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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Maritime Logistics Professional

Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on May 29, 2012

Small islands in the East China Sea constituting a potential flashpoint between Japan and China.

Your choice of which name (Senkaku or Diaoyu) to use for these five uninhabited islands and three rocks in the East China Sea may signal whether they are or should be part of the territory of Japan or China (or the Republic of China – Taiwan).  The islands were known to the Ming Empire of China since the 15th century.  They were used mostly by passing ships as a way-mark.  There are indications that some sailors would stop to gather herbs (and possibly shellfish and the eggs of seabirds), but no one took up residence on the islands, the largest of which is approximately 1.6 square miles in area with a maximum elevation of 1200 feet.  Some old Chinese records indicate that the Chinese Government considered the islands to be part of China, but there is no evidence that any steps were taken to substantiate the claim.  When Japan prevailed in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Treaty of Shimonoseki provided for the cessation by China to Japan of Formosa and various smaller islands, including the Diaoyu Islands.  In 1845, the HMS Sammarang, Captain Edward Belcher commanding, had anchored off the islands.  Captain Belcher labeled them the Pinnacle Islands, which proved to be a surprisingly accurate name, as they rise up in an isolated manner from the sea floor at the far eastern edge of the continental shelf that extends from mainland China.  They lie about 76 nautical miles east of Pengjia islet, part of the Republic of China and about 30 miles north of Taiwan.  They are about 90 nautical miles north of Ishigaki Island, which is the southern-most of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands.  Once acquired by Japan, the islands were named Senkaku, which is the Japanese translation of Pinnacle.  In 1900, a Japanese businessman leased a portion of Uotsuri Jima, the largest island in the group.  He constructed a plant for processing bonito tuna for export back to the main Japanese islands.  He brought in about 200 workers to operate the facility.  These workers were the only long-term residents in the recorded history of the islands.  Later, the businessman purchased the property from the Japanese Government.  Under Japanese law, the plots of land still belong to the businessman’s descendants, even though the plant closed in 1940 and the workers were evacuated.  The United States took control of the islands at the end of World War II and retained control until 1972, when civil authority over lands captured from Imperial Japan was transferred to the Japanese Government.  Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) protested the action as regards the islands, asserting their own claims, but Japan has remained in effective control of the islands since 1972.  In recent years, research indicates that there may be significant oil and gas reserves under waters offshore the islands.  In 2010, a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a vessel of the Japanese Coast Guard off the islands resulted in the temporary seizure by Japan of the fishing vessel and the detention of its crew.  Following high-level negotiations between the two nations, the fishing vessel and its crew were allowed to return to China.  The islands, though, continue to be a focus of significant dispute.

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