The Origin of the Territorial Dispute of the Senkaku Islands

                    The Origin of the Territorial Dispute of the Senkaku Islands

                                 Eisuke Suzuki  

The Wall Street Journal has nervously peeked out of the closet by acknowledging that “the U.S. took the Senkakus from Japan after World War II and returned them in early 1970s, effectively settling the question of their sovereignty for American purposes.” This is the Journal’s Editorial statement, “The Senkaku Boomerang” of November 1, 2013. It also suggested, “The more explicit the Obama Administration is that the Senkakus are Japanese, the likelier Beijing is to back down.” It would have been commendable if the Journal came out openly first by unequivocally stating that the Senkaku Islands are integral part of Japanese sovereignty.

The Journal must be aware that the Nixon Administration deliberately created the problem of the Senkaku Islands by leaving the ownership of the Senkaku Islands out of the Okinawa Islands, of which the Senkaku Islands are part. The Nixon Administration did so by treating the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands as being undetermined in order to appease the then-Republic of China’s government on Taiwan whose large textile exports to the U.S. were creating a serious problem for the President Nixon’s southern strategy campaign for re-election. Also, at that time, the U.S. was secretly negotiating with the Chinese government in Beijing for rapprochement and possible Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China.

The Nixon Administration’s utmost desire for the successful re-election campaign and historic United States rapprochement with Beijing necessitated it not to displease either the government in Beijing which started claiming the islands for the first time since the U.N. indicated the probable presence of substantial energy deposits in the area around the Senkaku Islands or the government in Taipei which claimed them likewise. Thus, the United States changed its long-standing recognition of Japan’s “residual sovereignty” over the Ryukyu (Okinawa) Islands including the Senkaku Islands to the strictly neutral position that the Okinawa reversion treaty did not prejudice anyone's claims to the disputed islands. That was an ahistorical political concoction to serve the self-convenience of the time at the expense of Japan’s sovereignty. In particular, the tape-recording of the heated tripartite discussion of June 7, 1971 among President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Henry Kissinger, and President’s Assistant for the International Economic Affairs Peter Peterson bears witness to the linkage of the Senkaku Islands to the Taiwan’s textile export. That tape is kept in President Nixon Library.          To break the impasse of the textile negotiations in Taipei, Ambassador Kennedy suggested certain concessions to Taiwan be offered. Peterson noted, “Ambassador Kennedy is convinced that the ‘only’ way to resolve the issues is to withhold turning the Senkaku Islands over to Japanese administrative control under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement.” Peterson quotes from Ambassador Kennedy’s argument:

  “This is a major issue in Taiwan with both domestic and international implications. If the U.S.  were to maintain administrative control, it would give the [Government of the Republic of China] a tremendous public boost since they have expressed themselves so forcefully on the issues. Further, it would be a very direct indication of our continued interest in and support for the GRC—and it would be done at Japan's expense, a point that is vital to our ability to proceed effectively with textile negotiations in Hong Kong and Korea and subsequently in Japan. Announcement of such a decision allows the GRC to save face both at home (it takes the Vice Premier off the hook) and abroad. Taiwan could accept the current textile package in face of Hong Kong and Korean pressure.

“In addition, such an act would, in my opinion, provide a very badly needed shock effect on the Japanese. It would indicate that U.S. acquiescence in all matters requested by the Japanese could no longer be taken for granted.”

On June 7, 1971 “Kennedy told Chiang Ching-kuo of the decision on the Senkaku Islands. Chiang asked that the U.S. Government categorically state at the time of the signing of the Okinawa reversion agreement that the final status of the islands had not been determined and should be settled by all parties involved.”

That was the origin of the Senkaku Islands problem. It does not make sense for the United States to perpetuate this fictitious election gimmick in 1971. Any question about the status of the Senkaku Islands must be answered in the context of Article 3 of the Peace Treaty, which placed “Nansei Shoto, south of 29North latitude (including the Ryukyu and the Daito Islands)”under the United States’ trust as “sole administrating authority.” It is obvious that the area includes the Ryukyu Islands, which in turn include the Senkaku Islands. That has been the consistent position of the U.S. government from Dean Acheson through John Foster Dulles to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Therefore, as I argued before in this column ("The Senkaku Islands and the United States," <http:/> April 16, 2013), the United States largely “encouraged,” unwittingly or otherwise, the current on-going dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. The Wall Street Journal is absolutely correct in calling for the more explicit statement by the Obama Administration that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan. ###