There are three dilemmas in the East China Sea that not only post diplomatic difficulties for China, Japan and the U.S. to develop friendly relations but also create dangerous hotspots in Asia Pacific that may be ruptured into extensive military conflicts dragging three nations into a devastating war. The three dilemmas are: 1. Both China and Japan claim sovereignty rights to the Diaoyu Islands and the U.S. uncomfortably maintains a neutral position on the issue. 2. The U.S. wishes to maintain and expand a military base in Liuqiu but meeting strong local resistance and the resistance is becoming more concerned with political (independence movement from Japan’s illegitimate occupation of Liuqiu and desire to establish a friendly relation with China or even return to China for protection) than social issues (crimes committed by the U.S. military and Japan’s treating Liqiuans as second class citizens below Japanese). 3. Taiwan needs to be united with China under the One China policy which both the U.S. and Japan recognized and committed to China but apparently unwilling to see it happens for different and complex reasons.
These three dilemmas are connected as I shall discuss in this two-part article. I shall make a thorough review of the relevant history and offer an explanation of how the above dilemmas were created and connected. Only through understanding of the history and the human actions taken place that caused these dilemmas, then these dilemmas may be resolved rationally and the justice may be served in the end peacefully.
The Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabitable tiny Islands, some like barren rocks above the ocean surface. The five larger islands have area size averaging between 800 square meters to 4.32 square kilometers. Historically, these islands and the surrounding ocean, called black water trench (trough)(dark water color due to its depth) dividing the thirty six islands belonging to “Liuqiu Islands” on the North-East and the Taiwan islands (including the Diaoyu Islands and other islands surrounding Taiwan) on the South-West. Historical maps and records showed clearly that the Diaoyu Islands were part of Taiwan, in fact as a part of Yi-Lan Xian (county) of Taiwan according to old official documents. The Chinese have been fishing there for centuries. A piece of history involving an American diplomat, Charles Le Gendre, offers an illustrative background on the Diaoyu Islands issue. Gendre was a diplomat stationed in Xiamen port of China. In 1872, on his return journey to America passing through Japan, he was hired as a consultant by the Japanese government. He proposed a theory that Japan can take control of the islands surrounding Taiwan as no-man’s land. Japan as an aggressive island nation accepted his proposal and enhanced Japan’s ‘pirate like’ foreign policy further to attack Taiwan, Diaoyu Islands, Liuqiu and other surrounding islands. Gendre might have acted as an individual not on a diplomatic mission, but nevertheless, he planted a seed of embarrassment and dilemma for the U.S. that still troubles today.
Based on many documents, Taiwan had clearly been under China’s sovereignty at least from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Timeline of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan can be roughly categorized in four periods: China sent expedition to Taiwan (230, East Wu Kingdom and 607, Sui Dynasty) and partial control of islands surrounding Taiwan (1263, Yuan Dynasty). 2. Arrival of sailors from Portugal, Spain and Holland in 16th and early 17th century establishing trade but then the Western visitors surrendered to Zheng Cheng Gong (1662, son of Zheng Zhi Long, Ming’s general retreated to Taiwan seeking to recover failed Ming Dynasty). Later Qing Dynasty defeated Zheng (1683) and included Taiwan and surrounding islands into her sovereignty. 4. Japan practiced her ‘pirate’ foreign policy to expand her island territories especially eyeing Liuqiu, Taiwan and surrounding islands, initially in secrecy till she was militarily strong enough to take on China. Japan defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894. Taiwan was ceded to Japan thus Taiwan was ruled by Japan for 50 years (1895-1945) and became separated from Mainland China till today due to China’s civil war and external interference, namely from the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. supported the KMT-ROC even after it retreated to Taiwan. Russia supported CCP-PRC and it succeeded in taking over the entire mainland China. ROC went through a political transformation ended the one party KMT rule, experiencing the expected multi-party power struggles dividing the island into multi-parties factions. On the other hand, since 1960’s PRC departed from Soviet style of communism and experimented on her own socialism, initially with disastrous results and lately adopting some capitalism with amazing accomplishments. The U.S. had recognized PRC in 1979 and honored the one-China policy, but she was reluctant to see the reunification of Taiwan with Mainland China creating a diplomatic dilemma. One must ask is it long overdue for the U.S. to adopt a new China policy to recognize China as she is today and not hinged on a legacy strategy. It may not be so obvious to the Americans that the U.S. had created this Taiwan dilemma and erred on the side of injustice because our failure of recognizing the history behind these dilemmas.
Japan’s pirate behavior started in later part of Ming dynasty, attacking China’s coastal cities (for example, Hangzhou and Ningbo, 1550-1570) and Korea (1593, but was defeated by China, Korea was China’s Protégé State). When the Western powers came to Asia, Japan like China was mistreated. China was defeated by the British in the infamous Opium War (1839-1842) and was forced upon her an unequal treaty in 1842. Japan also suffered with an unequal treaty from the U.S. in 1858, but Japan underwent a drastic and successful reform of its political and military system adopting a constitutional monarchy system patterning the island nation Great Britain and copied the West in modernizing its industry (good for Japan), strengthening military (problem for neighbors) and practicing colonialism (more evil than the Western powers for Asians). This transformation period is known as Japan’s Meiji Restoration Period, from 1868-1912. When Japan grew stronger, she became more imperialistic and desired to practice colonialism; Japan set her sight on China as China was obviously weakened by the seven powers descended upon her from the West. Japan first tried to secretly (without alerting China) encroaching Liuqiu (invasion in 1872), then attacking Taiwan (1874, invading Taiwan and its surrounding islands in the East China Sea and forced Liuqiu to be Japan’s protégé State) and then Korea peninsula in the North (1875, Japan invaded Korea).
In 1879, Japan annexed Liuqiu Kingdom and kidnapped the king despite of China’s effort in asking the former U.S. President Ulysses Grant to intercede. Japan triggered the Sino-Japanese War in 1894. China’s defeat resulted in a devastating settlement by ceding to Japan: 1. Taiwan (Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Allies), 2. Liaoning Peninsula (later returned to China under pressure from Russia and other European powers)., 3. Korea, pronounced to be an independent State (essentially letting Japan to dominate Korea, later Japan annexed Korea in 1910), and 4. War Reparation, equaling to more than seven times of Japan’s annual national budget. Since then Japan accelerated her military expansion and developed a plan to conquer China and to rule Asia. This plan was later obvious to the world and the U.S. especially after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (1941) in order to realize her plan. (to be continued in part II)
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.