By Joe Hung, special to The China Post
There is an uninhabited tiny archipelago lying 120 miles northeast of Keelung, the international seaport in north Taiwan. It is known as the Tiaoyutais (釣魚島), placed under the jurisdiction of the township of Toucheng in Yilan County of the Republic of China (R.O.C.). The Japanese call them the Senkaku （尖閣）Islands and claim sovereignty over them. China also claims them as its territory, Romanizing Tiaoyutai as Diaoyutai according to the pinyin system.
What the Japanese call the Senkakus, include Uotusuri-jima （魚釣島）or Tiaoyutai to Taiwan, Kuba-jima （久場島）or Huangweiyu （黄尾嶼）, Taisho-jima （大正島）or Chiweiyu（赤尾嶼）, Minami-ko-jima or Nanhsiaotao, Kita-ko-jima or Beihsiaotao, Oki-no-kita-jima or Tapeihsiaotao, Oki-no-minami-iwa or Nanhsiaotao, and Tobise, which is called Fechiaoyen. All of them were posted in Royal Navy charts as the Pinnacles in the mid-nineteenth century. As a mater of fact, “senkaku” in Japanese is the literal translation of the English word pinnacle.
The biggest of the eight islets, Tiaoyutai, or Uotsuri-jima, was known to fishermen of Tamsui, Keelung and Toucheng as No Man’s Island for decades before the Japanese coast guard started patrolling its waters after 1972. Japan claimed it as no man’s land or terra nullius and incorporated it as the largest islet of the Senkaku archipelago on Jan. 14, 1895, only a few months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki to end the first Sino-Japanese War. But China has considered the group — five islets including Tiaoyutai, or Diaoyutao, which in Japanese means Uuotsuri-jima, and three barren rocks — its own at least since 1372. The dispute over sovereignty has yet to be solved. On Jan. 16, a week before Chinese New Year’s Day which fell on Jan. 23, Tokyo made the dispute flare up again by announcing the four “offshore islets（離れ島）” of the Senkaku archipelago would be named before the end of March. Two weeks later, on Jan. 30, the Japanese government declared its intention to name these four barren rocks which are within its exclusive economic zone. Three of them are near Kuba-jima, which is Huangweiyu. They would be named Kita-nishi ko-jima (Northwest Islet, 北西小島), Kita-ko-jima (North Islet, 北小島), and Kita-higashi ko-jima (Northeast Island, 北東小島). The other is near Taisho-jima which is Chiweiyu, the name to be given being Kita-ko-jima (北小島). As a result, there are three Kita-ko-jimas in the island group, so far as the Japanese are concerned. There is no reason why the Japanese government should name the unnamed islets that apparently are what should be classified as terra nullius. Perhaps, Tokyo wanted to repeat what it did in 1895. While the first Sino-Japanese War was still going on, Japan officially incorporated the Tiaoyutais under the administration of Okinawa, stating that it had conducted surveys since 1885 and that they were terra nullius because there was no evidence to suggest that they had been under Qing control. But that decision was not declared until after the World War II.
However, it is more likely that Japan is exercising its right as the sovereign to name the unnamed islets in order to pave the way for exploring undersea petroleum reserves in the vicinity. After a U.N. survey in 1968 reported the huge oil and gas potential of the area near the Tiaoyutais, both Taipei and Beijing began to protest against the scheduled 1972 return by the United States of the islets to Japanese control, though Washington took no position on their ultimate ownership. In 1971, Taipei and Beijing proclaimed sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais, or Diaoyutai Islands, the purpose being to jointly tap the vast oil reserves. Tokyo may wish to do so unilaterally.