During a visit to Japan on July 23, former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui stated that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan. The Senkaku Islands are also claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan). Mr Lee had already made similar remarks in the past. In January 2014, he stated that the Senkaku Islands are “Japanese territory based on international law”.
Li’s statements were criticised not only by Taiwan’s ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang), but also, surprisingly, by the leader of the opposition and incumbent presidential candidate Cai Yingwen.
On July 29, while visiting a factory of a Taichung-based clothes manufacturer, Cai was asked by journalists to comment on Lee Teng-hui’s remarks. The chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) replied that the Diaoyutai Islands are part of Taiwan’s territory.
“The position of the Democratic Progressive Party on this issue is clear. The Diaoyutai Islands belong to Taiwan,” she said. Responding to criticism on the part of the Guomindang, which accused the DPP of relinquishing the sovereignty claims of the ROC in the South China Sea, Cai clarified that her party “has not given up the sovereignty claims over the South China Sea.”
The incumbent President of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou, has always maintained that Japan’s occupation of the disputed islands is “null and void” and that the islets are part of the territory of the Republic of China.
The Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands are a group of eight uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, located approximately 200km northeast of Taiwan and 300km west of Okinawa (see Clive H. Schofield / Seokwoo Lee / Moon-Sang Kwon [edit.]: The Limits of Maritime Jurisdiction, p. 286). China claims that the islands were administered as part of Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty, that envoys sent by the imperial capital in the Ming and Qing eras drew maps of the Ryukyu kingdom which are favourable to Chinese claims, and that Chinese fishermen used the area around the Senkaku Islands for centuries.
Japan claims that the islands were terra nullius prior to 1895, when Japan annexed Taiwan and its outlying islands according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The Senkaku Islands became part of Okinawa prefecture in 1896. Under the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, some of the islands controlled by Japan, including the Ryukyu Islands, were placed under US trusteeship (ibid., p. 287).
In 1969, the first dispute over the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands erupted between Japan and the ROC. This dispute followed a report by the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, funded by the United Nations, which disclosed the existence of oil reserves in the seabed of the East China Sea (James Manicom: Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea, p. 43). The ROC officially claimed sovereignty over the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands in 1970. On September 12, 1970, Japan issued its own sovereignty statement, declaring the Senkaku Islands as part of Ryukyu. The Okinawa government supported Tokyo’s stance and removed ROC flags that had been placed on one of the Senkaku Islands.
The governments in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul initiated negotiations for the common exploitation of natural resources in the area. But in 1970, the Communist authorities in Beijing vehemently slammed any joint exploitation of resources of territories belonging to China.
In 1971 the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement which returned to Japan the islands under US trusteeship, In 1972 Tokyo resumed the sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, including the Senkaku Islands.