinawa Prefecture and Taihoku Prefecture. However, the assertion was solely based on a "claim" by the president of the fishermen's association of Keelung city in 4 August, 1971. The primary source of this paragraph can be found in the journal "Modern China Studies", Issue 1, 1997 (in Simplified Chinese).

Japanese claims

The Japanese claim to the islands briefly proceeds as follows: the islands were not inhabited up to 1895; several months before the cession of Taiwan by the Qing Dynasty to Japan, Japan had already claimed and incorporated the islands into Japanese territory; as a result, the islands remained Japanese territory and were not affected by the retro-cession of Taiwan in 1945; though the islands were controlled by the United States as occupying power between 1945 and 1972, Japan has since 1972 exercised sovereignty over the islands. According to Japanese government, PRC and ROC have come to claim the sovereignty since a submarine oil field was discovered near these islands.

Formal incorporation

Japan claims that after the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government conducted surveys of the islands beginning in 1885 confirming no evidence that the uninhabited islands had been under Chinese control, though this conflicts with the earlier Chinese claim of the islands during the Qing Dynasty. At the time of this survey, Japan did not formally declare a claim to the islands. Instead, it waited until January 14, 1895, during the middle of the First Sino-Japanese War, to do this. Just three months before its military victory in the war and the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan erected a marker on the islands to formally incorporate them as its territory. This decision was not made public until 1950, however. Four of the islands were subsequently borrowed and developed by the Koga family with the permission of the Japanese government.

History of Ming

Japanese scholars claim 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 the "Stories of Foreign Countries" (外国列传). Thus, China did not control the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan during the Ming Dynasty. The contrary viewpoint is that this evidence goes only to verify the fact that the early Qing Dynasty (which compiled the book) saw Taiwan and its surrounding islands as outside its territory. For 39 years between the end of the Ming Dynasty and the conquest of Taiwan by the Qing Dynasty, Taiwan was indeed ruled by a separate regime, the Kingdom of Tungning which swore loyalty to the Ming. Such evidence is thus not relevant to the Qing Dynasty's attitude towards the islands after its conquest of Taiwan.

A Letter from a Chinese Diplomat

In a letter sent to Japanese fishermen, who rescued a number of shipwrecked Chinese in 1920, a Chinese Consul in Nagasaki, representing the Beiyang Government, a warlord regime, referred to the islands as "Senkaku Islands, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture, the Empire of Japan". Both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China point out that such arguments lend no value to Japan's claim post-1945.

United States occupation

Japan claims that after World War II, the islands came under the United States occupation of Okinawa. During this period, the United States and the Ryūkyū Government administered the islands and the US Navy even used Kuba-jima and Taisho-jima as maneuver areas. In 1972, sovereignty over Okinawa, and arguably the surrounding islands, was handed back to Japan as part of the termination of United States Military Government jurisdiction over the Article 3 territories of the Treaty of San Francisco.

Recent developments

  • 1978: The Japan Youth Association set up a lighthouse on the main island.
  • July 14, 1996: The Japan Youth Association builds a 5 m high, solar-powered, aluminum lighthouse on another island.
  • September 14, 1996: a US State Department spokesman referred to the US's neutral position on the Senkaku Islands issue.
  • September 26, 1996: David Chan (陳毓祥), a Hong Kong protester, drowns near the islets, after leaping off one of the protest vessels with several companions with the object of symbolizing Chinese claim of sovereignty.
  • October 7, 1996: Protesters plant the flags of the ROC and the PRC on the main island, but are later removed by the Japanese.
  • April 09, 1999: US Ambassador to Japan Thomas S. Foley said "we are not, as far as I understand, taking a specific position in the dispute.... we do not assume that there will be any reason to engage the security treaty in any immediate sense."
  • April 2002: The Japanese government leased Uotsuri and other islands from the purported private owners.
  • March 24, 2004: A group of Chinese activists from the PRC planned to stay on the Islands for three days. The seven people who landed on the islands were arrested by the Japanese for illegal entry. The Japanese Foreign Ministry forwarded a complaint to the PRC government, but the PRC in turn demanded the release of the activists. They were then sent to Japan and deported from there. Japan subsequently stated that it would prohibit anybody from landing on the islands without prior permission.
  • March 24, 2004: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman at the US State Department said "The U.S. does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Diaoyu Islands."
  • February 2005: Japan planned to take ownership of a privately-owned lighthouse on Uotsuri, after it was offered to them by the owner, a fisherman living on Ishigaki, Okinawa. The lighthouse is expected to be managed by the Japanese Coast Guard.
  • February 10, 2005: On Voice of America, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that Japan's new assertiveness is in line with the desires of many Japanese politicians to take their country beyond its post-World War Two reliance on the United States. "It's a question of the evolution of Japanese thinking on its own. Japan has made it clear they want to resolve all of the territorial disputes by diplomatic means and that's certainly something that we agree with. Our kind of getting in the middle of it is probably not the most productive way to proceed."
  • June 2005: The ROC dispatched a ROCN frigate into disputed waters (but did not go as far as the islands) after Taiwanese fishing vessels were harassed by Japanese patrol boats. The frigate, which was carrying Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng and ROC Defense Minister Lee Jye, was not challenged and returned to Taiwan without incident. Fisheries talks between Taipei and Tokyo were held in July, but did not cover sovereignty issues.
  • March 17, 2006: Kyodo News reported the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, presented that he considered "the Islands as territory of Japan" in his talk in Tokyo.
  • October 27, 2006: A group of activists from Hong Kong, the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, including Tsang Kin Shing and several members of the April Fifth Action, approached the islands in order to show the support for Chinese claims to the Senkakus. They were stopped from landing on the islands by the Japan Coast Guard. Later on, the PLAN conducted a military exercise in the area.
  • June 10, 2008: The 270 ton sport fishing vessel Lien Ho of Taiwan suffered a collision with a Japanese patrol vessel, Koshiki, and subsequently sank, while in the disputed territorial waters that have been claimed by Japan and Taiwan. The Taiwanese crew who were aboard the vessel claims that the larger Japanese frigate deliberately crashed into them; their assertions are backed up by recently released video footage. While releasing the passengers, Japan initially detained the captain and sought reparations. The captain has now been released and has returned to Taiwan. Liu Chao-shiuan, Premier of the Republic of China, has refused to rule out the use of force to defend Diaoyutai against Japanese advances. The ROC government has recalled its chief representative to Japan in protest. On June 16, a boat carrying activists from Taiwan, defended by five Republic of China Coast Guard vessels, approached to within of the main island, from which position they circumnavigated the island in an assertion of sovereignty of the islands. This demonstration has prompted Taiwanese politicians to cancel a planned trip on-board Republic of China Navy vessels to demonstrate sovereignty. The Taiwanese vessels were followed by Japanese Coast Guard vessels, but no attempt was made to intercept them. On June 20, the de-facto Japanese ambassador to Taiwan apologized, in person, to the captain of the Taiwanese boat Lien Ho..

See also



  • Suganuma, Unryu. Sovereign rights and territorial space in Sino-Japanese relations: Irredentism and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Honolulu: Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawai’i Press, 2000.

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