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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
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.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

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