Committee: ga 3 – Territorial Issue: The question of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands Student Officer

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Committee: GA 3 – Territorial

Issue: The question of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

Student Officer: Derin Guzel (President Chair of GA 3)

I- Introduction

At the heart of this issue lies an island group consisting of five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks. These islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, are located in East China Sea and have been controlled by Japan since 1895. The issue developed over time mainly because of the redistribution of territory captured by Japanese powers during World War II and partly because of the discord engendered after the First Sino-Japanese War. Current Chinese and Taiwanese claims over the sovereignty of the islands, triggering major political turmoil in the region, erupted only after 1968 when United Nations Economic Council for Asia and the Far East unearthed rich oil reserves in the area.


As of right now, the long-standing territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands not only strains the bilateral relations between the two most prominent economic powers in Asia, namely China and Japan, but also endangers the fragile power balance in the region. Since there is a mutual security agreement between the United States of America (USA) and Japan that binds them to act together against common danger, the initiation of any sort of military action to obtain the sovereignty of the islands may spawn a spill-over effect that would put international community’s welfare in great peril. Therefore it is extremely important for Japan, China and Taiwan to ease the tensions and find a common ground to settle the dispute.

II- Involved Countries and Organizations


In the official web page of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Japan’s stance on the issue is made clear through the following statement: “There is no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law. Indeed, the Senkaku Islands are under the valid control of Japan. There exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands.” 2As stated in the quote, Japanese authorities base their arguments on historical facts and international law. These fact and laws mainly include a survey conducted by Japan in 1885 to firmly establish that the Islands were terra nullius (land belonging to no state), the presence of Japanese citizens and businesses on the Islands since 1896, San Francisco Treaty and Okinawa Reversion Agreement.

Furthermore, Japanese government does not recognize any of the assertions made either by China or Taiwan and it regards these proclamations as invalid and baseless grounds created to exploit the rich oil reserves around the Islands.


People’s Republic of China completely refutes all Japanese speculations on the sovereignty of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands, proclaims that the islands were under Chinese authority since ancient times and asserts that Japan illegally incorporated the islands into its territory after the First Sino-Japanese War when a so-called unlawful agreement called Treaty of Shimonoseki was put into force. China decrees that the Islands had not been terra nullius and in fact were discovered, entitled and used for fishing and navigation purposes by Chinese locals. In addition to some allegedly compiled maps dating back to 1800s and indicating the Islands as a part of Chinese territory, China also puts strong emphasis on a letter sent in 1885 from the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan to the then interior minister since the letter is believed to acknowledge Chinese control over the area.

Moreover, Chinese authorities also claim that Nansei Shoto Islands, which were given to US administration under the auspices of San Francisco Treaty, did not include Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and that the USA unilaterally enlarged the extent of jurisdiction of itself in a fashion that allows the inclusion of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

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Last but not least, in 2013 China, disregarding any Japanese repercussions recognized a new Air Defense Identification Zone over East China Sea covering the disputed region. Although a Chinese defense ministry spokesman said It is not directed against any specific country or target4, this act, binding every aircraft entering the zone to comply with Chinese regulations, escalated the volatile situation.


Statements made by Taiwan are quite similar to those of China. Both countries claim their own sovereignty over the islands. However, in April 2012, when Taiwan declined China’s request to work cooperatively to resolve the dispute, a Taiwanese official stated that it is not possible for the two countries to settle the question together due to the existence of sovereignty issues between China and Taiwan.

United States

Unites States Government, an important element for the defense of Japan, not only declares the legitimate administrative rights of the Islands belonging to Japan but also recognizes any unilateral action, taken by a third party in order to emasculate Japanese authority in the region, as unlawful. Moreover, in his visit to Japan in April 2014, US President Barrack Obama affirmed that Article 5 of Treaty of Mutual Cooperation And Security Between Japan and The Unites States of America, that obliges the two states to act against an attack on territories under the administration of Japan, applies to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as well.

III- Focused Overview of the Issue

  1. Historical Background

Scrutinizing the history of the islands is in fact a quite challenging task considering how little importance they had until the emergence of the territorial dispute regarding the islands. As of right now, the history of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands is rather subjective. According to China, Chinese nationals discovered the islands in the fourteenth century and made use of them. Although China insists that the islands were included within in the boundaries of Ming Dynasty in the geographical maps, substantial evidence designating the islands as Chinese territory remains absent. On the other hand, Japan argues that the islands did not fall under the administration of an authority in 1890s and therefore could be defined as terra nullius and be lawfully acquired as they did so in 1895.

In the same era, First Sino- Japanese War that resulted with Japanese victory took place. After the war, war thorn China agreed to sign the Shimonoseki Agreement and ceded the control of Formosa and all appertaining islands to Japan. As the islands belonging to Formosa were not specifically defined in the agreement, it is uncertain that Japan gained control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands if they ever were in the possession of China before the nineteenth century.

Following the loss of Japan in the WW II, Cairo Declaration, commanding Japan to return all captured Chinese territories including Formosa back to Chinese administration, was signed. Although San Francisco Treaty and Cairo Declaration have many points in common, San Francisco Treaty gave the administration of Nansei Shoto Islands to the US. At the time, there was no mention of Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands being within the limits of Nansei Shoto Islands however, with the initiation of U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukus Proclamation 27 the islands were legitimately shown as a part of Nansei Shoto Islands.

Last but not least, after the discovery of rich oil reserves around the Islands in 1968 and the start of Chinese and Taiwanese claims, Japan retrieved the Islands from US administration in 1971 with the entry into force of Okinawa Reversion Treaty.

  1. Natural Resources Around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

The discovery of lush natural resources around the islands is the key element that triggered the conflict. According to the United Nations Convention On The Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) all states have the right to use the natural resources located in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that extends 200 nautical miles from the baselines of a nation.

The image below clearly explains the issue regarding the overlap of Chinese and Japanese EEZs in the East China Sea. Although UNCLOS is a very comprehensive contract, it does not cover anything related to intersecting EEZs. Therefore, the settlement of the issue of natural resources is solely in the hands of China and Japan. macintosh hd:users:deringuzel:desktop:oil reserves.jpg

  1. Diplomatic Results and Protests

Over the past years, there have been numerous incidents that strained the political tensions within in the region. Upon the countless protests and remonstrations that took place, the boat collision in 2010 and a chain of events leading to massive anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in 2012 were the most notable ones. These incidents kindled by Chinese, Taiwanese or Japanese activists not only aids in the proliferation of nationalist thoughts in public but also causes a significant depreciation of bilateral relations between the three nations.

Although Chinese and Taiwanese relations are already troubled due to sovereignty issues, China and Japan maintain strong economic ties. More importantly, that fact that both Chinese and Japanese markets are export oriented makes these two Asian economic powers even more heavily depended on each other. Therefore any deterioration of diplomatic relations is a substantial damage to respective economies.

However, both countries, China in particular, have exercised increasing activity around the islands since the beginning of 2010.

The number of Chinese boats entering the regional waters near the Senkaku Islandsmacintosh hd:users:deringuzel:desktop:screen shot 2014-07-12 at 14.03.36.png

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The number of scrambling by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force against Chinese aircraft.

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4) Militarization

In November 2013 the Chinese Government, ignoring any aggressive Japanese repercussions, announced a new enlarged AIDZ that would cover the uninhabited archipelago as well. Since then, both Japanese and US officials made statements demonstrating their indifference to the newly declared AIDZ and recognition of the area as international waters and airspace. The violations of the Chinese AIDZ have been further straining the ties between Japan and China. Both sides accuse each other of piloting attacks on each other. In order to make sure that the islands are well defended, the Japanese Government initiated the construction of a military site near disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands. As of right now, the situation present around the islands are extremely belligerent that the US fears the outbreak of a war between China and Japan. Addressing a conference organized by the US Naval Institute the director of intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet, James Fannell, said "We concluded that the [People's Liberation Army] has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can only be expected as the seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu island.". 7In the event of such a war or any other occurrence of military conflict, US president Barrack Obama stated that they will act according to the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation And Security Between Japan and The Unites States of America and will support their ally, Japan.

IV- Key Vocabulary

Terra Nullius: Terra Nullius is a Latin term used in international law to define a territory claimed by no state. According to the international law a state may attain the sovereignty over a terra nullius land through occupation. Japan argues that Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands were determined to be terra nullius territories in 1895 and therefore could be legally incorporated to Japanese borders in light of the international law.

Nautical Mile: Nautical mile (nM) is a unit of distance that is approximately 1.8 kilometers. UNCLOS uses this unit to determine the bounds of the national seas of states and the zones in which nations could exploit marine resources.macintosh hd:users:deringuzel:desktop:99rp06-2.gif

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): The term exclusive economic zone is thoroughly defined in UNCLOS. According to the convention exclusive economic zone is an area that exceeds 200 nM from the baselines of a nation. In this area, the states have the rights to investigate and exploit, sustain and manage the natural resources. EEZs of China and Japan overlap in the East China Sea as the width of the sea is only 360 Nm.

Air Defense Identification Zone: An Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is airspace in which the recognition, position, and control of aircraft is required to maintain national security.

V- Important Events & Chronology

Date (Day/Month/Year)


August 1, 1894

First Sino-Japanese War starts.

January 14, 1895

Japan incorporates the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands into its territory.

April 17, 1895

China and Japan sign the Shimonoseki Treaty.

August 15, 1945

Japan surrenders and relinquishes Taiwan to China in Cairo and Potsdam Declarations.

March 20, 1952

San Francisco Treaty is signed and in light of Article 3 of the treaty the islands are placed under US administration.

July 7, 1968

UN announces the existence of possible oil reserves around the Islands.

August 12, 1970

Okinawa Reversion Treaty is signed between Japan and US, and the Islands are recognized as part of Okinawa.

June 17, 1971

With the signing of Agreement Between US and Japan Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Diaotu Islands, Japan retrieves the administration of the Islands.

August 12, 1978

China and Japan agrees to shelve the issue for future resolution under the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty.


Several protests kindled by Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese activists emerge.

September 7, 2010

Bilateral relationships between China and Japan strain when Japanese officials arrested a Chinese fisherman after a Chinese troller had collided with Japanese patrol boats near the disputed islands.

September 10, 2012

Japanese Government buys the islands from their private owner.

September 15-16, 2012

The most prevalent and violent anti-Japanese protests breakout since China and Japan stabilized diplomatic relations in 1972. The Japanese embassy in Beijing along with Japanese restaurants and factories are attacked.


Protests continue.

November 23, 2013

China declares the new expanded Chinese AIDZ over the East China Sea.

April, 2014

Barrack Obama expresses his support for Japan regarding the dispute in his visit to Tokyo.

VI- Past Resolutions and Treaties

Shimonoseki Treaty

Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in 1895, not only ended the First Sino- Japanese War but also gave the sovereignty of the island of Formosa along with all the rather small islands belonging to Formosa to Japan. Since the treaty did not itemize the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as appertaining to Formosa, it is doubtful whether China ceded the rights to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to Japan.

Cairo and Potsdam Declarations

Issued in 1943, before the end of World War II, the Cairo Declaration called for Japan to retreat from all the captured Chinese territories. Similarly, Potsdam Declaration, initiated by the US, China and the UK in 1945, mitigated the Japanese sovereignty to only a few major archipelagos and suggested that the issuing states would determine the future of the other small islands. Both of these declarations make obscure statements about the territories from which Japan should withdraw. Therefore it is quite superficial to regard the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands as a part of the territories specified by the declarations.

San Francisco Treaty

Following the end of World War II, Japan and the USA signed San Francisco Treaty that put all islands pertaining to island of Formosa under the US administration. Much like the previous treaties and declaration, San Francisco Treaty did not explicitly designate the appertaining islands.

US Administration of the Ryukyus Proclamation 27 (USCAR 27)

Having gained control over the some Japanese territories with the signing of San Francisco Treaty, the US Civil Administration of the Ryukyus decided to settle a precise boundary. The newly defined boundary destroyed all the ambiguity of the situation of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as the boundary was said to include the disputed region as well.

Okinawa Reversion Treaty

After almost 20 years of US administration, the islands stated in San Francisco Treaty were returned to Japan with the signing of Okinawa Reversion Treaty. During the time of discussion leading to the creation of Okinawa Treaty, a couple of US officials claimed that the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands were understood to be included within the boundaries recognized by USCAR 27 in 1953. Therefore the it seems like Japan retrieved the administration of the conflicted region in under the terms documented by Okinawa Reversion Treaty.

Treaty of Mutual Cooperation And Security Between Japan and The Unites States of America

Japan and the US signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation And Security Between Japan and The Unites States of America in 1961 to bolster military cooperation between the two allies. This treaty is extremely crucial for the disagreement regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands because it binds the US to help its ally Japan in the event of a possible military conflict.

VII- Failed Solution Attempts

Although the question of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has its origins in the late 19th century, the issue has not intensified until 2012. Therefore, there is almost no attempt made to settle the dispute. It is true that the international community overtly expressed its concern for the eruption of military conflict in the region but no state has taken an action to tackle the question. Only one document, issued in 1978, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China, tried to alleviate the tensions within the region. Nevertheless, considering the broad scope of the treaty in mind, the treaty neither focuses on the issue nor proposes any viable methods to end the conflict. Instead of putting strong emphasis on the question of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the treaty, which marks the normalization of bilateral relations between China and Japan, shelved the dispute for future resolutions. Furthermore, in order to solve the issue of overlapping EEZs in the East China Sea the two countries agreed to execute a plan named Joint Development of the East China sea and aimed to cooperatively exploit the Chunxiao gas field, located near the islands. However, they have never been able to implement the plan.

VIII- Possible Solutions

Keeping the lack of solution attempts in mind, as an initial step international community should try to convince not only China and Japan but also Taiwan to begin conducting peace talks which will be solely focused on the territorial dispute and its features. The organizational details of the talks should be defined explicitly in order to ensure that the talks and the resolutions found are fully implemented. A relatively flexible timetable can be executed. The parties of the talks does not have to be limited to involved countries, states which has unbiased policies could also be included. More importantly, as the dispute has many aspects including militarization and the exploitation of natural resources the talks should address not only the territorial question but also its smaller contents.

If the talks do not resolve the issue, the dispute can be settled through arbitration or the initiation of a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However in order to carry the issue to ICJ, all sides should agree to resolve the dispute in the court by submitting a formal letter of consent.

IX- Useful Links

Official web page of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan about the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

In-depth analysis of the issue
Japanese and Chinese claims explained

Solution ideas

X- Works Cited

"Deconstructing Japan's Claim of Sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands 釣魚/尖閣に対する日本の統治 権を脱構築する :: JapanFocus." Deconstructing Japan's Claim of Sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands 釣魚/尖閣に対する日本の統治権を脱構築する :: JapanFocus. N.p., 31 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 July 2014.

"Defense Statecraft." Defense Statecraft. N.p., 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.

"International Year of the Oceans-1998 Australia's Policies, Programs and Legislation." – Parliament of Australia. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 July 2014.

Nichols, Michelle. "U.N. to Consider Validity of China's Claim over Disputed Islands." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 July 2014.

Ryall, Julian. "China Training for 'short, Sharp War' against Japan." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.

Scrambling in 2013 (n.d.): n. pag. Japanese Ministry of Defense, 9 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 July 2014.

"Senkaku Islands." Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. N.p., 23 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 July 2014.

"Senkaku Islands." Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 July 2014.

"Senkaku Islands." Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 July 2014.

Singh, Bhubhindar. "China Training for 'short, Sharp War' against Japan." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 3 May 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.

"Terra Nullius Law & Legal Definition." Terra Nullius Law & Legal Definition. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2014.

"Timeline: The Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands Dispute." South China Morning Post. N.p., 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.





5 Japanese Ministry of Defense

6 Japanese Ministry of Defense


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