Lending clarity to the China-Japan dispute

Sep 19 2012, 03:36 IST
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SummaryChina is in the news once again, for rowdy anti-Japanese protests raging in as many as 50 Chinese cities.

private ownership”. Japan says that the city government of Ishigaki, Okinawa prefecture, has jurisdiction over the islands.

Quite like Nehru’s famous words on India’s Aksai Chin—“not a blade of grass grows there”—the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands have not a single human being. These five islets and three rock formations are land “you can’t even find on most maps”. But contending claims of the three parties—China, Taiwan and Japan—are embedded in history, a virulent nationalism, and to top it all, the economics of the seas. Moreover, the fallout of the dispute may set (an unworthy) precedent for other unresolved claims (such as Japan-Korea over Takeshima/Tokdo, which are known in English as the Liancourt Rocks dispute; China-Vietnam claims in Spratlys) resting in the seas.

Their significance accrues from, as an observer has noted, the huge area of continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—“an estimated 71,000 square kilometres … that would convey rights to 100 billion barrels of oil and rich fishing grounds.” The sea-lanes and strategic geopolitical location are added benefits, the latter which Daily Yomiuri makes no bones about: “If the military’s new osprey aircraft is stationed in Okinawa prefecture, the mobility of US Marines will be improved, raising hopes of keeping China in check.”

But it’s not quite checkmate, yet. China’s claims are seeded in ancient history. According to associate professor at San Francisco State University, Jean-Marc F Blanchard, the Chinese trace their claim to 1372 when the islands were discovered, and consequently named in 1403. Travel records of Ming and Qing courts, Chinese maps and scholarly works of both Japanese and Chinese scholars attest to this. Thus the Chinese claim thievery, saying that Japan “stole” these islands. According to China, the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), which ended the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, ceded Taiwan, Pescadores and Senkaku/Diaoyu to Japan. Now China wants it back.

However, the Japanese dismiss this version. They contend that Senkaku/Diaoyu was discovered by Japan in 1884. Then Senkaku/Diaoyu showed no traces of Chinese control, nor did China protest any activity by the Japanese on the islands. It was made a part of Okinawa in 1895 and markers erected. Okinawa was carved from the Ryukuku Islands (once an independent sovereign kingdom incorporated into Japan as Ryuku-han in 1872). The Japanese contend that Senkaku/Diaoyu was never “transferred to Japan via Treaty of Shimonoseki” as the Chinese claim.

Seemingly, both versions have some validity. Professor Kimie Hara of the University of Waterloo (Canada) provides

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