Diaoyu Islands are located about 120 miles northeast of Taiwan island, historically part of China, seized by Japan after the 1894 Sino-Japanese war and supposedly to be returned to China after WW II. No people can reside on them since the islands are rocks with no fresh water. Then why Diaoyu Islands are news again with President Trump reiterating: the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty is applicable to the tiny islands (2-10-2017, Abe Shinzo visiting Washington DC)? President Obama made the same reiteration (4-24-2014, visiting Japan). In the press conference following, a reporter asked President Obama, will he engage in war for Diaoyu Islands, his reply was that the treaty was signed before he was born, kicking the responsibility bucket back at least six decades. I wonder WHY? And you may wonder too!
By examining into the history deeper, the truth is uncovered; some of which have been objectively presented by a documentary video: "Diaoyu Island: The Truth" produced by Charles D Nebe. In this article I wish to sort out the WHY questions with more facts taking advantages of many good research work (Walter Ko, Kaichin Chu, Don Tow and others). I hope the following analysis would make all Americans understand the Diaoyu Islands issue and correct an injustice produced by a legacy American foreign policy that may harm our future.
Very little doubt by historical and legal evidence, the Diaoyu Islands just like Taiwan have been part of China's sovereignty since 15th century (I. 1403, Ming Dynasty, book, Sail with the Wind (順風相送), currently kept in the library of Oxford University; II. 17-18th century, Qing Dynasty, book, Journal of Traveling to the South (指南正法); and III. Book by Japanese author (Linzipin, 1738-1793), Map Illustration of Three Nations, 三國通覽圖說, kept in Tokyo University). Also no doubt, Japan was an aggressor towards China from 19th century up to WW II. Japan's motive of claiming Diaoyu Islands was obvious and persistent since Japan seized the islands in 1895 by claiming Diaoyu Islands as no-man's islands. This idea was proposed by Charles Le Gendre (1872), an American Consul to Xiamen, China. On the way returning to the U.S. passing Tokyo, he was hired by the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department as a consultant. As a consultant, he suggested the 'Squatting' scheme. This was obviously an unethical behavior by a retiring American diplomat. It is ironic that today, President Trump is proposing legislation to forbid government officials to take on consultant jobs for foreign nations within 5 years after leaving their official posts.
During WW II, the U.S. and China were allies; the Chinese fought a bitter land war against Japanese aggression and the U.S. fought a brutal sea-island war against the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army. In 1943, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Chairman Chiang attended the Cairo Conference; Roosevelt brought up the issue of Okinawa and Roosevelt and Chiang agreed to jointly manage it. In 1945 Potsdam Conference (7/17-8/2), attended by Stalin, Truman and Churchill (7/17-26) and Attlee (7/26-8/2), a declaration was made that Japan was to return all occupied Chinese territories to China. Later in 1951 San Francisco Conference where peace treaty was developed but Republic of China was not invited (China was having internal battles). This deprived China's right to place appropriate languages in the San Francisco Treaty as an ally victor who had defeated Japan and had right to recover and protect her sovereignty. The article 3 of San Francisco treaty gave the U.S. administrative rights to deal with recovered war territories from Japan.
On December 25, 1953, like a Christmas present, the U.S. gave the administrative right of Amami island (part of Okinawa islands) to Japan. The U.S. action is prompted by local residents' unrest and Japan's eager coercion of getting Okinawa back (Okinawa, an independent country, historically a protégé of China, was captured by Japan by aggression and Japan was forced to give up Okinawa at the end of WW II). The why questions on this and Diaoyu Islands are similar which should be examined from the perspectives of Japan, China and the U.S. separately.
Japan's perspective is the easiest to understand but neither honorable nor justifiable. Japan to this day refuses to accept her defeat in WW II by denying it, misinterpreting the war crimes and trying to restore the glory of the past Imperial Japan. What makes Japan's position unacceptable to many Asian countries, especially China, is that Japan is still trying to recover the territories she captured by aggression prior to and during WW II. Japan would deny earlier history and focus on the period of her occupation to argue in disputes. China, on the other hand, would always present ample early historical evidence to support her sovereignty claims. During the 19 and 20th century, China was a victim to many aggressors including Japan hence her control or governance of many territories during that period was violated by unfair treaties. Post WW II, China further suffered injustice by being excluded from post-war negotiations in the San Francisco Treaty and being taken advantage of by her allies and even the defeated Japan.
Both Japan and the U.S. exploited the fact that ROC and PRC are opposing each other while claiming sovereignty over entire China. Why the U.S. adopts a pro-Japan position regarding any China-Japan territory dispute is not so obvious to Americans. The U.S. always maintained one China policy from recognizing ROC (1911-1979) to switching to PRC (1979-present). The actions that the U.S. took regarding Chinese territory issues seem to be based on two principles; first is her long-term (legacy) foreign policy of selecting partners to fight communism and to maintain her supremacy in the world and the second is her short-term practical diplomacy serving her immediate interests. Post WW II, the U.S. perceived that Japan could be used and controlled as a faithful partner to fight communism and practice a democratic system. Japan shrewdly negotiated a guarantee from the U.S. (General MacArthur) to protect Japan’s Imperial emperor and many war criminals from prosecution (Even US WW II veterans were forbidden to bring charges against Japan). Many war criminals eventually became elites of the new ‘democratic’ government. Japan has since been ruled with one dominant party (Liberal Democratic Party) with heritage from the Imperial past.
The US Japan policy condoned Japan's persistent 'recovery' effort to return to its Imperial glory. Japan denies war crimes and continues to worship war crimals. The textbooks are whitewashed to mislead her youth about WW II. Japan shamelessly interprets her sex slavery program during the war as volunteer program and devises phony purchase scheme trying to capture Diaoyu Islands permanently. When Abe Shinzo visited Pearl Harbor (12-27-2016), he made no apologies to American soldiers killed by the vicious Pearl Harbor attack. Japan is revising her peace constitution to permit attack and her military industry is manufacturing 'F-35 like' fighter jets. Japan's jets will more likely to become competitors than partners to US fighter jets.
The validity of the U.S. legacy foreign policy cited above is now questionable. First, targeting progressively reforming China based on fighting communism seems to be out-of-date. Second, favoring Japan over China as partner is also illogical. China would provide the U.S. a long-term market place. China could be a more beneficial economic partner than Japan could. Japan with her limited size, aging population and export-driven economy could only be a competitor not a collaborative partner to the U.S. Why should the U.S. soldiers fight for Japan for Diaoyu Islands, what for? If there ware energy resources under those rocks, let them negotiate out a way to develop it!
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District