Research

Scholarly papers on island issues by specialists in diplomacy, history, international and maritime law, and other fields. Deepen your understanding of the issues with the perspectives offered in these experts’ analyses.

U.S. Recognition of Japanese Sovereignty Over the Senkaku Islands

Recent Chinese intimidation against Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea presents an ideal opportunity for the United States to strengthen the alliance with Tokyo and enhance regional strategic security and stability. On June 22, 2020, the Ishigaki City Council of Okinawa voted to strengthen Japan’s administrative control of the Senkaku Islands by reasserting that the islands are Japanese territory and changing their administrative name from “Tonoshiro” to “Tonoshiro Senkaku.”1 The United States should acknowledge the name change and officially recognize the Senkakus as Japanese territory, as it once did before the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

The South Sea Islands and Japanese Mandatory Rule over Them

For about three decades, from 1914 to 1945, when it was defeated in the Pacific War, Japan ruled the former German Micronesia, which it then called Nanyo Gunto(the South Sea Islands), and Nanyo Cho (the South Seas Agency), which was responsible for governing the islands, was located in the city of Koror in the Palau Islands. The relationships between the South Sea Islands and Japan are a matter of consequence that is essential to understand the modern and contemporary history of Japan. In recent Japan, however, Palau has evoked an image of a resort in the South Pacific Ocean and a mecca for scuba diving tourism among some people, and it is safe to say that the ordinary Japanese no longer recall the name “South Sea Islands” and the history of Japanese rule over the islands. The reason is that the persons formerly concerned with the South Sea Islands who continued to live in postwar Japan as living witnesses are now a complete minority as they have become 80 or 90 or older. I have many opportunities to see young people aged around 20 and realize every day how living people’s ordinary sense of history changes with the passage of time. To young students, 70 to 80 years ago is a period when their grand-grandparents rather than their grandparents lived—a period that no longer carries any sense of reality and is mentioned only in history textbooks.

Legal Status of Uninhabited Islets and Small Islands —Relationship Between Customary Law and Treaty Law―

When Japan submitted its application for the extension of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on 13 November 2008, China and South Korea submitted, one after another, their statements of position to the Commission, claiming that they could not approve the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf measured from the base-point of Okinotori Island, criticizing the position of Japan1. Their arguments were based on the grounds that Okinotori Island is a “rock” under Article 121, paragraph 3, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and cannot have its own EEZ or continental shelf.

International Legal Regime regarding Islands and Rocks

maritime law) from an expert perspective has already been published by Professors Yamamoto Soji and Kuribayashi Tadao, among others,1 and the Ocean Policy Research Foundation has advanced efforts, in particular regarding Okinotorishima Island.2 What such research has made clear is that this issue has a complex history involving the actual interests of many nations, that there are many unclear points regarding the present legal regime, and that state practice and scholars’ views vary. The purpose of this paper is to summarize, as simply as possible, the international legal regime currently applicable to islands and rocks and its main points of dispute, while limiting the review of past developments to the minimum. Finally, I apply those results to Okinotorishima Island and present a few proposals. The principles of the international legal regime pertaining to this issue are prescribed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), especially Article 121. As of February 16, 2007, UNCLOS has been ratified by 152 nations and the European Community. The United States, which is one of the few coastal states that have not ratified this treaty, virtually accepts its provisions. Accordingly, UNCLOS has become an international law that is almost universally applied.

Legal Status of Uninhabited Islets and Small Islands—Relationship Between Customary Law and Treaty Law―

As the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, Japan has jurisdiction over the territorial sea and EEZ pertaining to them. China also claims the islands, though, which superficially presents competing jurisdictional claims. In this paper, the legal specialist Miyoshi Masahiro examines aspects of the law governing Japan’s response to foreign governmental ships in its territorial sea and EEZ. He also explores the causes of the overlapping claims problem from an international law perspective.

The South Sea Islands and Japanese Mandatory Rule over Them

As the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, Japan has jurisdiction over the territorial sea and EEZ pertaining to them. China also claims the islands, though, which superficially presents competing jurisdictional claims. In this paper, the legal specialist Miyoshi Masahiro examines aspects of the law governing Japan’s response to foreign governmental ships in its territorial sea and EEZ. He also explores the causes of the overlapping claims problem from an international law perspective.

The Four Northern Islands and the San Francisco Peace Treaty

Japan claims territorial sovereignty over four islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, the Habomais and Shikotan which have been under Russian control since the end of WW II. One of the disputed points involves Article 2(c) of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) in which Japan renounced the Kurile Islands. While Russia argues that the four islands are included in the Kurile Islands, Japan contends that they are not.
 The drafting of a peace treaty began in March 1947 within the US Department of State. State Department’s drafts went through revisions up to the end of 1949. Subsequently, John Foster Dulles, as a consultant to the Secretary of State, prepared a short version of draft treaty in Summer 1950 and started the coordination with countries concerned. Finally, “Revised United State–United Kingdom Draft of a Japanese Peace Treaty” was completed in June 1951, and it was adopted as “Treaty of Peace with Japan” in San Francisco in September the same year.
 In the drafting process of the peace treaty, many provisions were planned: the four islands were to be retained by Japan, to be detached from Japan, or two islands to be retained and two detached, and so on. Various comments were also recorded in the commentaries attached to the draft treaties, such as “…we [US] should propose this disposition [retention of four islands by Japan] on the slight chance that the Soviets would give them up, and for the good will we would gain and the ill will that the Soviets would incur among the Japanese if they did not do so.”, and “US assumption of control over the Ryukyus places the US in a poor position to suggest the renunciation by the Soviets [of the four islands].”
 To conclude, the preparatory work to the Peace Treaty would not contradict the interpretation of the word “Kurile Islands” in Article 2(c) that it does not include the four islands which have never been territory of any foreign country.

Russia’s Claim to Sovereignty over the Four Northern Islands

 Japan and Russia have long disputed with each other on the issue of the attribution of four islands located to the northeast of Hokkaido.
While Japan’s position is that the Four Northern Islands are an inherent part of the territory of Japan, which have never been held by foreign countries, and which were confirmed as Japanese under the first treaty between the two countries (1855), Russia argues that Japan lost the right to refer to early treaties because it seized the southern Sakhalin by Russo-Japanese War (1905). Russia also insists that the starting point of the discussions ought to be the outcome of World War II, and contends that Japan surrendered and accepted all the terms arising from the Allies’ agreements, including the Yalta Agreement which stipulates the handover of the Kurile islands to the Soviet Union. Russia further contends that Japan’s renouncement of the Kurile Islands under the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) has an absolute character and the Kurile Islands include the four islands Japan claims. Lastly, Russia contends that the both countries signed the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration (1956), in which the Soviet Union agreed to hand over Shikotan and the Habomais (two of the Four Northern Islands) upon conclusion of a peace treaty, on the understanding that no more territorial claim would be made.
 Many questions arise when we examine the Russian arguments in detail. Claiming sovereignty over the Four Northern Islands as the outcome of WW II—the islands which have never been part of Russia—is especially problematic in light of the “principle of non-territorial expansion” that the Allied themselves proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter (1941) and the Cairo Declaration (1943).

Protest and Acquiescence in Territorial Acquisition: In relation to the Senkaku Islands

This article focuses on the acquisition of title to territories in general in terms of international law, and then to discuss its implication for the Senkaku Islands problem in particular. And in the process, the article examines a number of questions; specifically, what significance protest has in international law, what significance an absence of protest (i.e. silence) has, whether the fact of territorial possession has notoriety, to what extent must a fact be known to achieve notoriety, what the possessing state must do to achieve notoriety, and whether third states are responsible for not knowing the fact.

Stalin's Definition of the Kurile Islands

Japan has a territorial dispute with Russia on Northern Territories such as Etorofu Island, the Habomai Islands, Kunashiri Island, and Shikotan Island. The issue of the Northern Territories is largely one of interpretation. It stems in large part to a lack of consensus between Japan and Russia over the wording and legitimacy of views presented in the wide-ranging international agreements and declarations composed during and in the wake of WWII, when Japan’s renunciation of territory was a subject of much debate. This article focuses Stalin’s definition of the Kurile Island.

International Law and Japan's Territorial Disputes

Although Japan renounced its claims to these lands, the San Francisco Peace Treaty(SFPT)failed to declare a successor State. Thus, five of the highly contentious territorial disputes that plague Asia-Pacific today have their roots in the SFPT, three of which involve Japan—Kurile Islands/Northern Territories, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima) and Pinnacle Islands (Diaoyu/Senkakus). Over the years, these disputes have intensified as a result of rising nationalism and a growing demand for living and non-living ocean resources. In particular, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which were designed to accommodate the interests of the developing States in exercising exclusive resource rights out to two hundred nautical miles (nm), have had the unintended consequence of intensifying resource competition and rekindling these longstanding territorial disputes.

The Senkaku Islands as Viewed through Chinese Law

China claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and is engaged in maritime territorial disputes with several of its neighbors. The country’s domestic laws are a valuable lens for understanding its approach to these issues. Sakamoto Shigeki, a professor of international law specializing in maritime policy and legal affairs, presents a detailed examination of Chinese legal claims with respect to the Senkakus, as well as to disputed waters in the South China Sea, concluding that Japan needs to review its own legislation and to communicate closely with China to avoid an escalation.

The "Critical Date" of the Takeshima Dispute

The territorial dispute over Takeshima began in 1952, when South Korean President Syngman Rhee asserted sovereignty over a sea area including the islands. Takeshima is Japanese territory historically and legally, and Japan has urged Korea to agree to International Court of Justice proceedings to resolve the issue, to no avail. Legal specialist Miyoshi Masahiro explores the case, defining 1952 as the “critical date” after which acts should not be taken into consideration in determining the legal status of Takeshima. South Korea must promptly recognize the need for a law-based resolution.

The Legal Status of the Senkaku Islands (Part 1)

Their Inclusion in Japanese Territory and the Legal Basis for This

The Senkaku Islands have been officially Japanese territory since 1895, when the Meiji government formally incorporated them. Well before then, though, the islands were culturally and traditionally a part of the Ryukyus. In the first part of his paper, the legal specialist Ozaki Shigeyoshi examines Chinese documents to show that their references to the islands, including their names, drew heavily on Ryukyu knowledge about them, making it clear that they were never part of China.This paper will be posted in two installments. Part 1 is displayed below; click the link to jump to Part 2 once it is uploaded.

The Meaning of the Territorial Incorporation of Takeshima (1905)

In January 1905, the Japanese cabinet decided to incorporate Takeshima into its territory, referring to the “title by occupation.” Effective control of an island is a key to occupation. In this paper, legal specialist Tsukamoto Takashi shows various examples of effective control, conducted peacefully and continuously by Japan, and examines Korea’s claims to the island (Korean name Dokdo) based on historical records up to around the turn of the twentieth century.

Exercising Enforcement Jurisdiction around the Senkaku Islands

As the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, Japan has jurisdiction over the territorial sea and EEZ pertaining to them. China also claims the islands, though, which superficially presents competing jurisdictional claims. In this paper, the legal specialist Miyoshi Masahiro examines aspects of the law governing Japan’s response to foreign governmental ships in its territorial sea and EEZ. He also explores the causes of the overlapping claims problem from an international law perspective.

The Late-Seventeenth-Century "Takeshima" Dispute, with Reference to the Dajokan Order of 1877

The territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea over Takeshima is complex, involving numerous issues that have unfolded over hundreds of years. Japanese and Korean fishermen clashed in the late seventeenth century over abalone fishing grounds around Ulleungdo. Korea points to the shogunal order banning Japanese fishers from this island—then called Takeshima in Japan—as evidence that Japan negated her claim to today’s Takeshima (Dokdo). This study, by legal specialist Tsukamoto Takashi, examines documentation of the incident to ascertain whether this is the case.

China's Rise as a Maritime Power

Ocean Policy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping

Throughout its history, the People’s Republic of China has displayed an evolving approach to maritime security and policy issues. Takeda Jun’ichi, a journalist specializing in foreign policy and defense, examines the course the country has taken toward becoming a maritime power, focusing on changes in its numerous state and Communist Party organs tasked with various aspects of ocean policy. He identifies four phases in the development of Chinese ocean policy with a view to providing hints on the outlook for the current phase, marked by China’s pursuit of maritime-power status.

The Regime of Islands in International Conventions (Part 1)

What we call “the law of the sea” is not a single set of rules, but a complex international legal landscape featuring a range of multilateral and bilateral agreements. In the first part of his multipart paper, the legal specialist Terasaki Naomichi Hiro examines the regime of islands as it developed through the discussion at the 1930 Hague Codification Conference, two of the UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea, and other gatherings, and as it was presented in documents including the four 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

The Senkaku Islands and Japan's Territorial Rights (Part 3--Final)

In the third and final part of his paper, international legal specialist Ozaki Shigeyoshi continues his investigation of the historical disposition of the Senkaku Islands. Focusing on the Qing dynasty era, he looks at references to the islands and nearby geographical features in Chinese historical documents and travel records of that period. His conclusion, based on all three parts of the paper, is that at the end of the nineteenth century, when Japan undertook its surveys of and took control of the Senkakus, they were “terra nullius.”