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Foreign Policy

Diaoyu Islands: The Owner and The Stealer

Sep 29 , 2012
  • Qi Chu

    Research Fellow, China Institute of Int'l Studies

China has made a strong claim for the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands, whereas Japan says the islands belong to it. To whom do the islands belong? Let's evaluate each of the arguments.

China has adequate reasons for its claims. It says that the Diaoyu Islands have been put under the jurisdiction of China's naval defense as affiliated islands of Taiwan since the Ming Dynasty. The Ming and Qing Dynasties of China exercised sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and officially included them in maps.

Japan also has its claims. It contends that Japan and China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. As a result, China ceded the island of Taiwan to Japan together with all islands belonging to Taiwan. Japan put the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islands under the jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture. Since then, the jurisdiction of the Diaoyu Islands has been the source of backroom deals between Japan and the United States.

It seems that China and Japan each have their own views. However, the international community has the final conclusion on the ownership of the islands.

On December 1, 1943, China, US and UK issued the Cairo Declaration, which stated in explicit terms that the three Great Allies are fighting this war to "restrain and punish the aggression of Japan" and require that "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and Pescadores" shall be restored to the Chinese. In international law, the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islands have been returned to China since then. On July 26, 1945, the eve of the victory of the World War II, China, US and UK issued the Potsdam Proclamation to reaffirm that "the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out."

The Cairo Declaration used "stolen", a word rarely seen in international legal instruments, instead of "owned", "occupied" or "controlled", and it was reaffirmed by the Potsdam Proclamation. This clearly defines the illegal nature of Japan's aggression and the stealing of Chinese territory, and makes it clear to the whole world that between China and Japan, one is the owner and the other is the stealer.

Some political figures in Japan question the authority and legitimacy of the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation. It is arrogant, if not ignorant, and even hysterical to some extent. The Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation are important outcomes of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War, which lay the legal foundation for the post-war international order. They are of universally undoubted authority and legitimacy. The Japanese side stirred up the tension of "purchasing islands", and further denied the outcomes of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War, constituting a challenge to the post-war international order, and a threat to the peace and stability in Asia-Pacific.

Stealing is stealing. It cannot change the ownership of the thing stolen, nor dose it give one the right to "buy or sell" the stolen thing. This is a simple truth. In international law, detinue does not produce legal rights. To a person, it concerns morality and integrity. To a country, it concerns justice and sovereignty.

Qi Chu, a research fellow from the China Institute of International Studies.

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