Archive for September 19th, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Senkaku Islands: “Zero Chance”

Main link:

Huanqiu Shibao (the Chinese Global Times edition) quotes Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times today, concerning the Senkaku Islands.

Kristof, a famous American columnist, has provided several points of evidence that the Senkaku Islands (aka Diaoyu Islands) have belonged to China since ancient times:

近日,美国一位著名专栏作家尼古拉斯•克里斯朵夫(Nicholas Kristof)列出多项证据,证明钓鱼岛自古属于中国,并认为美国在日美安保条约中的 “义务”和其对钓鱼岛主权的态度不符,处于”很荒谬”的地位。

Huanqiu Shibao informs us that Kristof is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Kristof is – correctly – quoted as calling the American position as an ally of Japan, which involves the Senkaku sovereignty issue, as “absurd”.

In his blog post, on September 10, titled “Look out for the Diaoyu Islands”, Kristof asks: “who has sovereign rights over the Diaoyu Islands? As quoted by Huanqiu Shibao:

I believe it should be China, even though the answer isn’t so clear. (我觉得应该是中国,尽管答案不是那么明确”。) For one, China’s naval records state that the Diaoyu Islands have been Chinese for several centuries (第一,中国的航海记录显示,钓鱼岛“数个世纪以来”就是中国的). Secondly, Japan itself printed a map in 1783 which indicates that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China (第二,日本在1783年印制的一份地图也标明钓鱼岛属于中国). Thirdly, when Japan seized Taiwan with the Shimonoseki Treaty in 1895, it also bagged the Diaoyu Islands (第三,1895年,日本根据马关条约割占台湾,将钓鱼岛也一并收入囊中).

The dispute between China and Japan leaves America in an awkward position, Huanqiu quotes Kristof: The US-Japanese security treaty covered all places administered by Japan. In case of an exchange of fire between China and Japan, America was obliged to send troops to help the Japanese. However, America had stated that it had no opinion (or position) concerning sovereignty over the islands. “That’s to say, we don’t acknowledge that the Diaoyu Islands are Japanese, but still have to help Japan to fight for the Diaoyu Islands –


As for real life, Kristof said that “the US simply have no reason to have a nuclear conflict with China for some islands which are actually Chinese” –


In his actual entry, Kristof expresses his feeling that China had a better claim to the Diaoyu Islands, but also points out other points of view that could be taken, including the concept that they could be terra nullis, or terra nullius. He also points out what he would see as the best approach for China and Japan – to agree to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice -, and that

at some point a weakened Chinese leader might try to gain legitimacy with the public by pushing the issue and recovering the islands. It would be a dangerous game and would have a disastrous impact on China-Japan relations, but if successful it would raise the popularity of the Chinese government and would also be a way of putting pressure on Taiwan.

Huanqiu Shibao doesn’t mention such paragraphs. Nor does it report Kristof’s explicit opinion that

In reality, of course, there is zero chance that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligation over a few barren rocks. We’re not going to risk a nuclear confrontation with China over some islands that may well be China’s. But if we don’t help, our security relationship with Japan will be stretched to the breaking point.

This is actually the most interesting paragraph of Kristof’s post.

Why didn’t Huanqiu quote that one? Because it is too absurd to be believed, even if written by a famous Pulitzer Prize winner? Or is it because this wouldn’t fit into the deliberate public scaremongering about a huge threat posed by Japan against the peace-loving (but well-fortified) Middle Kingdom? China National Radio (CNR) was full of alarm siren noise – with the exception of Shanghai, for organizational reasons – and excited patriotic comments by the laobaixing last night (or this morning, Chinese local time). After all, September 19 [correction: every third Saturday in September] has, since ancient times, been National Defense Education Day.

Many of the commenters who reacted to Kristof’s post drew a link from the Senkaku Islands to Taiwan – probably not so much for historical reasons, but for present-day ones. That’s no surprise – terra nullius is a concept that could apply to Taiwan, too, along with several other concepts. Japan’s position on Taiwan is that Tokyo relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan after World War 2, but without a successor specified in that role. In other words, Japan never recognized Taiwan as part of China.

An American refusal to go to war with China over the Senkaku Islands would only be legitimate if the American-Japanese security treaty doesn’t cover that territory anyway, or if the treaty is changed to that end. Such a move would be understandable – too much of the responsibility of defending the sovereignty of China’s neighbors is on America, while exactly those neighbors themselves enjoy beautiful business ties with their esteemed nuisance next door. If a refusal to help defend the islands would do America’s international standing a lot of good is a matter for Washington to decide. But even though JR is no bearer of the Pulitzer Prize, he believes that America would actually end up helping Japan in a fight for the Senkakus, if need be. As for the legal issues, JR is inclined to agree with Nttorney, a commenter on Kristof’s blog, who suggests that

If the issue were to be taken to the International Court of Justice, China would likely lose, as international laws take into account territorial claims coupled with continuous settlement or use, rather than historic claims. A claim, no matter how remote that some land belongs to some country, is trumped by a counterclaim coupled with actual use. In this regard Japan has a longer history of actually using the islands.

Which is probably the main reason as to why the judges will never have to rack their brains about it.


Today in History, September 18, 2010
Chinese Military Buildup “closely watched”, August 17, 2010
Zhao Nianyu’s Three Taiwan Commandments, June 19, 2010
… that was long ago, June 16, 2008
Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty, Northern Perspectives, Winter 1994/1995

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