How to solve the issue of the Senkaku Islands: Japan's indisputable territorial right

Protests in China are continuing over this month’s collision of a Chinese fishing vessel with two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and the arrest of the trawler’s captain. The Japanese Communist Party issued a statement in 1972 making clear that the Senkakus are Japan’s territory. Based on this statement, this article explores the way to solve the problem.

Based on history and international law, the islands clearly belong to Japan

Although the existence of the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu Islands in Chinese) was long recognized in Japan and China, neither country ever established settlements there. Since they were included as part of Japanese territory in January 1895, the Senkakus have belonged to Japan.

In 1884, Koga Tatsushiro, a Japanese man, explored the islands for the first time in Japan’s history and applied to the Japanese government in the following year for a lease on the islands. Following a number of field studies conducted by the Okinawa prefectural government, the Japanese government in a cabinet meeting on January 14, 1895 decided to incorporate the islands into its territory. Historically, this is the first act of possession of the Senkakus and since then Japan’s effective rule over the islands has continued.

The possession of unowned land is what international law approves as possession and effective rule based on the rights of “occupation,” and for 75 years till 1970, no objection from foreign powers had ever been officially made to the right Japan has over the islands. Japan’s possession of the Senkakus is justifiable in accordance with international law on the grounds that it fulfills the requirements of the “occupation,” which is based on “continuous and peaceful display of sovereignty.”

China began to claim sovereignty over the Senkakus only after the 1970s

Both China and Taiwan started to claim sovereignty over the Senkakus since the 1970s, only after the U.N. Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East issued a report in 1969 indicating the possibility of large oil and gas reserves on the seabed around the islands. Taiwan began to claim that they belong to it in the 1970s, and the Chinese government claimed sovereignty through its foreign ministry statement issued on December 30, 1971.

In the Chinese historical documents, there is no record indicating that Chinese people have ever inhabited the Senkakus. The only description of the islands can be found in the documents of the Ming and Qing Dynasty, showing that the islands were known as a navigation point for ships travelling from China to Ryukyu. It was not until 1992 that China described them as part of its territory in its Territorial Waters Act. Until then, maps published in China put the islands outside Chinese territorial waters.

Insist internationally on the legitimacy of Japan’s claim and promote talks to prevent future incidents

The JCP on March 31, 1972 issued a statement, “The Senkaku Islands?Japanese Territory” and expressed its position that the Senkakus are clearly Japan’s territory (Akahata March 31, 1972 / Important International Issues, Japanese Communist Party Vol.7). Based on studies on historical developments and international law, it concluded that the islands and their surrounding area are part of Japan’s territory and territorial waters.

Even with historical documents made available after the publication of the statement, no finding which makes it necessary for the JCP to revise this view has been introduced. Under international law, a country can exclusively exercise its sovereignty within its territorial waters. Therefore, it is a matter of course for the Japan Coast Guard to crack down on illegal operations of foreign ships.

At the same time, the U.N. Charter and Convention on the Law of the Sea set as their important principles that international disputes shall be settled “by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered”(U.N. Charter). Based on this spirit, Japan first should intensify its diplomatic efforts to show internationally that its claim of sovereignty over the Senkakus has a legal basis in accordance with international law in territorial waters.

Second, negotiations are needed to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.

In order to not increase tensions it is also important for the Chinese side to respond to the issue in a restrained manner based on facts.

-Akahata, September 20, 2010

The JCP’s 1972 statement:

The Senkaku Islands--Japanese Territory

Press Conference by Tomio Nishizawa, JCP Standing Presidium Member

Akahata, March 31, 1972

1. While the seabed oil field question in the Senkakus area is being made an issue in various ways, suddenly from the side of Chiang Kai-shek, then from the government of the People's Republic of China the question of the title to the Senkaku Islands has been brought up. The Okinawa Legislature, in the March 3 plenary session resolved that "It is clear that the Senkakus are Japanese territory and there is no room for dispute over their territorial right". The opinion of our party is that this claim is correct. We would again like to make clear our party's view on the Senkakus question. For some time now our party has carried out investigations and studied the historical background and relations under international-law in connection with this. Our investigations have made it clear that the Senkakus are Japan's territory.

2. Some records relating to the Senkakus can be found from old times in both the literature of Japan, including Okinawa, and the literature of China. But neither the Japanese nor the Chinese made any final decision that the Senkakus, which were uninhabited, and where no inhabitant of either country had ever settled, belonged to them.

In 1884, Tatsushiro Koga, a Japanese, for the first time in Japanese history explored Uotsurijima Island of the Senkakus and in the next year, 1885, he applied to the Japanese government for a lease on the islands. With regard to the territorial possession of the Senkakus, in January 1895 the Japanese government decided to place Uotsurijima and Kubajima Islands under the jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture. In April 1896, the government decided to include the Senkakus in Yaeyama County and designated them as state-owned lands. Historically, this measure was the first act of possession of the Senkakus. Japan's effective rule over the islands has continued since then. This is what in international law is regarded as possession and effective rule based on the rights of "occupation", and for 75 years, till 1970, no objection from foreign powers had ever been officially made to this.

3. In the meantime, in 1895 Koga again applied to the government for the lend-lease of the islands. In September 1896, he was granted the lease right to four islands (Uotsurijima, Kubajima, Minami-Kojima and Kita-Kojima Islands) for 30 years free of charge. Every year since then scores of reclaiming workers had been sent to the islands and "Kogamura Village" was set up on Kubajima. This is the first human settlement on the islands. Later a dried-bonito factory was built in Uotsurijima. (Since the end of World War II, the islands have again been uninhabited.)

4. The definite possession of the Senkakus was simultaneous with the Sino-Japanese war (1894-5) in which both the Japanese and Chinese ruling circles fought for domination over Korea. Japan was victorious in the war and China was forced to cede Taiwan and the Pescadores (Penghu), its attached islands, to Japan. It is clear that this action cannot be justified, but the Senkakus were not included in the settlement. Jurisdiction over the Senkakus was not taken up in the course of the Sino-Japanese negotiations.

As the result of Japan's defeat in 1945, all the territories Japan had taken from China, including "Taiwan and the Pescadores" were to be returned to China in accordance with the Cairo Proclamation and the Potsdam Declaration. But the Senkakus were not included. The Chinese side did not claim the return of the Senkakus after Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration.

5. Since 1945, the Senkakus have been placed under the political and military rule of US imperialism, as part of Okinawa, and both Taishojima (Sekibisho or Kume-Akajima) and Kubajima (Kobisho) of the islands have been turned into firing ranges for the US armed forces and have been used for military purposes in exchange for a certain amount of ground rent (paid to Zenji Koga, son of Tatsushiro Koga). In Article 3 of the San Francisco Treaty, 1951, the Japanese government committed a serious error, that in disregard of the wishes and interests of the Okinawa prefectural people, it left Okinawa, including the Senkakus, under US imperialism's military occupation. Furthermore, in the existing "Okinawa Agreement", the Liberal-Democratic government has disregarded the wishes of the Okinawa prefectural people and agreed to the United States retaining its military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, including both Kubajima and Taishojima Islands of the Senkakus. Needless to say, the removal of the firing ranges of US armed forces from the Senkakus is also included in the struggle tasks for the complete reversion of Okinawa and the struggle for the removal of military bases of the US armed forces from the whole of Japan, struggles which the Japanese people, including the Okinawa prefectural people, have continued waging for a long time.

6. Since 1970, the Chiang Kai-shek group of Taiwan has begun to demand the right to the Senkakus, and then, in a statement of the foreign ministry on December 30, 1971, the People's Republic of China came out with the demand for the right to possess the islands. But the grounds for their demand lack substance.

(1) In the literature of the Chinese side there is no record that Chinese people have ever inhabited the Senkakus. Neither the Ming Dynasty nor the Qing (Ching) Dynasty had announced possession of the Senkakus internationally. There is one opinion that claims that the Senkakus "were included in the marine defense area of the Ming Dynasty", but this is a different question from territorial possession.

(2) There is no precedent to show that historically the Chinese side raised any objection to Japan's possession of the Senkakus.

(3) On maps of the whole of China issued by the People's Republic of China (for instance, the map issued by the Peking Map Publisher, 1966) the Senkakus are not included, nor on the map of Taiwan Province are the Senkakus included. The geographical position and longitude of the Senkakus(between 123.4 degrees - 125 degrees east longitude) are outside the "territorial waters" indicated by the Chinese map.

(4) There is also one argument that makes the grounds for the claim that the Senkakus belonging to "Chinese territory", that they are located at the tip of the so-called "Chinese continental shelf". The so-called "continental shelf" theory, with the depth of 200 meters as the yardstick, is an opinion covering seabed resources and a matter different from the possession of islands in the area.

7. From the above points, Japan's right to possession of the Senkakus is clear. The United States, which has continued to use the islands as firing ranges for military purposes, plans to retain them even after the "Okinawa Agreement" goes into effect. We demand that the firing ranges of US armed forces on Kubajima and Taishojima be removed and that the Senkakus be islands of peace.

The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party
4-26-7 Sendagaya,Shibuya-ku,Tokyo 151-8586