Let's make it clear. A dispute over which country has sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais, Diaoyutai or Senkaku Islands is an endless, fruitless dispute. But a popular vernacular newspaper in Taipei, The Liberty Times, has joined in the dispute, not among the Republic of China, the People's Republic and Japan, but with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On Aug. 7, two days after President Ma Ying-jeou proclaimed an “East China Sea Peace Initiative” at a discussion meeting on the Tiaoyutais on the 60th anniversary of the effectuation of the Peace Treaty of Taipei, The Liberty Times blasted Foreign Minister Timothy Yang in a scathing commentary for citing a compendium of treaties and other documents to justify the Republic of China's sovereignty claim to the eight uninhabited islets only a hundred miles or so southeast of Keelung. Yang was panned for “gulping down Ma Ying-jeou's saliva .” Although the foreign minister is a native-born Taiwanese, not a descendant of subjects of the Qing Empire who shouldn't have a Manchu nationalist burden and yet “has his eyeglasses colored and his brain turned off, failing utterly to present a justification of the claim of sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais that can be grandiose as well as everlasting.” What he said was condemned as a redundancy as well as gibberish or words uttered in delirium.
The personal attack on Mr. Yang is unfair, to say the least. Instead of citing the treaties and other documents, the vernacular insisted, he has historical facts and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to back up Taiwan's claim to the islets. But that isn't quite true. Incidentally, the paper only made mention of fishermen from Taiwan fishing in waters off the Tiaoyutais since 1895 as a historical fact to prove it is a “traditional fishing ground of our ancestors.” Another historical fact mentioned is that the Tiaoyutais, which was called Uotsuri-jima, was under the jurisdiction of the county of Yilan during Japan's colonial rule of Taiwan, but the truth is the islet our fishermen called “No Man's Island” was placed under the prefecture of Taihokuwhich had the Girangunfrom 1920 to 1945. It is also open to doubt that Taiwan's fishermen, without powered fishing boats, could fish near No Man's Island right after Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
The foreign minister didn't make mention of the historical claims of the Republic of China at the meeting, one of them dating back to 1785 with Japanese military strategist and cartographer Hayashi Shihei adopting the Chinese characters of Uotsuri-jima to annotate what are now called the Senkaku Islands in Japan painted in the same color as China in his monumental “Comprehensive Map of the Three Countries.” That's the historical fact of the Japanese admitting that the islets belonged to China rather than the kingdom of the Ryukyus, which Meiji Japan annexed as the prefecture of Okinawa in 1879. Nor did Mr. Yang try to justify the sovereignty claim by citing the U.N. convention, to which the Republic of China is not a signatory. Everybody knows the claim had better be based on treaties and similar documents. And at any rate, Mr. Yang wasn't redundant and deliriously talkative.
On the other hand, the foreign ministry was right to point out in defense of Mr. Yang that the Cairo Declaration of 1943 requires the restoration of the Pescadores and Formosa to the Republic of China; the Potsdam Declaration stipulates the restoration should be done; Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration to surrender to the Allies; the Japanese instrument of surrender was handed over to General Douglas A. MacArthur aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 5, 1945; General Ho Ying-chin accepted in Nanjing the instrument of surrender from General Neiji Okamura, commander-in-chief of the Japanese expeditionary army in China; General Chen Yi accepted in Taipei a similar instrument of surrender from General Rikichi Ando, commanding general of the Japanese army in Taiwan and governor of Taiwan, on Oct. 25, 1945, to take over the province of Taiwan; and the Peace Treaty between the Republic of China and Japan was signed in Taipei and went into force on Aug. 5, 1952. These are effective documents in the eye of international law, and can be cited to justify the Republic of China's claim to the Tiaoyutais.
But the claim can still be effectively disputed by Japan. For one thing, the Treaty of Shimonoseki requires Qing China to cede in perpetuity to Japan, the Pescadores and Formosa as well as “islands belonging and appertaining to the said island of Formosa” but didn't name the Tiaoyutai archipelago as one of them. Japan gave up Taiwan and Penghu in accordance with the Peace Treaty of San Francisco of 1951 but didn't say to which country the two island groups should be restored. Nor did the Peace Treaty of Taipei name Taiwan as territory Japan would restore to the Republic of China. In other words, Japan still considers the status of Taiwan undecided. The United States returned to Japan in 1972 all the Ryukyu Islands, including the Senkakus which were made part of the prefecture of Okinawa in 1895, though the amalgamation was proclaimed in 1950.
Japan abolished the Treaty of Taipei when it normalized relations with Beijing in 1972. But the restoration of Taiwan and islands appertaining to it couldn't be undone, while the principle of uti possidetis in international law makes it legal that all those islands under effective control of the Republic of China at the time of the conclusion of the treaty belong to it unless there was any other treaty otherwise signed. No such treaty has ever been signed and as a consequence Taiwan, Penghu and islands appertaining to the “said island of Formosa” must remain in the jurisdiction of the Republic of China. But the question is that whereas Taipei believes the Tiaoyutais are included as those islands appertaining to Taiwan, Tokyo can claim they are not, insisting effectively the Senkakus as part of Okinawa Prefecture the United States returned to Japan after 27 years of occupation.
All this has made the sovereignty claim an endless, fruitless dispute which can never be solved to the satisfaction of all the parties to it. There is no reason whatsoever for The Liberty Times to pick a row with Mr. Yang who can't solve the dispute no matter how hard he may try — and for that matter, nobody can.