Diaoyutai Sovereignty: The ROC's Legal Case
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 24, 2012
Summary: The Diaoyutai Islands belong to China. Historically they are part of Taiwan. History attests to this. After World War II, the United States turned over administration of the Diaoyutai Islands, along with the Ryukyus, to Japan. This complicates the issue, but does not change it. Who administers a territory has no bearing on its sovereignty. The sovereignty of the islands remains the same. Japan is currently unwilling to relinquish administrative control. But it cannot ignore the Republic of China's sovereignty. Still less can it assume that administrative control can be magically transformed into territorial sovereignty. The ROC must continue to proclaim its sovereignty to avoid being taken advantage of.
Full Text below:
Storm clouds are gathering over the Diaoyutai Islands. For several days the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and Japan have been taking action. The situation continues to heat up.
Yesterday, Diaoyutai Islands Defense Movement activists staged a protest march through the streets of Taipei. Ilan County fishermen rallied nearly 100 fishing boats. They intend to go out to sea today from Ao Yu Harbor in southern Yilan County. They will sail into Diaoyutai Island waters to proclaim their fishing rights. Last week, Hanhai Engineering Company vessels entered Diaoyutai Island waters. They informed Japan they intend to defend ROC sovereignty over Diaoyutai. They were escorted by ROC Coast Guard vessels during their journey. They circled the islands for over two hours before turning back.
Across the Strait, the Beijing authorities, in accordance with rules prescribed by the Law of the Sea Convention, proclaimed the territorial limits of the Diaoyutai Islands. They submitted diagrams of the 200 nautical mile continental shelf in the East China Sea to the United Nations Continental Shelf Commission. The State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Civil Affairs made public their standard names and location diagrams for the Diaoyutai Islands and their surrounding waters. In Japan, Yoshihiko Noda was reelected leader of the Democratic Party. He will continue to serve as Prime Minister. He declared that he would attend the United Nations General Assembly, and deliver a speech laying out Japan's position on Diaoyutai. Meanwhile news emerged that Beijing and Tokyo were engaged in military deployments and military preparations. Japan and the US Navy recently held military exercises in the U.S. territory of Guam. They claimed that the exercises targeted no one in particular. But their intentions were abundantly clear.
The Diaoyutai Islands belong to China. Historically they are part of Taiwan. History attests to this. After World War II, the United States turned over administration of the Diaoyutai Islands, along with the Ryukyus, to Japan. This complicates the issue, but does not change it. Who administers a territory has no bearing on its sovereignty. The sovereignty of the islands remains the same. Japan is currently unwilling to relinquish administrative control. But it cannot ignore the Republic of China's sovereignty. Still less can it assume that administrative control can be magically transformed into territorial sovereignty. The ROC must continue to proclaim its sovereignty to avoid being taken advantage of.
We must proclaim our sovereignty over Diaoyutai. But we must beware of at least two things. One. We must beware of alarming Japan, which currently has administrative control. We must avoid changing the status quo. We must avoid widening the conflict. We must prevent it from getting out of hand. Two. We must continually argue the issue of legal rights. We must seek appropriate redress. We must ensure that our legal claims to the Diaoyutai Islands are heard.
First consider the practical side. We must maintain the status quo and avoid worsening the situation. Tensions over the Diaoyutai Islands have sharply increased, because Japan allegedly "nationalized" the islands. This was a devious strategy to change the status quo. Japan's Prime Minister has previously made the same claims. But his current election strategy has provoked strong reactions from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Anti-Japanese sentiment on the Mainland is especially intense. Economic sanctions may be next. This was something the Japanese did not expect. But the Japanese apparently have no intention of stopping what they are doing. They have no intention of admitting they misjudged the situation. They are pretending to take one step back. In fact they are taking two steps forward. The geographic location of the Diaoyutai Islands is critical. It affects more than the ownership of the islands and the development of its economic resources, including fish and fossil fuels. It affects the demarcation of our territorial boundaries and the boundaries of our territorial waters economic region. It even affects military strategy. For example, will Beijing be able to project power into the Pacific? The Diaoyutai Islands issue must not be treated lightly, as merely a right wing campaign issue within Japan. Consider the Republic of China's perspective. The Diaoyutai Islands are part of Taiwan. We cannot remain silent. We cannot sit like a fly on the wall. Especially since Beijing and Tokyo have squared off against each other, both politically and militarily. The US also has strategic considerations. The ROC must avoid military unrest. We must prevent the Taiwan Region, which is closest to Diaoyutai, from being drawn into unnecessary military conflict. We must not undermine peace and the existing balance of power.
President Ma has announced the ROC government's position. The ROC will safeguard its sovereignty through peaceful dialogue. This is commendable. But the Ma administration must give greater importance to safeguarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands through legal means. Since President Ma Ying-jeou assumed office, ROC international law scholars have been hard at work. They have been making long-term, in-depth studies of the legal basis of our sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. We do not lack talent. These scholars have dedicated their lives to these goals. We do not lack people with lofty ideals. The administration should establish a work group. It should systematically compile relevant information. When the time is right, it will be able to argue the legal case. President Ma has already declared that the matter should be resolved through international negotiations, mediation, arbitration, or even international court proceedings. This is the correct path from an international law perspective. The Mainland has also shown an active interest in advancing the legal arguments. Japan, on the other hand, merely asserts that no sovereignty dispute exists. This amounts to lying through its teeth. It also reveals a guilty conscience. We must make ourselves heard on the international stage. We know our case is unassailable. We should not be afraid to argue our case in the court of world opinion. In fact, no international law argument on Diaoyutai sovereignty, by any party, can refute the Republic of China's historical claims. We hope to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. This is why we must constantly make ourselves heard internationally. As the saying goes, "God looks after those who look after themselves."