Recently the territorial dispute over the Diao Yu Islands (or Diao Yu Tai in Chinese and Senkaku Islands in Japanese) have made front page news in newspapers. This dispute dates back to many years, and almost exactly 40 years ago this dispute led to a very widespread global Chinese student movement, known as the Diao Yu Tai or DYT Student Movement. From the very beginning of that DYT Student Movement, it was recognized that this is not just a minor territorial dispute between two countries, but it has much larger significance involving (1) the revival of Japanese militarism, (2) American imperialism and collusion with Japan to weaken China, as represented by the newly established People’s Republic of China, and (3) the weak and incompetent Republic of China government more interested in appeasing to the military interests of Japan and the U.S., instead of standing up for China’s national sovereignty. This article briefly summarizes the DYT Student Movement that began 40 years ago and discusses the true significance of the dispute over the Diao Yu Islands.
Geographical Background: The Diao Yu Islands are a group of eight small uninhabited islands located about 120 miles northeast of Keelung, the northern-most city in Taiwan, and about 240 miles southwest of Okinawa which is part of the Okinawa Prefecture or Ryukyu Islands (or Liu Chiu Islands in Chinese). They are also about 240 miles east of the Chinese mainland. The largest of the Diao Yu Islands is only two miles long and less than one mile wide. The Diao Yu Islands are situated on the continental shelf of Taiwan, and are separated from the Ryukyu Islands by a deep underwater trench (over 3,000 feet deep).
Historical Background: Records of the Diao Yu Islands in maps of China date back to as early as 1403. For about 300 years starting with 1532, records of many Chinese envoys sent by the Chinese emperor to Ryukyu Islands recorded the demarcation line between Chinese territories and the Ryukyu Islands, and in these records the Diao Yu Islands were always part of the Chinese territories. The reason for many envoys from China to the Ryukyu Islands was because that for many years during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom pledged allegiance to the Chinese emperor as vassal and accepted titles from them. That was the case even after 1609 when a Japanese lord Shimazu Tadatsune invaded and defeated the Ryukyu king. After that, the kings of the Ryukyus paid tribute to the Japanese shogun as well as to the Chinese emperor. That is why there were a lot of envoys going between China and Ryukyu. The Ryukyu kingdom was annexed by Japan as Ryukyu han or domain in 1872. In 1879, Ryukyu han was renamed Okinawa Prefecture by the Meiji (1868-1912) government of Japan.
Because there is a lot of fish around these islands (as a matter of fact, the words “Diao Yu” mean “fishing” in Chinese), for many centuries Chinese fishermen, especially from nearby Taiwan, have used these islands as temporary resting areas or shelters, and have built wells, docks, and short-term living quarters on these islands.
The First Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan took place in 1894-1895, primarily over Korea. China, weakened internally by the incompetent Qing government and externally by various colonial invasions, especially the Opium Wars with Great Britain, lost the war. In 1895, as part of the peace settlement, together with other concessions, China ceded to Japan the island of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands (also known as Pescadores, which are off the west coast of Taiwan), and paid Japan a total of 340,000,000 taels of silver, estimated by the Chinese scholar Jin Xide to be equivalent to (then) 510,000,000 Japanese yen or about 6.4 times the annual Japanese government revenue, and estimated by the Japanese scholar Ryoko lechika to be equivalent to (then) $21,000,000 (about one-third of the revenue of the Qing government) or about 320,000,000 Japanese yen, equivalent to two-and-half years of Japanese government revenue. No matter which estimate is used, just the financial compensation alone was very severe.
Since the Diao Yu Islands are part of Taiwan, they came under Japanese control when China ceded Taiwan to Japan. However, at the end of WWII when Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, Japan accepted the terms of the July 26, 1945 Potsdam Declaration  which cited the November 27, 1943 Cairo Declaration , which among other things stated that “all territories Japan has stolen from China, such as Manchuria (Dongbei), Formosa (Taiwan), and the Pescadores (Penghus), shall be restored to the Republic of China (ROC).” The Japanese Instrument of Surrender that was signed on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, marking the official surrender of Japan also explicitly referred to the Potsdam Declaration. On all these three occasions of the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the ROC was represented. Since the Diao Yu Islands have always been part of Taiwan, they now reverted back to under the control of China.
We want to mention two other historical events that occurred during the period when Taiwan was under the control of Japan. One was a 1940 court case initiated by Okinawans on who has jurisdiction over the Diao Yu Islands, and after more than a year of investigation, a Tokyo court ruled that the Taiwan Province should have jurisdiction. Another was that before 1945, in order for fishermen to go near the Diao Yu Islands to fish, they had to obtain a permit from the Taiwan Province.
The case was very clear and there shouldn’t have been any question about which country should have sovereignty over the Diao Yu Islands. However, the international political environment changed with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) after the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war over the Chinese Kuomintang Party. If it weren’t for the military support of the U.S. for Chiang Kai-shek’s government in Taiwan, Taiwan would have been united with the rest of China.
True Significance of the Diao Yu Islands Issue: All of a sudden, China, instead of being an ally of the U.S., is now viewed as an arch enemy that needs to be weakened, isolated, and plotted against. On the other hand, Japan, the country that bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack and committed massive, unimaginable inhumane atrocities in China and all over Asia, is now considered an ally of the U.S. to plot against China.
One of the first major manifestations of this new attitude occurred with the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan (commonly known as the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty), which was supposed to officially end WWII and to allocate compensation to Allied civilians and former prisoners of war who had suffered Japanese war crimes. This treaty was signed on September 8, 1951, and became effective on April 28, 1952. Fifty one countries participated in this conference, and 48 countries signed the treaty, which was basically drafted by the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Yet, China, the country in which Japan stationed the most soldiers and the country that suffered the most at the hands of the Japanese military, was not even invited to the conference, with the excuse that it was not clear whether the PRC or the ROC should be invited to the conference. This omission was pointed out by the Soviet Union, one of the three countries who did not sign the treaty. The Soviet Union also pointed out, among other things, that the treaty did not provide any guarantees against the rise of Japanese militarism; that the treaty set up Japan as an American military base and draws Japan into a military coalition; that the draft treaty violated the rights of China to Taiwan and several other islands.
Unlike the various previously mentioned documents associated with the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII that explicitly stated that Taiwan and other Chinese territories stolen from China by Japan should be returned to China, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty only said that Japan will relinquish those former Chinese territories, but did not explicitly say that they should be returned to China. This intentional twisting of history by the U.S. to the detriment of China has since been repeated on several occasions by U.S. senior government officials that the agreement was that Japan would give up their jurisdiction over Taiwan, Penghu, and other territories, but the receiving country of these territories was not specified. For example, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, co-author of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, said in 1955 “the treaty ceded Taiwan to no one; that Japan merely renounced sovereignty over Taiwan, and that America cannot, therefore, admit that the disposition of Taiwan is merely an internal problem of China.” Therefore, as early as 1951, it was already fairly clear about the imperialistic intention of the U.S. toward China and their planting the seed to ally with Japan to contain and weaken China.
In spite of the fact that neither PRC nor ROC was invited to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, a similar Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (also known as the Treaty of Taipei) was signed by the ROC and Japan on April 28, 1952, the same day as the effective day of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. This Treaty of Taipei is basically the same as the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty except for the added statement that “ethnic Chinese residents of the islands of Taiwan and Penghu and their descendants were regarded as having Chinese nationality,” but still did not explicitly say that Taiwan and other Chinese territories stolen from China by Japan should be returned to China. The fact that the Treaty of Taipei was concluded so quickly and the fact that it essentially mirrored the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty strongly suggest that the chief orchestrator of this development was the U.S. The fact that the Treaty of Taipei did not explicitly say that Taiwan and other Chinese territories stolen from China by Japan should be returned to China also strongly suggests that the ROC government was weak and more interested in gaining the support of the U.S., and to a lesser extent Japan, than to defend the territorial sovereignty of China.
Another major manifestation to contain and weaken China occurred in 1969-1972. When the U.S. and Japan negotiated the transfer of control of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan from the U.S. , they included the Senkaku Islands (i.e., the Diao Yu Islands) as part of the Ryukyu Islands! Both the PRC and the ROC objected to this agreement and argued that this agreement did not determine the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. Included in the reversion agreements was an arrangement that Japan would assume the responsibility for the air, ground and maritime defense of the Islands not later than July 1, 1973. As part of the agreement, Japan agreed to deploy A Nike group (3 batteries), a Hawk group (4 batteries) and appropriate supporting troops to Okinawa to carry on the surface-to-air missile role in the Air Defense Mission. Additionally Japan agreed to buy the U.S. equipment located on Ryukyu Islands. From this agreement it is clear that the U.S. planned to team up with a re-militarized Japan to contain and weaken China.
Besides the political motive for including the Diao Yu Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands handed over to Japan, there was also an economic reason for this U.S.-Japan collusion. In 1969, the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) published a report that indicated the possibility of large reserves of oil in the vicinity of the Diao Yu Islands.
The Global Diao Yu Tai Student Movement of 1970+: Starting in 1969, Japan not only stepped up its claim that Diao Yu Islands belong to Japan, Japan also sent troops to the islands to set up boundary markers, sent patrol boats to chase away Taiwan fishermen that have been fishing near these islands for centuries, and even tore down the ROC flag on the Diao Yu Islands. Furthermore, the Diao Yu Islands issue is not an isolated example of Japan not acknowledging the grave mistakes it made in the past and at the same time embarking on a path of revived Japanese militarism so that it can once again embark on new imperialistic pursuits. This is so clearly seen by the fact that (1) Japan still has not officially apologized for the massive inhumane atrocities it committed in Asia during WWII, (2) Japan has continued to deny the existence of atrocities such as the Nanking Massacre and sex slaves, (3) senior Japanese leaders have continued to pay tributes at the Yasukuni Shrine where many Class A War Criminals are enshrined, and (4) Japan has rewritten history by removing from their students’ textbooks such historical accounts.
As also mentioned in the previous section, since 1969, the U.S. has included the Diao Yu Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands whose control was transferred to Japan on March 15, 1972. Furthermore, several U.S. senior government officials have made statements that even the status of Taiwan and other Chinese territories given up by Japan after the end of WWII may be up in the air. In spite of turning over administrative control of the Diao Yu Islands to Japan as part of the Ryukyu Islands, the U.S. has adopted at least publicly an ambiguous position regarding the territorial sovereignty of the Diao Yu Islands by acknowledging that this could be an issue of dispute. Nevertheless, the U.S. has also repeatedly said that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the U.S. and Japan would be applicable if China makes a military move on the Diao Yu Islands, meaning that the U.S. would defend Japan. In spite of its internal inconsistency, that has been the official position of the U.S. government.
From the Chinese perspective, since the Diao Yu Islands are part of the Taiwan Province, it is under the jurisdiction of the ROC, and not the PRC. Again, as already mentioned in the previous section in the discussion of the 1952 Treaty of Taipei, the ROC government has been more interested in gaining the military, political, and economic support of the U.S., and to a lesser extent the political and economic support of Japan, than to defend the territorial sovereignty of China. Even when her own fishermen are being chased away by Japanese patrol boats from islands they have fished nearby for centuries and their national flag has been torn down, the ROC government did not lodge strong protest to Japan, but basically said that there is not much they could do since the Diao Yu Islands are under the administrative control of the U.S., or Japan after March 15, 1972. An example of the ROC government’s attitude and action is so well illustrated when the Vice President of the ROC, Mr. Yen Chia-kan, was asked by Japan to go see the Japanese Emperor on July 7, 1970 in negotiating a $200 million loan from Japan to Taiwan. Anyone who is knowledgeable about the Second Sino-Japanese War would know that it was on July 7, 1937 that Japan created the Marco Polo Bridge incident outside of Beijing as an excuse for a full-blown invasion of China. To the Chinese the date of July 7 is similar to the date of December 7 to the Americans. Nevertheless, Vice President Yen went to see the Japanese Emperor on July 7. After the meeting, the Japanese government said that “because of the dispute over the Diao Yu Islands, we have to rethink about the loan,” meaning that if we get the Diao Yu Islands, then we can discuss about the loan.
Seeing that China’s national sovereignty on the one hand is being infringed externally by an imperialistic U.S. and its ally a re-militarized and aggressive Japan, and on the other hand is not being defended internally by a weak and incompetent ROC government, the overseas Chinese students established a grass-roots Chinese student movement that rapidly spread essentially to all parts of the globe. The earliest call to action was probably around October 1970 from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. But quickly “ad hoc defend Diao Yu Tai action committees” were established in numerous college campuses in the U.S., Canada, HK, Europe, Taiwan, and other parts of the world. A global network of such action committees was established (even though this was about 10 years before the existence of commercial email and 20 years before the existence of commercial Internet), and a world-wide Chinese student movement, called the Diao Yu Tai (DYT) Student Movement, was established.
Several large scale demonstrations occurred in many cities across the globe. From the very beginning, the DYT Student Movement had three protest targets:
- The U.S. government for its imperialistic design to contain and weaken China and for its interference in the internal affairs of China, and in particular for its classifying the Diao Yu Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands and handling over to Japan the administrative control of the Diao Yu Islands, and for its devious maneuvering in orchestrating the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty
- The Japanese government for not acknowledging its imperialistic aggression against China that lasted more than 50 years and for its revival of Japanese militarism in order to pursue future imperialistic pursuits, and in particular for not acknowledging that for centuries the Diao Yu Islands have been part of China and that Chinese fishermen have been fishing near these islands, and for not acknowledging that the Diao Yu Islands together with Taiwan were supposed to return to China after the end of WWII
- The ROC government for its weak and incompetent defense of the national sovereignty of China, and in particular for not taking a stronger stand in negotiating the 1952 Treaty of Taipei and for not standing up against Japanese and U.S. imperialistic designs on the Diao Yu Islands.
Because the Diao Yu Islands are considered part of Taiwan and Taiwan is under the control of the ROC, the PRC government was not a protest target. The PRC also did not sign a treaty with Japan similar to the 1952 Treaty of Taipei. For the record, the PRC government did voice protests that the Diao Yu Islands are part of China, and not part of Japan.
One should also point out that not only that the ROC government did not take any real action to defend the territorial sovereignty of China when faced with foreign imperialism, it actually engaged in activities to discredit and suppress the DYT Student Movement. For example, during the April 9, 1971 demonstration in San Francisco, their hired hands had painted on the walls of Portsmouth Square (the gathering place of the protest meeting) graffiti derogatory remarks targeting several of the student leaders. Furthermore, they hired several young thugs to try to disrupt the protest meeting, but they were suppressed by the student security volunteers and the local police.
The DYT Student Movement reminded people of the famous May 4 Movement of 1919, which was initiated by Chinese students to protest against the grossly unfair treatment that the Versailles Treaty handed to China: Among other things, instead of returning the Shangdong Province to China after Germany was defeated in WWI, it was handed over to Japan. The famous slogan of the May 4 Movement “Resist Foreign Powers, Rid Internal Traitors” was also the principal slogan of the DYT Student Movement. The student-led May 4 Movement quickly spread to workers, merchants, and businessmen and became a massive nationwide movement , and led to the Chinese representatives walking out of the Versailles Conference. Even though the May 4 Movement did not manage to achieve all their objectives as evident by the handing over of Shangdong Province to Japan, the partial success of the movement exhibited the ability of China’s various social classes to successfully collaborate, an ideal that would be admired by both Nationalists and Communists. Furthermore, the May 4 Movement sparked national protests and marked the upsurge of Chinese nationalism, a shift towards political mobilization and away from cultural activities, and a move towards populist base rather than intellectual elites.
Even though the DYT Student Movement did not achieve its original objective of China retaining the territorial sovereignty of the Diao Yu Islands (as can be seen that it is still an issue 40 years later), it did result in a major change of Chinese students’ attitude toward political and social pursuits, besides purely intellectual pursuits. It definitely significantly enlarged the scope of students’ interest from the very narrow intellectual pursuit of the previous 20 years.
Summary: The Diao Yu Tai Student Movement was, and still is, to address a political conflict, and not a people’s conflict. It addresses the conflict arising from U.S. imperialism, Japanese militarism, and ROC weakness, and not a conflict between the Chinese people and the Japanese people, or a conflict between the Chinese people and the American people. China has ample evidence that the Diao Yu Islands have been part of Taiwan, and therefore part of China, dating back many centuries. It was only after the First Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan that ended in 1895 with Japan as the victor that the Diao Yu Islands became part of Japan when Taiwan was ceded to Japan. With the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII, the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender all stipulated that all territories stolen by Japan from China should be returned to China. This should have included the Diao Yu Islands.
However, when the Chinese Communists won the civil war over the Chinese Nationalists, the international political environment changed drastically. Instead of considering China as an ally, the U.S. now looks at the PRC as an arch enemy that needs to be contained, isolated, and weaken. And instead of considering Japan as a country that attacked Pearl Harbor and unleased massive inhumane atrocity all over Asia, the U.S. considers Japan as an ally to contain and weaken China, as well as helping it to rearm. Thus the U.S. orchestrated the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty which did not even invite China as a participant. The treaty stipulated that Japan should give up control of all territories previously stolen from China, but it did not explicitly state that these territories should be returned to China as stated in the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender. Shortly after this treaty was signed, the ROC quickly signed a treaty with Japan, known as the Treaty of Taipei that mirrored the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
When the U.S. transferred control of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan in 1972, the U.S. included the Diao Yu Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands, and also rearmed Japan to be its ally and policeman in Asia to contain and weaken China. This was another major manifestation of U.S. imperialism and the revival of Japanese militarism. Their motive was enhanced with the discovery of the possibility of large reserves of oil in the vicinity of the Diao Yu Islands.
The Japanese aggression exhibited after WWII toward China and the Diao Yu Islands is not an isolated incident, but consistent with its unwillingness to acknowledge and apologize for the massive inhumane atrocities it committed in China and Asia during WWII and its plan to re-militarize to continue its disrupted imperialistic pursuits.
The ROC government was more interested in gaining the support of the U.S. and Japan, instead of defending the territorial sovereignty of China. In 1952, it signed a peace treaty with Japan, the Treaty of Taipei, that mirrored the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty which did not explicitly state that the territories stolen from China by Japan should be returned to China. When Taiwan’s own fishermen were being chased away by Japanese patrol boats for doing what they and their ancestors have been doing for centuries and when the ROC flag was torn down from the Diao Yu Islands, the ROC government stood by and essentially did nothing. When a worldwide student movement was organized, the ROC government tried to discredit and disrupt the movement, and also had a news blackout of this student movement in their state-controlled media in Taiwan.
The above laid the foundation for the eruption and rapid expansion of the Diao Yu Tai Student Movement that began almost exactly 40 years ago in the fall of 1970, and quickly spread across the U.S. and around the world. Its main slogan was one borrowed from the famous May 4 Movement of 1919: “Resist Foreign Powers, Rid Internal Traitors.” Even though the DYT Student Movement did not achieve its main objective as the Diao Yu Tai dispute continues today 40 years later, it did significantly enlarge the scope of students’ interest from the very narrow intellectual pursuit of the previous 20 years. Many student leaders of this movement sacrificed their studies and careers; their lives were changed immeasurably and irrevocably, but I don’t think that there were much regrets. Although no longer students and now senior citizens, many are continuing the struggle today as the Diao Yu Islands dispute has recently intensified. But there is one significant change, the PRC has replaced the ROC as the government defending the national sovereignty of China.
Postscript: During the Diao Yu Tai Student Movement 40 years ago, one of the most read newsletters was the Battle Newsletter (戰報) published by the “Defend Diao Yu Tai Action Committee” at the University of California at Berkeley). Two issues were published on February 15, 1971 and June 1, 1971. My son Eric has put those two newsletters online on the web. Here is how to access them:
A. Go to http://erictow.com/gallery2/
B. Click on the appropriate newsletter to view it. Each page of the newsletter is a .jpg file.
C. If you want to download an entire newsletter, go to http://erictow.com/gallery2/, select the appropriate newsletter and click “Add Album to Cart.” Then on the top right, there is a drop down box called “cart actions”. Select “Download in Zip” and press Go. Since the files are very large, it may take several (to many minutes) to finish the download.
D. After you download and unzip the zip files (one for each newsletter), then you will get a collection of .jpg files (one for each page). If you now open each of these files and zoom in and out as necessary, then you should be able to read the files. If you print out each page, you should also be able to read it, although it does strain your eyes somewhat.
Note: The above website for accessing the Battle Newsletter (戰報) is no longer available since about 2013.
 From the point of view of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty of China, the whole Ryukyu was its dependency and China claimed title to it.
 Some of the numbers in the two estimates are not necessarily consistent with each other.
 The Cairo Declaration was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China.
 The Potsdam Declaration was signed by President Harry S. Truman of the United States, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China.
 The other two countries were Czechoslovakia and Poland.
 The U.S. had administrative control of the Ryukyu Islands since the end of WWII and also as stated in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. The control transfer process started on November 21, 1969 with a joint communiqué from U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, and completed on March 15, 1972.
 The May 4, 1919 Movement is considered by many to be the largest student movement in world history.