Evidence That Diaoyu Islands Really Do Belong To China, On Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times Blog [UPDATE]

There’s no superlative I can offer for Nicholas Kristof that you haven’t already heard, so let’s just jump to this latest post on his NY Times blog, On the Ground, written by Han-Yi Shaw. Kristof offers a brief introduction to start:

This is a dispute that both sides should refer to the International Court of Justice, rather than allow to boil over in the streets. That said, when I look at the underlying question of who has the best claim, I’m sympathetic to China’s position. I don’t think it is 100 percent clear, partly because China seemed to acquiesce to Japanese sovereignty between 1945 and 1970, but on balance I find the evidence for Chinese sovereignty quite compelling. The most interesting evidence is emerging from old Japanese government documents and suggests that Japan in effect stole the islands from China in 1895 as booty of war.

And now, two excerpts from Shaw’s piece:

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.

When Japan annexed the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 1895, it detached them from Taiwan and placed them under Okinawa Prefecture. Moreover, the Japanese name “Senkaku Islands” itself was first introduced in 1900 by academic Kuroiwa Hisashi and adopted by the Japanese government thereafter. 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.


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.” And according to Taiwan gazetteers, “Diaoyu Island accommodates ten or more large ships” under the jurisdiction of Kavalan, Taiwan.

The right to know is the bedrock of every democracy. The Japanese public deserves to know the other side of the story. It is the politicians who flame public sentiments under the name of national interests who pose the greatest risk, not the islands themselves.

Obviously it deserves a full reading. Go check it out.

And of course, we welcome all discussion.

UPDATE, 10/5: Japanese scholar Takayuki Nishi’s response.

    29 Responses to “Evidence That Diaoyu Islands Really Do Belong To China, On Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times Blog [UPDATE]”

    1. narsfweasels

      Well, put it like this:

      1: The Map. Tha maps that China refers to as being historical evidence show the Diaoyu as being part of China, but so is Outer Mongolia. They’re not claiming that. Additionally, half of what now stands of modern day Tibet was NOT owned by China as shown on the map. Would they be willing to give that up?

      2: Spoils of War: Tough shit. You win it in a war, it’s yours – unless they fight to get it back. Britain lost the War of US Independence, we signed an agreement. France lost the Napoleonic War, they signed an agreement. Germany lost the Great War and WWII, they signed an agreement.

      None of these agreements were considered particularly “fair” by the losers, but shit, DEAL WITH IT. If you are on the losing side, you invariably DON’T get what you want. That’s what being a “loser” is. If you got everything you wanted, that would make you the “winner”.

      • Tiu Fu Fong

        On the tough shit for losers attitude on 2, the article points out that:

        “However, per post-WW II arrangements, Japan was required to surrender territories obtained from aggression and revert them to their pre-1895 legal status.”

        Japan claimed the islands in 1895 so, under your argument in 2, Japan’s loser status from WW2 means tough shit for them and the islands are China’s.

          • Hurgh

            I don’t think that has anything to do with what that poster just said. Tibet wasn’t a spoils of war deal and china never signed anything saying it would relinquish it.

          • Tiu Fu Fong

            I’m indifferent on Tibet. If it’s going to handed back to anyone, may as well hand back the whole thing plus some of Sichuan too. Also slice off some of the Qing empire conquests like Xinjian which were clearly never “Chinese” (Jurchen at best by conquest).

          • simon

            Tibet was never a seperate nation prior or after the Chinese civil war. Dalai Lama lost, too bad. You don’t just pull a civil war out and claim the loser as an independent nation. And I wouldn’t go for Lama. He has a terrible historical record, which is affirmed by both Chinese and non Chinese.

    2. kevin

      The islands are not “booty of war”, they are lands claimed by the victor of the war in 1895. Just like the US with Hawaii. Japan won the war, they got the islands

    3. Andao

      The US beat Japan. China definitely wasn’t going to beat Japan on their own. So I guess if you think about olden times, the US would get the territory to do with as they please. It’s sort of irrelevant who controlled it 100 or 200 years ago. You have some land and I win, I get that land, regardless of whether or not a third party controlled it some time ago. It’s not a kind or moral way to look at it, but I think it’s a realistic assumption. The US got the Philippines after winning the Spanish-American War, regardless of the wishes of the Filipino people. Same idea.

      Now it would look pretty bad for the US to occupy a bunch of territory as spoils of war (although that didn’t stop the USSR). So they doled it out back to its mostly original owners. The US occupied the Diaoyus/Senkaku islands as part of Okinawa, and everyone agrees that this was the case. So it seems pretty clear that the US gave the territory to Japan when they ended the occupation in the 1970s.

      I think it’s totally valid to blame the Americans for being vague or for not understanding the Chinese claim on the islands. The Americans understood Taiwan and surrounding islands as Chinese, and acted accordingly. So either the Americans think the Diaoyus/Senkaku are Japanese, or they were just careless about their history and didn’t realize it was a contentious issue. Both of these are valid reasons to be angry at Japan and/or the US, but I think when looking at the legal status of the islands, the Japanese have the better case.

      • narsfweasels

        Agreed, reversion or no reversion, the US administered them and then handed them back.

        How much is China willing to pay for past upkeep of this so-called sovereign territory?

        • elise

          “Sure, legally Tibet is China, but owning a piece of land where all the people hate your guts isn’t worth bragging about.”

          Did you take a poll with All the people in Tibet. All that hatred is in your mind!

          • Andao

            I’d love to take a poll, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in China though. Otherwise after all the unrest over there, you’d think the newspapers would try to figure out what the public was really thinking.

            Look at other (normal) countries where a region doesn’t like the center very much. Quebec in Canada, Scotland in the UK, etc…either they push for independence or they elect parties that support greater autonomy. Which party in Tibet is pushing for “greater autonomy for ethnic Tibetans”? None, it’s all about what makes Beijing happy.

    4. Kai

      All this talk about the irrelevance of historical claims misses the fact that they’re just the claimant’s motivation for a present-day claim. If you accept the islands belonging to Japan because the Japanese have taken them (from whoever or no one) and then administered them, then you’ll be morally and rhetorically forced to accept the islands belonging to China if they take them and then administer them (now or in the future), whether through military force or political force.

      That’s the pitfall of the spoils of war or might makes right rationale. You can whine all you want about Tibet historically not being a part of China but your own arguments for why the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan would justify Tibet now belonging to China. It wouldn’t matter if China believes Tibet to have “historically” been a part of itself, all that would matter under your professed criteria would be that China has control, that it conquered them, that it administers it.

      Are we ready to say if China somehow pressures Japan into giving them the islands that “China won so they get the islands”? Maybe we’d begrudgingly admire them for winning land without resorting to conventional warfare? Through politics alone? Would we tell the Japanese who think it is unfair to “shit, DEAL WITH IT”? That they lost and that’s what it means to be a loser?

      Our justifications and rationalizations for the past will be used to justify our acceptance and rejection of what may transpire in the future. The fact is, we don’t usually have internally consistent rationalizations or principles. We just choose sides based on our current prejudices, on our own self-interest, other people’s claims or rationale be damned.

      • Andao

        The same argument can’t be applied to Tibet because Tibet has at least some people who do not wish to be part of the PRC. They aren’t given the option of self rule, but would probably exercise that right if given the chance. Sure, legally Tibet is China, but owning a piece of land where all the people hate your guts isn’t worth bragging about.

        The juicy oil deposits around Senkaku/Diaoyus don’t care either way. I think it’s impossible to compare inhabited vs uninhabited land when you don’t take into account what the people involved actually want.

        • Kai

          Arbitrary distinction, the kind where “tough shit” and “shit, deal with it” still applies. If you think subjective self-determination should take precedence over de facto control, what’s to stop someone else from thinking subjective historical records should take precedence over de facto control?

          Internal consistency is tough. That’s why everyone’s a hypocrite with very little moral high ground except that which is given to them by those who happen to agree with them.

          • Andao

            The distinction is not arbitrary. People in a territory who are unhappy with the rulers aren’t going to be especially productive. Uninhabited land is agnostic. The oil still comes out of the ground if it’s a Chinese drill or a Japanese one, but it seems very reasonable to suggest the Tibetan economy sucks more than it would if the Tibetans themselves were running the show. It’s easier to make a case for tax evasion, for example, if the leaders are “those evil Han Chinese” instead of a bunch of Tibetans.

            All borders in all of history are arbitrary. Especially when dealing with uninhabited land when people aren’t directly involved. When there ARE people living in a disputed piece of land, I don’t see why self-determination wouldn’t be the default preference. Historical preference is useless in this case since it doesn’t do anything for the people on the ground who are directly impacted. It’s sort of like that island Japan and Korea are fighting over…why not just ask the few families living there which country they want to belong to? Problem solved.

            • Kai

              Measuring the justification of one country’s control’s control over a piece of land by how productive the inhabitants are is arbitrary. Same for economic performance. I was responding to “the pitfall of the spoils of war or might makes right rationale.”

              I’m not commenting on the arbitrariness of borders. I’m commenting on the arbitrariness of the arguments people use to justify their positions.

              You don’t see why self-determination wouldn’t be the default, while others don’t see why power projection (might makes right, spoils of war, etc.) wouldn’t be the default. That’s why I said, “what’s to stop someone else from…”

      • Wheel Nut

        What transpires in the future, just as in the past, depends on who has more power to enforce their will upon others who will forced to choose between submission and destruction.

    5. Guy

      Those commenting that the occupation of these islands was achieved through warfare are misinformed. They were not a part of the Shimonoseki treaty that ended the first Sino-Japanese War. They were annexed subsequently, after the Japanese (correctly) judged that they had never been settled by the Chinese. They later claimed (incorrectly) that they had been the first to discover and survey the islands. In fact they were first recorded by the Ming Dynasty during an official Ming Envoy to the Japanese court.

      In all I have discovered in my fairly limited research on this matter, they were never included by the Chinese as part of Chinese territory before 1972. I would like to be corrected on this if evidence exists.

      As I understand it, the islands were long used as a border demarkation between the Ryukyu Kingdom and the Ming and Qing Dynasties. One border falling on one side and one on the other. Japan aggressively, but fairly bloodlessly, annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879. Several Japanese scholars and politicians advised caution as the Ryukyu Kingdom was a tributary of China (as was Japan and Korea at the time). Between 1979 and 1895, several Japanese documents included the islands as part of China. Later, after the first Sino-Japanese War and the treaty of Shimonoseki, which handed Japan Taiwan and several other islands (not including the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands), and after a survey that revealed that they showed no sign of previous occupation, the Japanese decided to annex the islands. Again there were protests that it might upset the Chinese. Since then they have been occupied by Japan or America. Taiwan and China made their first claims in 1972 as America handed the islands back to Japan, a few years after the discovery of nearby potential oil reserves.

      If this history is incomplete or inaccurate, please correct me.

      • jim

        The Diaoyu Islands were ceded to Japan after China were defeated due to Japan’s invasion of China starting in 1994 and ended in 1895. The peripheral islands of Taiwan (also was called Formosa), including the Diaoyu Islands were also included and are described in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, 1895. Taiwan does not have only one peripheral island, but a whole bunch. Why Japan selectively recognize the others but not the Diaoyu Islannds? Here is the history and why:
        1895 -1945, Japan owned the Diaoyus as a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki (booty of war).
        1945 – 1972 (and up to now),the Diaoyus were returned as a result of the 1943 Cairo Declaration. The 1945 Potsdam Proclamation implemnets the Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Japanese Instrument of Surrender unconditionally implements the Potsdam Proclamation verbatimly. Japanese always also say the Chinese made no claims to the Diaoyus between 1945 and 1971. They just don’t see the Cairo Decl. has already returned the Diaoyus to China and there has not been a need to claim during peaceful times. Until the late 60s that The US and Japan (and the UN) found oil in the area. When Japan was trying to claim the Diaoyus, which were Chinese territory already, the Chinese had to refuse them and tell the whole world that the Diaoyus belong to China.

    6. huli dean

      If china gets the island back based on historical ownership, then the united states must hand their land back to the the natives.

      Historically werent the land all connected before plate tectonic ran wild?

    7. KopyKatKiller

      When those Islands were owned by “China”, China was owned by “Manchuria”. So…

      Hahaha: Just had a thought. The Japanese in China in WW2 were just trying to help return to the Manchu people what was indisputably there’s. Lol!


    Leave a Reply

    • (will not be published)

    XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

    3 × = three