ON Thursday, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times presented a guest piece in his On The Ground column by Han-Yi Shaw (original name, Shao Hanyi), a Research Fellow at the Research Center for International Legal Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
Mr. Shaw suspects that Japan illegally seized the Senkaku islets from China in 1895 and thinks he can prove it. These islets are at the center of a serious dispute between the two countries. The Japanese government’s purchase of some of the islets from their private Japanese owners caused violent demonstrations throughout China last week.
The Shaw article is titled The Inconvenient Truth Behind the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. That’s apt, because the truth is inconvenient indeed — for Mr. Shaw. His piece is weak, short on facts, long on innuendo, and contains internal contradictions and inaccuracies.
And if that weren’t enough, Mr. Shaw unwittingly demonstrates that he doesn’t follow current events in Japan very closely.
The article is filled with lacunae. Here’s how he starts:
Japan’s recent purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has predictably reignited tensions amongst China, Japan, and Taiwan. Three months ago, when Niwa Uichiro, the Japanese ambassador to China, warned that Japan’s purchase of the islands could spark an “extremely grave crisis” between China and Japan, Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro slammed Niwa as an unqualified ambassador, who “needs to learn more about the history of his own country”.
Ambassador Niwa was forced to apologize for his remarks and was recently replaced. But what is most alarming amid these developments is that despite Japan’s democratic and pluralist society, rising nationalist sentiments are sidelining moderate views and preventing rational dialogue.
Now here’s what he doesn’t say and what he left out.
The duties of an ambassador do not include giving interviews to foreign publications, in this case the Financial Times, to influence the policies of his government. Their duties are limited to serving in a foreign country as representatives to express their government’s views and policies.
Mr. Niwa also reportedly made several other poorly received statements, including the suggestion that the Age of a Greater China is coming, and that Japan would be better off becoming a Chinese vassal state.
Mr. Shaw might not know that Niwa Uichiro was not a career diplomat. He resigned his position as chairman of Itochu Corp., a large trading company with extensive business interests in China, to become the ambassador.
He neglects to mention that Mr. Niwa was summoned to Tokyo from Beijing to ensure that he would deliver the messages to China that the Japanese government wanted him to deliver, instead of what Niwa Uichiro thought they should say.
I know of no Japanese who publicly called for Mr. Niwa to be retained in his position. Ishihara Shintaro’s criticism had little, if any, impact on the decision.
But one of the points of Mr. Shaw’s piece is to convey the idea that the ultranationalist Ishihara is preventing “rational dialogue” in Japan’s democratic and pluralistic society.
It is an inconvenient truth for Mr. Shaw, however, that public opinion polling shows little support for Mr. Ishihara in national politics. He put his name behind the effort to create the Sunrise Party of Japan for the upper house elections in 2010. It has seven sitting members in the bicameral Diet at present. None of their members won a seat through direct election in 2010. Only one of them won a proportional representation seat.
That’s important because it means Ishihara Shintaro is incapable of electorally punishing the Democratic Party government of Noda Yoshihiko. Thus, it would seem that Mr. Shaw wants to discredit the Japanese intent to keep the Senkaku islets by demonizing Ishihara Shintaro and suggesting he has a stranglehold on Japanese policymaking. He doesn’t.
I spent some time on this because Mr. Shaw is trying to add a contemporary political dimension to the issue instead of limiting himself to the presentation of historical evidence. People do that sort of thing all the time. But if Mr. Shaw wants to do it, he needs to do some homework first.
My research of over 40 official Meiji period documents unearthed from the Japanese National Archives, Diplomatic Records Office, and National Institute for Defense Studies Library clearly demonstrates that the Meiji government acknowledged Chinese ownership of the islands back in 1885.
We’d all like to see his evidence, but he doesn’t show us any. His article is accompanied by photographs of two Meiji-era documents stating that Japanese surveys of the islets were incomplete. Perhaps they were. But he would have better made his point by showing photographs that he thinks are clear proof of Japanese acknowledgement instead of those irrelevant letters. The discussion of historical research should not involve sleight-of-hand. That doesn’t stop him from saying:
Following the first on-site survey, in 1885, the Japanese foreign minister wrote, “Chinese newspapers have been reporting rumors of our intention of occupying islands belonging to China located next to Taiwan.…
I can’t determine from that translated sentence whether the foreign minister thinks the islands belong to China or the Chinese newspapers think the islands belong to China. Heck, the Chinese newspapers still think that. It might have been easy to clear up the syntax had he shown us a photo of that Japanese letter, but instead he shows us two other Japanese letters unrelated to his point.
Is there an inconvenient truth in the letter he doesn’t want us to see? Any more background information he’s leaving out?
Speaking of background, here’s something from a piece I wrote in 2010:
Fukuoka native Koga Tatsuhiro was making a living in Naha, Okinawa, catching and exporting finfish and shellfish when he discovered in 1884 that the islets were the habitat of the rare short-tailed albatross. He started collecting albatross feathers for sale in addition conducting to his fishing business. Ten years later, he applied to the government of Okinawa Prefecture to lease the islands. They turned him down because they weren’t sure who the islands belonged to. Koga then applied to the interior and agriculture ministries in Tokyo, and they turned him down for the same reason… The Senkakus were uninhabited and unclaimed—indeed, they had never been administered at any time by the Chinese government, and there is no record of any Chinese ever living or working there.
That’s relevant, because Mr. Shaw writes:
In November 1885, the Okinawa governor confirmed “since this matter is not unrelated to China, if problems do arise I would be in grave repentance for my responsibility”.
The only things the Okinawa governor confirmed were that the matter might have been related to China because he didn’t know who the islets belonged to, and that claiming territory was not his job. It does not demonstrate that he knew they were Chinese.
Mr. Shaw’s only mention of Koga Tatsuhiro is this:
In his biography Koga Tatsushiro, the first Japanese citizen to lease the islands from the Meiji government, attributed Japan’s possession of the islands to “the gallant military victory of our Imperial forces.”
People say all sorts of things in the spirit of patriotism, particularly after a war. But that “gallant military victory” also resulted in Japanese possession of other islands: Taiwan and the Pescadores. His manner of framing Koga’s involvement and the brevity of the direct quote raise questions that a serious scholar would not leave unanswered.
But if Koga, the operator of a small business, thought the islands were Chinese, Mr. Shaw would have told us. In fact, when Koga first wanted to establish a business there, he went to the Okinawa governor. That suggests he thought they were Japanese, if anything.
Incidentally, Koga and his son ran that business on the islands until 1940, and more than 200 of his employees lived there. It is still possible, however, to run across commentators who say the islands are “uninhabitable”.
Collectively, these official documents leave no doubt that the Meiji government did not base its occupation of the islands following “on-site surveys time and again,” but instead annexed them as booty of war.
Well, that settles that, at least for Mr. Shaw. Or does it?
Here are some more inconvenient truths.
* The first war between China and Japan started in April 1894 and ended when the Chinese sued for peace in February 1895.
* Among the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed in April 1895, Japan had China give complete independence to Korea, and received the territories of Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula (which Russia, France, and Germany made Japan give back a week later), and the Pescadores — other islands near Taiwan.
* The Japanese government annexed the Senkakus in January 1895, one month before the Chinese sued for peace and four months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
* The Japanese government knew that Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula, and the Pescadores were Chinese territory, and so insisted on them in the treaty negotiations. They even fought and defeated Qing dynasty troops at a garrison in the Pescadores and occupied the islands to ensure the Chinese would give them Taiwan in the negotiations then underway. They didn’t treat them as “booty of war”.
It would be logical to assume that if they thought the Senkakus were also Chinese territory, they would have included them in the treaty too. They were getting everything else they wanted. Therefore, it would seem that the Japanese thought they weren’t anybody’s territory, much less Chinese, and so annexed them.
Japan asserts that neither Beijing nor Taipei objected to U.S. administration after WWII. That’s true, but what Japan does not mention is that neither Beijing nor Taipei were invited as signatories of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, from which the U.S. derived administrative rights.
What Mr. Shaw does not mention is that Chiang Kai-shek had the ear of the Allied forces throughout the war. He also participated in the conferences that resulted in the Cairo Declaration of 1943. One clause included the provision that Japan would give back all the territories it seized from China, including Taiwan and the Pescadores. Complaints about the San Francisco Peace Treaty are quibbling.
Indeed, Chiang Kai-shek also wanted Okinawa, but he didn’t get anywhere with that one. The current Chinese government is still trying.
Mr. Shaw also fails to mention that the reason neither the PRC or the ROC were invited to the peace treaty conference is that they were in the middle of a civil war at the time and lacked the legal status to be party to an international agreement.
When Japan annexed the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 1895, it detached them from Taiwan and placed them under Okinawa Prefecture… Qing period (1644-1911) records substantiate Chinese ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands prior to 1895. Envoy documents indicate that the islands reside inside the “border that separates Chinese and foreign lands.”
A post written by Prof. Shimojo Masao and presented here yesterday demonstrates that is incorrect. The Qing period records Prof. Shimojo presented — including maps that still exist — are clear about the border of China and Taiwan. None of them mentioned the Senkakus. Indeed, Qing dynasty records show that they considered the border to be Mt. Jilong in Taiwan: in 1684, when they incorporated the western part of Taiwan, and 1696, 1728, 1744, and 1793. It’s not possible to detach anything that isn’t attached to begin with.
And according to Taiwan gazetteers, “Diaoyu Island accommodates ten or more large ships” under the jurisdiction of Kavalan, Taiwan.
That’s most curious. If the Taiwan gazetteers were the ones who thought Diaoyu was part of Taiwan, why doesn’t he show us a photo of the publication? He does show us the photo of a gazetteer in the unrelated Fujian Province on the mainland in 1871, but none from Taiwan. Is that because he is aware of the inconvenient truths Prof. Shimojo has uncovered?
Half a century later when Japan returned Taiwan to China…
Chapter 2, Article 2 (b) of the San Francisco treaty:
Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.
Japan did not “return Taiwan to China”. It only renounced its right, title, and claim. Every scholar in Taiwan knows this. Does Mr. Shaw have another agenda?
Half a century later when Japan returned Taiwan to China, both sides adopted the 1945 administrative arrangement of Taiwan, with the Chinese unaware that the uninhabited “Senkaku Islands” were in fact the former Diaoyu Islands. This explains the belated protest from Taipei and Beijing over U.S. administration of the islands after the war.
Rather than explain the belated protest, it offers an excuse for the belated protest, and not a very good one at that. The Chinese don’t even know their own geography? For example:
The first is an official letter from a Chinese consul in Nagasaki dated May 20, 1920 that listed the islands as Japanese territory.
The letter contained the Japanese name for the Senkakus rather than the Chinese name. What Mr. Shaw finds inconvenient to mention is that the document is an official expression of gratitude for the Japanese rescuing Chinese fishermen who were shipwrecked on the islets. They didn’t know what islets they were?
The “belated protest” didn’t come until 1971, after the potential for undersea resources were discovered in the area and the Americans and the Japanese signed the agreement to restore Okinawa to Japan.
Up until then, as I’ve noted before:
8 January 1953: Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) published an article titled “The Ryukyu Islanders’ Struggle against American Occupation” (i.e., Okinawa). The article mentioned the Senkakus, used that name, and stated they were part of the Ryukyus.
November 1958: A Beijing company published a map of the world showing the Senkakus as Japanese territory and using the Japanese name.
October 1965: The Research Institute for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense published a series of world maps. It showed the islets as part of Japanese territory and used the Japanese name Senkakus. Here is a color reproduction of the map itself on a Taiwanese website. The poster worries about how the map would affect the Taiwanese claim. Scroll down to see the magical mystery change on the map for the 1972 edition.
6 October 1968: The Taiwanese newspaper Lianhebao (United Daily News) published an article explaining that Taiwanese fishermen were prohibited from fishing in the Senkakus. They used the Japanese name.
Hit this link for a look at the front page of the People’s Daily, as well as a Chinese map published in 1953, and republished in 1958, 1960, and 1967.
But Mr. Shaw would have us believe:
The Japanese government frequently cites two documents as evidence that China did not consider the islands to be Chinese. The first is an official letter from a Chinese consul in Nagasaki dated May 20, 1920 that listed the islands as Japanese territory. The second piece evidence is a Chinese map from 1958 that excludes the Senkaku Islands from Chinese territory. But the Japanese government’s partial unveiling leaves out important information from the map’s colophon: “certain national boundaries are based on maps compiled prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War(1937-1945).”
I count three more maps from China, two from Taiwan (one for a junior high school textbook), an article in the People’s Daily, and an article in a Taiwanese newspaper.
That’s more than “two”.
And that’s not to mention the classified 1969 Chinese government map reported in the United States to be in the possession of the Japanese government, and which has been seen by sources at that media outlet.
Want to bet that the US government also has seen it? Perhaps that’s the back story for this report which appeared yesterday:
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for East Asian and Pacific Affairs) Kurt Campbell said islands at the heart of a dispute between Japan and China fall under an American defense pact with Japan, while urging the sides to resolve the standoff via diplomacy…The U.S. doesn’t take a position on the sovereignty of the islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, Campbell said. His comments echoed those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in 2010 that the islands fall under “mutual treaty obligations” with the Japan government.
And that comment about the colophon is so disingenuous as to be odiferous. The author would have us believe it refers to the Senkakus, whose status wasn’t in dispute for decades before or after the second war with China. But Japan also occupied the Spratlys and the Paracels during the war and relinquished them after 1945 as well. Disputes about the Spratlys continue to the present with Vietnam. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t address anything about that part of the map. Would it show something that he finds inconvenient? In addition, the borders of China, Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia frequently shifted before and after the war. Was the colophon referring to that? Instead of answer, Mr. Shaw gives us only more innuendo.
Concludes Mr. Shaw:
The right to know is the bedrock of every democracy. The Japanese public deserves to know the other side of the story.
On 21 August this year, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou appeared on Japanese television and presented his case that the Senkaku islets were Taiwan’s territory. I’d be glad to introduce Mr. Shaw to the NHK producer who edited the program for broadcast if he wants to know how much the Japanese public knows. He sure doesn’t know now.
In his introduction to the piece, Nicholas Kristof writes:
I invite any Japanese scholars to make the contrary legal case.
Though a Ph.D isn’t essential to debate an activist academic, Mr. Kristof’s request is a reasonable one for maintaining the level of dialogue in his column and at the newspaper.
But a Japanese scholar has already accepted Mr. Kristof’s request to make a contrary legal case, and notification of that acceptance has been sent to him.
We’ll see what happens next.
People will have to distort the facts to make the claim that only the ultra-rightwing nationalists are the obstacle. The Japanese Communist Party, ultra-rightwing nationalist scalawags that they are, also addresses the issue on their website:
The Senkaku Islands question has nothing to do with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty to conclude the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 decided to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan. This was Japan’s territorial expansion, which can never be justified. But every historical document tells us that the Senkaku Islands question was dealt with separately from the Taiwan and Penghu Islands question. In the negotiations on the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, the question of title to the Senkaku Islands was not taken up.
The JCP, by the way, also complained that the U.S. military used the islets for target practice.