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.

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.

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 Legal Status of the Senkaku Islands (Part 1)

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.

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.

China's Rise as a Maritime Power

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 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.”

The Strategic Value of Territorial Islands from the Perspective of National Security

Much of the strategic value that islands have is related to their geographic potential. Defense specialist Akimoto Kazumine, a senior research fellow at the OPRF, notes that Japan’s islands are deeply tied to the regional security environment as a whole. Chinese naval forces view Japanese island territories as an impediment to their access to the western Pacific, which makes them a likely focus of any military confrontation involving China in the region. Japan needs to ensure an EEZ regime free of restrictions on use of the seas while maintaining the security of its territorial islands.

Geopolitical Considerations of the Senkaku Islands

The Senkaku Islands problem should be considered in a comprehensive manner taking in geographical, legal, security, and geopolitical factors. Akiyama Masahiro, a former OPRF chairman with extensive experience in government administration, presents a detailed overview of the islands from the geopolitical perspective, focusing on both natural resource exploitation and security. It is Taiwan, he states, that Japan should treat as the relevant counterparty in addressing the matter.

The Senkaku Islands and Japan's Territorial Rights (Part 2)

The international legal scholar Ozaki Shigeyoshi continues his exploration of the Senkaku Islands and their territorial belongings. In the second part of his paper, he examines recent Chinese and Taiwanese claims to the islands and looks back on their situation in the Ming and Qing eras—through sources including maps and sailing logs of Chinese envoys passing through nearby waters—to see whether the Ming and Qing Dynasties viewed the Senkakus as their territory. Conclusion: China has little historical basis for claiming the islands as a traditional part of its territory. (Part 2 of 3.)

The Senkaku Islands and Japan's Territorial Rights (Part 1)

In an era of global warming, islands and shorelines face considerable change from the rising sea level. This will clearly impact low-lying islands around the world in particular, but less attention has been given to the effect on sea areas associated with those islands and their vanishing or shifting shorelines. The legal scholar Hayashi Moritaka examines the problem of maritime zones defined in relation to baselines in the context of drastic change to the shorelines, which form the bases for them. New rules are needed in the UNCLOS framework to address this.

Japan's Effective Control of the Senkaku Islands

Hirose Hajime, an emeritus professor at the Japan Coast Guard Academy, looks at Japanese government documents published over the last four decades to paint a detailed picture of the official Japanese stance on the country’s control of the Senkaku Islands. The white papers and annual reports of the Japan Coast Guard have outlined the status of the islands and incidents involving foreign vessels operating in Japanese waters near them over the years, and are a valuable source of information on the government’s position from the early 1970s to the present day.