Under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in April 1895, the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands to Japan. No mention was made of the Senkaku Islands. There is no record of any discussions taking place on the Senkaku in the bilateral negotiations on the treaty. The incorporation of the Senkaku into Japan’s territory by exercising its rights of “acquisition through occupation” based on the legal principle of terra nullius was carried out three months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki was concluded.
During the 50-year period from 1895 to 1945, when Japan ruled both Taiwan and the Pescadores under the jurisdiction of the Governor-General of Taiwan (Formosa), the Senkaku Islands were under the jurisdiction of the Okinawa prefectural government as part of the prefecture’s Nansei Islands, a chain of islands extending from southwestern Kyushu to waters north of Taiwan. Administrative jurisdiction over the Senkaku was entirely separate from the administration of Taiwan and the Pescadores.
Searching for options, the Chinese government has recently begun quoting the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration as evidence of its claims. Beijing argues that Japan’s acceptance of these declarations means that it agreed to return the Senkaku to China (the Republic of China) along with Taiwan and the Pescadores as “islands appertaining to Taiwan.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
To be sure, the Cairo Declaration obliged Japan “to restore to the Republic of China all the territories Japan has stolen from the Qing Dynasty of China such as Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores.” Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration stipulated, “The Cairo Declaration shall be implemented.” However, there is no evidence that shows that the Allied powers, including the Republic of China, recognized the Senkaku Islands as among “the islands appertaining to Formosa.”
The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in September 1951, defined the territory of Japan after the war: Article 2 (b) of the treaty stipulated that Japan renounced territorial sovereignty over Formosa and the Pescadores, which the treaty said had been ceded by China to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War. However, the Senkaku Islands were not included “in the islands appertaining to Formosa” in the treaty. Had the Senkaku, at that time, been recognized as “islands appertaining to Taiwan,” the U.S. would not have placed the Senkaku under its administration as part of Okinawa prefecture. In this respect, China’s claims are without legal foundation.
No Agreement on “Shelving”
The term of “shelving” an issue refers to the acknowledgement by two parties that an issue exists, and the agreement to postpone resolution to a future date. Japan and China never agreed to “shelve” any issue related to the territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Documents recently released by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs make this clear.
At the time of negotiations between Japan and China in 1972 to normalize diplomatic relations, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai briefly exchanged words on the Senkaku Islands. One document quotes Tanaka as asking Zhou: “What is your view on the Senkaku Islands? Some people say things about them to me.” The exchange ended abruptly with Zhou’s response: “I do not want to talk about it this time. If there wasn’t oil, neither Taiwan nor the United States would make this an issue.” That is the entire exchange, and it simply cannot be equated with an argument in favor of shelving the issue.
The record also reveals what Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping said about the Senkaku Islands in 1978 to then Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. Deng was visiting Japan for an exchange of instruments ratifying the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship. During his meeting with Fukuda, Deng said, “There’s no need to raise subjects like this [the issue of what is called the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan] at a meeting like this.” Deng also said: “There’s probably insufficient wisdom to resolve this issue in our generation, but with the next generation likely to be wiser than us, they will probably be able to find some resolution to the issue.” Fukuda made no response.
At a press conference on the day he met with Fukuda, Deng reiterated his desire to leave a solution to the Senkaku problem to the next generation, as “people of our generation don’t have sufficient wisdom to settle this problem…Even if this means the issue is temporarily shelved, I don’t think I mind. I don’t mind if it’s shelved for 10 years,” Deng added.
As these records show, there was never any recognition that a territorial or sovereignty problem existed between Japan and China or that an accord or agreement to shelve the matter existed. Although Deng’s remarks were carefully and skillfully phrased at the press conference, he was merely offering his own opinion.