The New PRC Documents on the Senkaku Islands

As noted in my fuller exposition of the developments over at Japan Security Watch, Jiji Press went big yesterday (日) with apparently revelations that the Chinese, according to the PRC’s own official documents, actually considered the Senkaku Islands to be part of Okinawa prefecture for some period of time, in contradiction of its position that it had always considered the islands to be part of Taiwan “Province”, even before the 1968 discovery of oil.

In short, the article notes that in a document produced in preparation for negotiations regarding the San Fransisco Peace Treaty, (which the PRC did not ultimately participate in due to not being invited, and its outcome rejected anyway due to its position on Taiwan), the PRC did not once use the current Chinese name for the islands (Diaoyu-tai), used the Japanese moniker on one occasion, and did not explicitly state that they should have been part of PRC China while also expressing doubts about whether the islands were part of Taiwan province rather than the Ryukyus. This could have not only implications for the consistency of the PRC position since 1949, but raises the possibility that Chinese “awareness” that the islands were effectively ceded along with Taiwan during the Treaty of Shimonoseki, or stolen by conquest, was not as robust, apparent or widespread as has been previously argued. That said, the documents are not likely to change anything in the short-term, although may embolden the Japanese to take a more proactive position on promoting the idea of ICJ resolution.

4 thoughts on “The New PRC Documents on the Senkaku Islands

  1. How to read Hashimoto Toru and those other hawks’ keenness on ICJ for Senkaku/Diaoyu? Wouldn’t that mean admitting dispute exists & thus a major backdown?

    China would presumably be delighted with such an admission, tacit or otherwise, since getting Japan to negotiate has seemed to be the PRC’s main demand in MFA statements pretty much throughout the crisis.

    Fravel has suggested that a JP acknowledgement of dispute could form the basis for a diplomatic breakthrough. Are we looking at a situation in which Japan’s newly empowered “hawks” could actually prove helpful to bilateral relations?

    • This is an interesting question with a complex answer. I think it is partially that they are bluffing…they would really rather avoid the ICJ if possible. Nevertheless they probably believe Japan’s hand is good enough that even if their bluff is called then the fallout would be limited. They expect that by calling out China that the PRC would back down as the PRC would have more to lose…or more accurately the CCP. Certainly the CCP would have a lot of explaining to do after building up so much national sentiment around the islands issue.

      More interesting is that in Japan’s case, as opposed to China and the US, many hawks are also pseudo-liberal internationalists (Maehara, Nagashima, Hashimoto) and quite comfortable with international governance and law. In a sense embracing international norms is a good way of contrasting Japan’s international reputation and identity with that of the PRC as a “rule breaker”. This of course DOES NOT apply to Ishihara of course 😉 That said there has been enough noise in the business and scholarly community in Japan regarding the absurdity of not recognizing the dispute that maybe this could happen, if accompanied by either the PRC stopping incursions, or more unilaterally if accompanied by a Japanese force buildup of some kind.

      That said I think your suggestion is an interesting one. Ironically as Abe is not at all perceived to have any sentiment for China then he will not be suspected of selling out Japan if some kind of progress is made. Abe could be Japan’s Nixon…in fact if he could also sort out the Kuriles he may be in office for a long time. He just has to be brave enough and show vision…although his first stint in the PM’s chair suggests anything of the like cannot be taken for granted.

  2. What an enormous amount of time and energy this whole topic has diverted from other more pressing needs.
    Thank you Mr Ishihara.

    “In a sense embracing international norms is a good way of contrasting Japan’s international reputation and identity with that of the PRC as a “rule breaker”.”

    That sounds so good it’s obvious no one will think of it in the bubble.

    • I guess the only silver lining is that I guess it is better to have gotten the PRC’s true colours out into the open now rather than later! That said, things seem to have quietened down now…until next time…

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