News / Asia

Experts: Treaties Complicate US Position in China-Japan Islands Dispute

Workers on the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel prepare to survey around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea September 2, 2012. The city government of Tokyo sent a ship to survey a groupWorkers on the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel prepare to survey around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea September 2, 2012. The city government of Tokyo sent a ship to survey a group
x
Workers on the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel prepare to survey around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea September 2, 2012. The city government of Tokyo sent a ship to survey a group
Workers on the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel prepare to survey around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea September 2, 2012. The city government of Tokyo sent a ship to survey a group
The United States says it is staying out of a Japanese-Chinese dispute about uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, but its position on the issue has angered Beijing and caused some anxiety in Tokyo.

Some regional experts say the Japanese and Chinese concerns are linked to decades-old U.S.-Japan treaty obligations.

The Obama administration says it takes "no position on the ultimate sovereignty" of the Japanese-controlled archipelago, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The surrounding waters contain rich fishing grounds and potential oil and mineral reserves.

It repeatedly has urged the two countries to avoid incidents that could escalate the dispute, and to begin negotiations to resolve it.

Japan annexed the tiny islands in 1895 and held them until the end of the Second World War, when the United States took control. Washington returned the islands to Japanese control in 1972, drawing protests from Beijing, which declared them to be Chinese territory the year before.

The dispute flared up again last month, when Chinese and Japanese nationalists landed on the islands to assert their countries' claims. U.S. officials responded by urging Tokyo and Beijing to resolve the dispute peacefully.

1960 defense treaty

U.S. Naval War College professor Toshi Yoshihara said the U.S. position is complicated by a 1960 treaty pledging a U.S. military response to an attack on Japanese-administered territories.

U.S. officials have said they see the disputed islands as part of the territories covered by that defense treaty. But they have refused to elaborate on what circumstances would trigger U.S. military intervention.

Yoshihara said Washington does not want to say anything that could encourage Japan to confront China. But he said the U.S. approach also makes some Japanese policy makers uncomfortable.

"'Some Japanese seem preconditioned to doubt American reassurances [about the islands] and would prefer more clarity," he said.

U.S. attempts to reassure Japan about the treaty have upset China. This week, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled in Asia, Chinese state media accused Washington of having a "dangerous" and "contradictory" policy on the islands because it recognizes Japan's administration of them and calls them by the Japanese name.

Watch related video



1972 military agreement

1895
Japan unilaterally annexes five islands and three barren rock groups in the East China Sea, calls them "Senkaku." China's Qing Dynasty later cedes Taiwan and adjacent islands to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ending the First Sino-Japanese War.  Senkaku Islands are not included in the treaty.
 
1896
Japan's government leases four of the islands, known in Japanese as Uotsuri, Minami, Kita and Kuba, to Tatsushiro Koga. 
 
1945
Japan surrenders, ending World War II, and returns Taiwan and adjacent islands to China in accordance with the Cairo Proclamation and Potsdam Declaration. The U.S. military takes control of the Senkaku Islands. 
 
1969
U.N. report says studies suggest the presence of large oil reserves in the waters of the Senkaku chain. 
 
1971
Taiwan, China, officially claim sovereignty over the islands, calling them "Diaoyu."  
 
1972
Japan regains control of Okinawa and the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from the United States.  Tokyo agrees to let the U.S. military use Kuba and Taisho as firing ranges for an "indefinite" period.  Japan's defense ministry begins renting Kuba from its owners to ensure U.S. access to the island. Zenji Koga begins the process of selling Kuba, Uotsuri, Minami and Kita to the Kurihara family.  Sale completed in 1988. 
 
2010
September: Japanese coast guard ships collide with a Chinese trawler as they try to chase it from the waters around the islands.  Japanese authorities detain the Chinese captain for two weeks, upsetting China, which responds by suspending political and cultural exchanges and stopping rare earth exports to Japan. 
 
2012
July: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says the central government is in talks to buy the islands from the Kurihara family. 
August 15: 14 pro-China activists sail to the islands to assert Chinese sovereignty claims.  Five swim ashore before the Japanese coast guard detains all the activists and deports them. 
August 19: Japanese nationalists land on Uotsuri to assert Japan's sovereignty claim, ignoring Tokyo's warning that the landing is unauthorized. 
Another complication in the U.S. position arises from a 1972 Status of Forces Agreement under which Japan allowed the U.S. military to use two of the disputed islands as bombing ranges for an "indefinite" period.

One of those islands, known in Japan as Kuba, is owned by a Japanese family. Tokyo calls the other one Taisho and says it is state property. Japan says the U.S. military has not used either of them for training since 1978.

Professor Yusuke Anami of Japan's Tohoku University said the Japanese government, though, has been renting Kuba from its owners since 1972 " just so that U.S. Forces in Japan might use it [again] some day."

He said the government faced criticism in 2010 for spending taxpayer money on an unused firing range.

Japan's foreign ministry told VOA that Washington has not expressed any intention to return the two ranges to Japan. It said Tokyo "understands that these facilities and areas are continuously needed" to fulfill the defense treaty.

Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, said that maintaining access to the islands is important to the United States, because giving it up could "be perceived as a retreat or sign of weakness by our prospective foes or our friends."

Gaffney also said the islands are valuable because U.S. forces have fewer and fewer areas in which to conduct live-fire exercises. He said U.S. troops also benefit from training in environments similar to those in which they may have to operate.

In response to a VOA question about the firing ranges, a senior U.S. State Department official said "our desire is... to not speculate about defense-related issues with the Senkakus."

Yoshihara at the Naval War College said the United States stopped using the firing ranges in 1978 to avoid destabilizing relations between Japan and China, which were negotiating a peace treaty at the time. He said any military benefits from resuming the exercises are outweighed by the strategic downsides.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More