By Jenny Murphy ’15
The Senkaku Islands, a cluster of about five uninhabit- ed islands in the East China Sea, has recently been a serious source of tension between China and Japan. These islands at first glance seem inconsequential – the largest island is about 2.68 mi2 in size. But when a 1968 survey found that there may be oil reserves in the area, China and even Taiwan intensified their claim to the tiny islets. And now, a video that surfaced on Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affair’s YouTube Page (MOFA channel) has sparked these territorial tensions once again.
As of now Japan officially has control over the islands, but the islands’ history is quite messy. They are closest geographi- cally to Japan, about 140 km away from a Okinawan island (vs. 170 km away from Taiwan and 300 km away from mainland China), but China has the earliest documentation of them, with records from as early as the 15th century. Currently the Chinese government argues that the islands have been under Chinese control since at least the 16th century. But when Japan scouted the uninhabited islands in the late 19th century, they declared the land Terra nullius, or “belonging to no one.” They acquired the islands in 1895. Because both China and Japan have histori- cal documents that argue their case, there are no clear answers.
Things got more complicated at the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The Treaty of Shimonoseki transferred control of Taiwan and all its islands from China to Japan. The treaty did not stipulate, however, exactly which islands belonged to Taiwan. The Japanese argue that the Senkaku islands were integrated into the Okinawa Prefecture before the treaty was even signed; they did not receive the island as a result from that treaty.
If the latter case were true, and Japan did receive the Senka- ku islands as a result of the Sino-Japanese War, then when Ja- pan later lost control of Taiwan and its islands after World War II, they would currently have no claim to the Senkaku islands.
But, as it happened, when America ended its post-war oc- cupation of the Okinawan Prefecture in 1972, they returned the Senkaku Islands to Japanese control. It wasn’t until this year, 1972, four years after oil was found near the islands, that China and Taiwan officially declared ownership of them. Events in recent years have sparked protests on each side for the territorial issue, with many fearing this conflict may lead to a military conflict between the two countries. Although both sides stress their desire for a peaceful solution, a 90-second YouTube video posted on Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Channel again provoked arguments on either side. In the video, Japan defends its claim to the Senkaku islands using various photographs and documents. It has reached almost 300,000 views since it was published October 16th.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attacked the video, saying “Whatever propaganda tools Japan employs to support its illegal claim, it will not change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China. She added: “We strongly urge the Japanese side to correct its attitude, stop all provocative words and actions and make concrete efforts for the proper management and resolution of the question of the Diaoyu Islands.”
A Foreign Ministry press secretary, however, defended the videos by saying, “The government is doing what we must do regularly, from the viewpoint of promoting a more correct understanding of the situation surrounding our country.”
Although the international community can only hope for a peaceful settlement of the Senkaku islands, the debate remains so fierce that not even YouTube is safe from the propaganda of international politics. It has certainly come a long way from Numa Numa and Star Wars Kid.