THE incident of 7 September 2010 in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with two patrol boats of the Japan Maritime Safety Agency seems to have revived China’s traditional hegemonism. Whenever a new dynasty in China has been established and the nation’s strength has grown, history repeats itself as the Chinese launch military invasions of neighboring countries, subjugate them, and create a system of vassalage with the surrounding countries. China’s national strength has again grown quite substantially, and they are now exhibiting similar behavior. This was also repeated in the years immediately following the Second World War.
The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 after the end of that war. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party attacked East Turkistan (now part of the Xingiang Uighur Autonomous Region), and brought Tibet under their control. Now, China claims the territory of the Senkaku islets and the Spratly Islands. They are also hotly contesting with South Korea the possession of Ieodo (a submerged reef 4.6 meters below the surface of the sea, which the Chinese call Suyanjiao) in South Korea’s exclusive economic zone.
But we have something to confirm first. The Senkaku islets were incorporated as Japanese territory through a Cabinet declaration of 14 January 1895. It is also a fact that Japan has continued to maintain effective control of them since then.
The immediate background
China and Taiwan first expressed an interest in the Senkakus in June 1971. That’s when the “Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands returning Okinawa to Japan” was signed. The Senkakus were included as part of the Okinawa islands.
The same month, Taiwan’s government issued a declaration through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the islets were part of the Republic of China’s territory and incorporated in Taiwan Province. That December, the Chinese government said that the Senkakus were “islands incorporated in Taiwan, and as with Taiwan, these islands have since ancient times been part of the indivisible land of China. It is illegal to include our Diaoyutai and other islands in the region that will be returned to Japan through the agreement between the Japanese and American governments.” They also declared, “The Chinese people will by all means recover Diaoyutai and the other islands incorporated in Taiwan.”
The Chinese government declared the Okinawa islands as part of the “First Island Chain” for national defense, and designated both Taiwan and the Senkakus as part of their “core interests”. They consider their Foreign Ministry declaration of 31 December 1971 to be still valid. For the Chinese, the ultimate objective is to gain control of the Senkaku islets.
One has the sense that this pending issue between the two countries came suddenly to the forefront with the incident involving the Chinese fishing boat two years ago. Now, Japan must see clearly the traditional Chinese diplomatic stance and respond strategically.
This article uses Chinese documents to verify from a historical perspective whether or not the Senkaku islets were “part of the Republic of China’s territory”, or “part of the indivisible territory of China since ancient times”. This is the urgent necessity before us.
The Japanese government gave names to 39 uninhabited islands, including those of the Senkaku islets, in Japan’s exclusive economic zone as of January 31 this year. The State Oceanic Administration of the People’s Republic of China retaliated by giving names to 71 islands, including reefs near the Senkaku islets. The day after Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura announced the names of the uninhabited islands, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, printed an article in their 17 January edition that designated the Senkaku islets as a core national interest for which China’s security admitted no compromise. It is the same designation given to Tibet and Taiwan. They added that the islets had been “an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times.” This historical interpretation is well worth noting. It is the logic that the Senkaku islets were Chinese territory before their incorporation into Japan. It is the same logic of South Korea, which holds that Japan unlawfully seized Takeshima during the Russo-Japanese War.
Further, the Naha (Okinawa) Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution made the decision on 15 March to hand down a mandatory indictment of the Chinese fishing boat captain involved in the collision in the Senkakus. Soon after, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs media spokesman Liu Weimin, claimed, “The Senkaku islets and their ancillary islets have been an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times…Japan has no right to conduct official business of any kind in this area. Any civil proceedings adopted by Japan against a Chinese citizen are illegal and invalid.”
The following day, two maritime research vessels from the State Oceanic Administration encroached on Japanese territory near the Senkaku islets. Hailed by a patrol boat from the Maritime Safety Agency, they responded, “We are performing our duties in this area. These islands, including Diaoyutai, are Chinese territory.” Once again, the historical interpretation that the islets were “an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times” is the basis for this behavioral principle.
What is the origin of the historical awareness that has caused China to become so forceful? The basis for their argument is “The Sankaku Islets: A historical elucidation of the Diaoyutai”, a 1972 book by former Kyoto University Associate Professor Inoue Kiyoshi. In the preface, Mr. Inoue wrote:
“Didn’t Japan seize the Senkakus from China during the first Japan-China war? If that is true, the instant that Japan surrendered and unconditionally accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration of the Allied powers, including China, they automatically had to return the islets to China based on the territorial clause of the declaration. Is not Japan’s belief that they are still Japanese territory nothing other than a recurrence of Japanese imperialism?”
The thinking is the same as in the Chinese Foreign Ministry declaration of December 1971, and the Chinese have utilized the Inoue book to the maximum. In fact, after the collision between the Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese ships occurred, Chinese Foreign Ministry media spokesman Jiang Yubao insisted that the Senkakus were Chinese territory and cited Mr. Inoue’s book as a basis for the claim.
Inoue Kiyoshi’s motivation for writing the book was to establish two points:
1. The Diaoyutai were not terra nullius, but Chinese territory dating to the Ming Dynasty.
2. Japan’s possession was an act of plunder that took advantage of their victory in the war.
There were similar views in both Taiwan and China, but the book was prized in China and quickly translated into Chinese because it was written by a Japanese scholar.
Does the view of Mr. Inoue that the islets are Chinese territory have any basis in historical fact? Let’s examine Chinese historical awareness as the current tension surrounding the Senkakus continues.
The problems with the Chinese claim
The grounds for the Chinese claim of the islets is that they were used as a navigational marker on the route taken the emissaries sent to the Ryukyu Kingdom (now Okinawa) when they were a Chinese vassalage during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This is, in fact, true. The argument that the islets were Chinese territory during the Ming Dynasty is found in the name Diaoyu, one of the islets mentioned in the Shun Feng Xiang Song, (Voyage with a Tail Wind) a navigational guidebook from 1403.
The Chinese have also used the records of the emissaries sent to the Ryukyus since the Ming Dynasty as proof of their claim that the islets have historically been their territory. The name of the islets (either Diaoyu or Diaoyutai) were cited in Shi Liu Qiu Lu (Records of the Envoys to Ryukyu) by Chen Kan (1534); Chong Bian Shi Liu Qiu Lu, a revised version of the same records by Guo Rulin (1562); Shi Liu Qiu Za Lu (Assorted Records of the Envoys to Ryukyu) by Wang Ji (1683); Zhong Shan Yun Xin Lu (Records of Messages from Zhong Shan) by Xu Baoguang (1719); Liuqiu Guo Zhi Lue (History of the Ryukyu Kingdom) by Zhou Huang (1756); Shi Liuqiu Lu (Record of Ryukyu Missions) by Li Dingyuan (1800); and Xuliuqiu Guozhilue by Zhai Kun (1808). The Xu Baoguang document and the Zhou Huang document had appended navigation charts on which the islets of Diaoyu, Huangweiyu, and Chiweiyu were shown.
Further, the Chen Kan document explains that Kumejima (part of Okinawa Prefecture) is part of the Ryukyus, and the Wang Ji document states that the “boundary between China and the outside” lies between Kumejima and Chiweyu. That is the basis for the Inoue and Chinese insistence that the Senkakus are part of Chinese territory.
In the fall of 2005, Haigyoji, supposedly a lost section of Fusheng Liuji, was discovered in a used book stall in China. One passage read, “Sighted Diaoyutai on the morning of the 13th”. China regards this as ironclad proof that the Senkakus belong to China. In the Chinese interpretation, Haigyoji is a depiction of the main character of the Fusheng Liuji who travels to the Ryukyus in 1808 in the company of Zhai Kun, the Imperial emissary.
Using the Haigyoji as the basis for the territorial claim does not hold up, however. The Imperial emissary Zhai Kun sailed from the port of Fuzhou early in May 1808 for Naha in Okinawa, and along the way he passed Wuhumen, Jilongshan, Diaoyutai, Chiweiyu, Heigouyang, Gumishan, and Machishan, arriving in Naha on the night of the 17th. Zhai wrote a poetry anthology titled Dongying Baiyong (One Hundred Verses from the East) in which he included a poem of eight lines called Hanghai Bayong describing his voyage from Taiping to Naha. Each line in the poem is a five-character verse, and one of them is titled Jilongshan, a mountain located in the province of Taiwan. Zhai wrote that this mountain was considered to be the boundary of China, and that Jilongshan of Taiwan province was the boundary of the Qing Dynasty.
Zhai wrote of Gumishan (Kumejima) as his ship neared the Ryukyu kingdom. In the footnote to this verse, he writes that this mountain is within the boundary of the Ryukyus. (N.B.: There are mountains on Kumejima, which is apparent from the Chinese name Zhai used.) In other words, Zhan is saying that Mt. Jilong (Jilongshan) is the boundary of the Qing Dynasty and Gumishan is the boundary of the Ryukyus. Thus, Diaoyutai and Chiweiyu, which are between those two, must therefore be terra nullius, neither part of the Qing Empire or of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Zhai Kun once again wrote that Mt. Jilong was the border of China in a subsequent work titled Du Hai Yin Yong Xi Cheng Peng Po Lang Tu Yun, which was rhymed verse based on the idea of a brave sea voyage to the western border. Just because the passage in Haigyoji reads, “Sighted Diaoyutai on the morning of the 13th” does not mean there is ironclad proof that the Senkakus were Chinese territory.
We turn to the question of why Zhai Kun regarded Mt. Jilong as the boundary of China. In his book Dongying Baoyong (One Hundred Verses of the East Sea), Zhai wrote that Mt. Jilong was “a mountain on the edge of Taiwan province”. The provincial government in Taiwan at the time held that Mt. Jilong was the northern border. The Qing Dynasty placed that government in Taiwan in 1684, and they cited that mountain as the border to the province. The Taiwan Fuzhi (History of Taiwan Province), compiled annually by Jiang Yuying during the reign of Emperor Kanxi, states that the prefecture extends 2,315 li north to Mt. Jilong, That is echoed in the revised 1696 edition, when the same distance to the mountain is cited and the mountain is called the boundary. The 1696 edition contains this map. The documentation cites the same distance to the mountain and calls it the boundary.
The Jilong Castle and Mt. Jilong are located near the present-day city of Keelung. Here is the basis of Zhai Kun’s statement in the Dongying Baiyong that the mountain was the boundary of China.
Therefore, the arguments that the islets were Chinese territory because the name Diaoyu was mentioned in the Shun Feng Xiang Song of the Ming Dynasty, or that the name Diaoyutai is noted in the records of Chinese emissaries, do not constitute proof that the Senkakus are Chinese territory. Taiwan did not become Chinese territory until the Qing Dynasty. In fact, the Daming Yitongzhi (Waiyu) (The Great Ming Journal of Unification [Foreigners]), an official geographical reference compiled during the Ming Dynasty in 1461, states that the Penghu Islands, also known as the Pescadores, located between Fujian Province and Taiwan, were part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. They were not part of Taiwan during the Ming Dynasty.
This fact can also be confirmed in the Daqing Yitongzhi (The Great Qing Journal of Unification) compiled during the Qing Dynasty. The Daqing Yitongzhi states that Taiwan was a distant frontier territory, and refers to it as the land of the Eastern Barbarians (dongfan, often a general term for ethnic minorities) that wasn’t a part of China. It also states that people from Japan had congregated there during the early part of the Ming Dynasty, that Zheng Zhilong (Chinese merchant, pirate, and admiral) had outposts there, and that the Dutch also came. The edition published during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong states simply that Taiwan was part of Japan.
Taiwan was incorporated into the Qing Dynasty in 1684. Taiwan Province, located in Taiwan, had Mt. Jilong as the northern border of its administrative district. That’s why Zhai Kun twice stated the mountain was the border of China when he passed Taiwan on his way to the Ryukyus to fulfill his duties as emissary.
The territory of Taiwan province is shown in a map contained in the Taiwan Fuzhi. Using that as the basis, the Qing Dynasty compiled the official Qinding Gujin Tushu Jicheng, an atlas, in 1728. The map of Taiwan province in that collection does not show the Senkakus at all. It shows Mt. Jilong as the northern border of the territory. That’s because the mountain was designated as the northern border of Taiwan province before Zhai Kun traveled to the Ryukyu Kingdom as emissary.
The Daiqing Yitongzhi published in 1744 also shows the mountain as the northern border, and it too does not show the Senkakus. This geographical awareness is continued in the Haiguo Wenjianlu (Records of That Seen and Heard of Overseas Countries) published in 1793. The Senkakus were not part of Taiwan.
All of this demonstrates that the Senkakus were terra nullius when the Japanese government incorporated the islets as Japanese territory in 1895. The geographical recognition of Mt. Jilong and the Jilong Castle as the northern border of Taiwan was continued into the era of the Republic of China following the pattern of the Daqing Yitongzhi in the Huangzhao Xuwenxian Tongkao (A Review of Dynasty Documents), compiled in 1912, and the Qingshigao (Draft of the Qing Dynasty History) of 1927. From the Ming Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty to the days of the Republic of China on the mainland, the Senkaku Islets were not part of Taiwan’s territory.
China thus is claiming the Senkaku islets are their territory and that Japan used the war with China as an excuse to steal them, based on the information contained in the Inoue book. Mr. Inoue’s manipulation of the historical documents was careless, however. It is not possible to use his book as the basis for the Chinese claim.
One of the first to refute Mr. Inoue’s research was Okuhara Toshio, then an associate professor at Kokushikan University. Mr. Okuhara’s specialty is international law, but he employed both international law and historical materials, including the Taiwan Fuzhi and the Jilong Fuzhi (History of Keelung) as a basis to show that the Senkakus were not part of Taiwan.
Historical research has not proceeded beyond Mr. Okuhara’s work, however. Therefore, the dispute between Japan, who claim the islets based on international law, and China, which claim the islets based on their historical interpretation that they were Chinese since the Ming dynasty, has not been fully engaged. It has not been possible to overturn the Chinese claims that take Mr. Inoue’s book as gospel.
When one carefully reads the Chinese documents, it is clear that Mr. Inoue’s research was arbitrary. As Zhai Kun wrote that Mt. Jilong was the border of China in Dongying Baiyong, and that Gumishan (Kumejima) was the border of the Ryukyus, the Senkakus were terra nullius before Japan incorporated them. China has no historical title for which to base their territorial claim in the islets.
The issue today
Consequently, when China claims the Senkakus as their core interest and says they were Chinese territory from the days of the Ming Dynasty, it is rooted in a territorial ambition based on the idea of imperialism. It is similar to the South Korean claim in regard to the debate over the Takeshima islets, which they illegally occupy. They insist that Japan unlawfully took possession of the islets from them.
Indeed, the 26 September issue of the Hong Kong-based Asiaweek, immediately after the incident with the Chinese fishing boat captain, held that a lesson should be learned from the Korean seizure of Takeshima, and that it was worth examining the possibility of occupying the Senkakus. The idea that Japan’s territorial issue should be utilized for their own territorial issues has already occurred to some people. Writing in the online edition of Qingnian Cankao, a semi-weekly journal affiliated with Zhongguo Qingnian Bao, the daily newspaper of the CPC Communist Youth League, Kanto Gakuin University Prof. Yin Yanjun said, “China and Russia should cooperate in their territorial issues and apply strong pressure to Japan.” Yu Zhirong, a researcher at the Chinese Maritime Development Research Center, said in the 21 February edition of Duowei News, “If it’s necessary, South Korea, Russia, and other countries with territorial issues with Japan should work together.”
This is the climate in which Russian President Putin brought up the resolution of the issue of the four islands it holds off of Hokkaido, known as the Northern Territories. Understanding that Japan was incapable of moving on the territorial issues with China and South Korea, he sees this as a golden opportunity. Territorial issues are difficult to settle if the country that has seized the territory refuses to budge, but the countries involved have begun to take action on their own. Japan must first clearly see and understand the traditional Chinese approach to foreign affairs and make a strategic response. That’s because now is the time to resolve these issues.
- Shimojo Masao, Takushoku University
* Clicking on the maps will enlarge them.
* Here’s something else Yu Zhirong said about this issue, just last month:
“Safeguarding rights is a political issue. We need to use the law, learn it, apply it, know it, but also go beyond the law.”
I’m sure everyone knows the words used to describe people who “go beyond the law”.
* So, China, Russia, and South Korea are thinking of ganging up on Japan to cut themselves each a slice. There is no better way to accelerate the move to amend the peace clause of the Japanese Constitution, and indeed, to have Japan consider taking up nuclear weapons. Estupido. But they’ll find a way to blame it on Japan.
One wonders if they would make so bold if a different president were in the White House.