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Minutes of “History, Archives, and International Law: a Symposium on the Diaoyutai Islands”
Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 9:00-11:30 am
Venue: The Digital Auditorium, First Floor, the Social Sciences Information Center, National Chengchi University
Speakers: Chuan-tiong Lim (Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica), Perry Shen (Former Director General of the Department of Treaty and Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of China), Whei-ming Chou (Professor, Department of History, and the Chairperson of the Humanities Research Center, National Chengchi University), Chun-i Chen (Professor, Department of Diplomacy, and the Chairperson of the Research Center for International Legal Studies, National Chengchi University)
Hosted by: The Research Center for International Legal Studies, and the Humanities Research Center, National Chengchi University

Whei-ming Chou: Why Japan put the Diaoyutai Islands (also called as the Senkaku Islands from Japan’s point of view) under Ryukyu as its adjacent islands rather than under Taiwan’s administration during the Japanese colonial period?

Perry Shen: In my opinion, at the beginning, Japan did not regard the Diaoyutai Islands as Taiwan’s adjacent islands. Japan’s ambition to acquire the Diaoyutai Islands was far beyond its ambition to acquire Taiwan. In 1885, Yamagata Aritomo, the Lord Chancellor of Japan, appointed Sutezo Nishimura to investigate the Diaoyutai Islands and attempted to set a national territorial stone there. This action clearly showed Japan’s ambition.

Chuan-tiong Lim: I think, in Japan’s point of view, the Diaoyutai Islands before January 14, 1895 were “terra nullius” and not belonged to any country or controlled by any political polity. After the Cabinet’s resolution of 1895, Japan put those islands under its control as official territories, and there were no objections from any other country at that time. Japan stressed that the Treaty of Shimonoseki in which China ceded the islands of Formosa (Taiwan) to Japan was signed on April 17, 1895. Japan argued that before this treaty they had already controlled the Diaoyutai Islands which was under the administration of the Okinawa Prefecture. However, there are still some ambiguous and paradoxical parts to be clarified. For example, since Japan did not set a national territorial stone on the Diaoyutai Islands, were those islands really under Japan’s effective control after January 14 or April 17 in 1895? This was questionable. In Aquatic Products of Taiwan, it is recorded that in 1915 fishing areas of Taiwan’s fishermen had already covered the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands under the administration of the Okinawa Prefecture. From this historical document, it is obvious that in Japan’s point of view, the Diaoyutai Islands belonged to the Okinawa Prefecture at that time. But what was the situation in the prior period? We need more historical documents to understand how Japan managed and governed the Diaoyutai Islands.

Chun-i Chen: This is a crucial question. The situation mentioned by Dr. Lim is really questionable and strange. Japan and China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April, but why did not they officially merge the Diaoyutai Islands and Taiwan together and put those islands under Taiwan’s administration? Even though Japan cannot provide direct evidence to prove their sovereignty over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands now, I think their position is that “we think the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands have belonged to the Okinawa Prefecture since that time.” In order to figure out this question, I think it could be discussed from the following two points. First, was Japan really confident that they could acquire Taiwan? I suppose that Japan was not that confident because they worried about America’s or other countries’ interventions. There was the Triple Intervention in history (a diplomatic intervention by Russia, Germany, and France who asked Japan to give the Liaodong Peninsula back to China). Second, in historical documents at that time, the Diaoyutai Islands and Taiwan were bound together and considered as an integral whole. However, in Japan’s point of view, they might divide this region into three different parts: Ryukyu, Taiwan, and the Diaoyutai Islands. For them, the Diaoyutai Islands might be parts of the Qing China. Therefore, acquiring Taiwan did not mean that they could also acquire the Diaoyutai Islands. But, if we think from the Qing court’s point of view, the Qing court might recognize the Diaoyutai Islands as Taiwan’s adjacent islands when they signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki. But obviously, Japan did not think so. In fact, how the Qing court viewed the position of the Diaoyutai Islands is still questionable. There are two different arguments. One says that they belong to Taiwan, and the other says that they were parts of the Qing territories. Due to the lack of official documents, these questions could not be answered until now. In my opinion, if Japan thinks that they occupied the Diaoyutai Islands according to the principle of “terra nullius,” they must release their official announcement. At that time, Japan did occupy some small islands and announced openly. However, they did not do so for the case of the Diaoyutai Islands. I guess there must be some reasons. It is probably that there was no historical documents remained, or this case was not important at that time. This ambiguous situation makes this question unsolved.

Whei-ming Chou: Mutsu Munemitsu, Japan’s Foreign Minister from 1892-1896, wrote in his personal diplomatic memoirs Kenkenroku that during the First Sino-Japanese War, he kept on thinking the negotiation between Japan and China in the postwar time. He believed the war must be ended soon, and China would sue Japan for peace. Demands of the Japanese Army and Navy were different. The Army asked for the Liaodong Peninsula, but the Navy wanted to take over Taiwan. Japan considered the Taiwan Strait as international waters to avoid other countries’ intervention. Maybe Japan already supposed they would attain Taiwan sooner or later. But they still thought that the Diaoyutai Islands should be included in and controlled under the administration of Ryukyu. I think there remained lots of unclear details for further discussion and research.

Perry Shen: Until now, our government (the Republic of China, Taiwan) still uses the term “occupy” to denote Japan’s occupation of the Diaoyutai Islands. Although Japan repeatedly objects to it, our government, after serious consideration, still includes this fact in our official documents and descriptions to clearly express to our people and the world that the way Japan acquires the Diaoyutai Islands is illegal and must be seen as a kind of “occupation.” Although Japan knew that since the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Diaoyutai Islands had been China’s territories and not “terra nullius,” they still purposely stated so (the Diaoyutai Islands were “terra nullius), and occupied them as soon as they defeated China. If the government of the Republic of China wants to claim the sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands via international law, firstly the government must let the people and the world understand and support its discourse and position, and make them believe that these statements and actions are proposed after serious and careful consideration.

Conclusion: In sum, the Chinese people discovered, named, and used the Diaoyutai Islands in the 14th century, and included this region into the system of China’s coast defense during the Ming dynasty. In the Qing dynasty, the Qing court even incorporated the Diaoyutai Islands into Taiwan’s Kavalan District as its adjacent islands and under its administration. At the end of the 19th century, Japan was driven by expansionism and showed its great ambition to acquire the Diaoyutai Islands; however, because they were not strong enough, they did not take actions immediately. After ten years of waiting, they grasped the opportunity during the First Sino-Japanese War and occupied the Diaoyutai Islands. Until now, Japan is not willing to give them back to the Republic of China according to Japanese Instrument of Surrender of 1945 and Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (also known as Treaty of Taipei) of 1952. What Japan had done badly affected the relationship between us and is also harmful to the regional security and stability. The government of the Republic of China asserts that the Diaoyutai Islands form an inherent part of the territory of the Republic of China. Based on the premise of obtaining our sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands, the government of the Republic of China will be willing to obey principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law to solve this dispute peacefully and negotiate with Japan so as to achieve goals of maintaining our sovereignty, protecting rights of our fishermen and solving the dispute. 

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