Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands in East China Sea lying about 400 kms west of Okinawa,Japan and 170 kms northeast of Taiwan. These islands are a group of five volcanic islets and three barren rocks. Altogether, they measure a surface area of only 6.3 sq km. The islands are home to the endangered Senkaku mole and the short-tailed
Albatross barring which there is no flora or fauna of any economic importance. The islands are highly significant from a military perspective as a strategic outpost. Dispute Today Senkaku islands are under the sovereignty of Japan. The islands are a point of contention between Japan, China and Taiwan. All claim to have discovered the islands and occupied the islands first. The records indicate that in early as in 1372 the islands had been used a navigational reference by the Chinese Imperial emissiaries. Taiwan’s claim rest on case that it has occupied the islands for a long time and that the islands form a natural extension of its continental shelf. Japan claims that under the detailed survey in 1885-95 the islands were found to be uninhabited and hence they incorporated the islands into its territory under “terra nullius”. Since 1895, the islands have been placed under Japanese administration.
History behind Islands sovereignty of Japan Sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands was ceded by China to Japan by the treaty of Shimonoseki which ended what is called the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). China claims that under the Potsdam Declaration which ended the Second Sino-Japan War (19371945) as part of ending WWII, Japan lost the rights to the islands, re-opening the issue of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Japan claims that the Senkaku Islands were not included in the territory which Japan renounced under Article 2 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 that legally defined the territory of Japan after World War II. As per the Article 3 of the treaty, the Senkaku islands were to be held under US administration as Nansei Shoto Islands. The Senkaku Islands were encompassed in the areas whose administrative rights were reverted to Japan in accordance with the agreement between Japan and the United States of America concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands that entered into force in 1972.
Importance of Senkaku A United Nations committee had commissioned a geological survey of the ocean floor in the East China Sea in 1968, to be conducted by experts from the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China (mainland) was not yet a member of United Nations during this time. It was discovered region would hold one of the richest oil and gas reserves in Asia. Soon after the exploration, in 1970, Taiwan and China simultaneously claimed the Senkaku Islands as their territory. The islands lie close to strategic sea lines of communication. Japan’s crude oil imports from the Middle East pass through the area so the country possessing the islands inevitably gains the closest spot to erect installations for aerial surveillance and military reconnaissance and the title of sovereignty provides free reign of the country to spy into the neighbour’s territories. Abundant fishing reserves are also a great economic reason to exercise stake in the region. The sovereignty of the islands also provide an increased Exclusive Economic Zone for the holder, for China it would give the most north-eastern part of its territory or to Japan the most south-western part of the archipelago.
The conflict also serves as a useful diversionary tactic for governmental failure in the domestic arena. In the past foreign policies was primarily influenced by domestic environment. This proxy conflict may be exploited by the leaders of each state as a handy device to channel or escalate national emotions. Recent Conflicts The islands had always been an flashpoint for territorial tensions but recently the issue has escalated to a major concern due to the few political decisions taken by Japan. The islands had been under the ownership of Kurihara family and had till been leased by the Japanese government.
Japan’s interest in state ownership of the Senkaku, came in response to a purchase bid of 1.4 billion by the capital’s rightwing governor, Shintaro Ishihara, aimed, in his words, at “protecting” them from Chinese interference. Japanese government had to intervene and outbid Ishihara buying the islands for 2 billion yen in September 2012. Ishihara had built the reputation of baiting the Chinese hence Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda had been forced to act decisively. China condemned the purchase as “illegal and invalid”. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a press conference that the move to nationalize the islands “seriously violates China’s sovereignty and hurts the Chinese people’s feelings.”. China claims that the move was a conspiracy to consolidate the position of Japan.
It is now known that US had advised Japan against buying the islands due to the precarious nature of the sentiments in the region. The Senkaku dispute had flared up in September 2010, when a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels near the islands. To prevent escalations, Japan detained the captain of the fishing vessel but released him without charge. Late September 2012, Japanese and Taiwanese coastguards blasted each other with water cannon in row over disputed islands escalating tensions to a new level. Taiwanese patrol ships had accompanied fishing boats into the territorial waters causing the confrontation. On several occasions, Chinese and Taiwanese ships and planes have intruded into the dispute area. On December 13th 2012, Chinese government aircraft entered Japanese airspace with Japan scrambling eight F-15 fighter aircrafts. 2013 saw the increase in military movement with destroyers from each side coming to close to engagement. In April, 2013 China has declared the Senkaku Islands a core interest and of major importance making the efforts at easing tensions a greater challenge.
American Intervention in the Senkaku Dispute On August 15th 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan signed the unconditional surrender to Allied Forces. Japan was stripped of several islands and the Chinese territories it had annexed after the First World War as issued in Cairo Declaration. Senkaku islands were not specifically implied in it and hence for Japan it was reverse implied Senkaku islands were not part of it. United States had considered Senkaku Islands as part of the Ryukyu island chain and had taken control of it. In 1952, Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco and gave the control of Okinawa by the U.S. government. In 1971, the Okinawa Reversion Treaty was passed by the U.S. Senate, thus returning the islands back to Japanese control in 1972. Chinese authorities did not assert claims to the islands during the time the islands were under US administration; formal claims were registered in 1971 when the US was preparing to end its administration. On June 7, 1971, President Richard Nixon confirmed Japan’s “residual sovereignty” over the Senkaku Islands just before a deal to return Okinawa to Japan but removed it while presenting Okinawa Reversion Treaty to US senate. It was also made clear that US considers that any conflicting claims to the islands are a matter for resolution by the parties concerned.
U.S. administrations going back at least to the Nixon Administration have stated that the United States takes no position on the territorial disputes. However, it also has been U.S. policy since 1972 that the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty covers the islets, because Article 5 of the treaty stipulates that the United States is bound to protect “the territories under the Administration of Japan” and Japan administers the Senkaku Islands. Under the treaty, the United States guarantees Japan’s security in return for the right to station U.S. troops—which currently number around 50,000—in dozens of bases throughout the Japanese archipelago. Although it is commonly understood that Japan will assume the primary responsibility for the defence of the treaty area, in the event of a significant armed conflict with China or Taiwan, most Japanese would likely expect that the United States would honour its treaty obligations. On November 29, 2012, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an amendment to National Defence Authorization Act for the year 2013 stating the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands fall under the scope of a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan and Washington would defend Japan in the event of armed attacks.
Assessment of US Role in mediation to resolve the Conflict With the increased escalations, it is necessary to find an amicable solution to the Senakaku issue that has been dodging for more than a century. US as the current reigning global power has to take forward initiatives so that the current tensions does not lead to another war which can finally embroil the whole world into another World War and with the nuclear capability of each nation on the either side, it becomes the imperative need of moment to diffuse the tensions US had advised Japan against the buying of the islands which ultimately had snowballed into the one of biggest issues in the Asia Pacific Region. Thus it needs to be addressed whether US would be able to influence either of the sides to move to an amicable settlement though Japan is considered as a close ally. Though it remains that US follows the neutral policy of taking no sides in a territorial dispute the case of Senkaku changes the equation in a unequivocal manner that US is directly drawn into the conflict with the National Defence Authorization Act granting protection to Senkaku Islands under Washington. United States could easily impose trade embargo on China if it takes any action detrimental to the peace of the region. However with current
economic strength of China and its position in the Security Council as a permanent member such a move could easily be repudiated. However with the huge amount of US bonds in the hands of China combined with the blockades of oil trading channels in South China Sea would easily unnerve China’s friends in the Middle East. It has to be taken notice that the territorial dispute has not yet been submitted to the ICJ. US can push both parties to take the route of ICJ or have negotiations in order to solve the issue. It is however unlikely that US can act as a mediator to end the issue at hand due to the skewed policies towards Japan and hence China would not accept US as the mediator. A solution by the Security Council is currently out of bounds as the dispute has not yet become a threat to the international peace. However if both sides continues to progress in the current manner it would soon become one.
A more pragmatic way of solving the issue is to have a joint development agency which allows both the countries to share the resources as both the countries are particularly interested in tapping the huge economic resources in the region. Such a move was first proposed by Japan back in 2005 to develop different regions to which China had not responded which in most likelihood factor would be an acceptance of the sovereignty. Since one party had shown interest in solving the issue in this manner, US could definitely use tactical moves to push the other party as well to consider the solution. Conclusion The dispute of the Senkaku Islands has grown into a crisis and has to be nipped in the bud before it becomes a problem that would engulf the whole world. The analysis of situation indicates that US barely has enough power to influence both the sides to reach a solution due to great economic and political nature of the issue in hand. United States need to find creative solutions to bring both the parties to the table and solve it. It may be pointed that World War I started with assassination of one man. Let’s hope that the world has learned its lessons.
Senkaku (Diaoyu/Diaoyutai) Islands Dispute: U.S. Treaty
Obligations – Mark E. Manyin The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Dispute – Questions of Sovereignty and Suggestions for Resolving the Dispute – Martin Lohmeyer Fact sheet on Senkaku Islands http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asiapaci/senkaku/fact_sheet.html Senkaku Islands Dispute Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senkaku_Islands_dispute Did Japan Buy Senkaku Islands – http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asiapacific/japan/120905/senkaku-islands-east-china-sea