By adopting an ambiguous and internally inconsistent policy toward the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands/Senkaku Islands between China and Japan (former name used by China and latter name used by Japan), U.S. government leaders may be dragging the U.S. into a war in Asia that it has no moral or legal reasons to be involved. The U.S. government on many occasions has stated that the sovereignty of these islands is unsettled, yet has also stated that these islands are covered under the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.
Starting as early as 1372, many Chinese historical documents and maps have recorded that the Diaoyu Islands are part of Chinese territory. For example, the names of Diaoyu Dao (Dao in Chinese means island, and Diaoyu Dao is the largest island among the Diaoyu Islands) and several adjacent islands were named in the book Voyage with a Tail Wind published in 1403 in the Ming Dynasty. Several historical documents from officials of the Ryukyu Kingdom also marked the separating line between the Ryukyu Kingdom and Chinese territory, and the Diaoyu Islands were part of Chinese territory. Besides Chinese maps, many foreign maps also show that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China. For example, in the map included in the 1785 book Illustrated Outline of the Three Countries by the Japanese author Hayashi Shihei, the Diaoyu Dao was colored the same as the mainland of China. In The Map of East China Sea Littoral States by the French cartographer Pierre Lapie and others in 1809, the Diaoyu Islands were colored the same as that of Taiwan. The map Colton’s China published in the U.S. in 1859 marked the Diaoyu Islands as part of China.
The waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands are traditionally Chinese fishing ground. For centuries, Chinese fishermen have engaged in fishery activities in these waters, and the Chinese people living in Taiwan and China’s southeast coast have used Diaoyu Dao as a navigation marker. As early as the Ming Dynasty, China had placed the Diaoyu Islands under its coastal defense to guard against the invasion of Japanese pirates. The Qing Dynasty, just like the Ming Dynasty, had also included the Diaoyu Islands as part of China’s coastal defense, but had also clearly placed the Diaoyu Islands under the jurisdiction of the local government of Taiwan.
It is also important to note that the Diaoyu Islands are about 100 nautical miles from Taiwan and is on Taiwan’s continental shelf, but about 200 nautical miles from Okinawa and separated by a deep trough. We also want to mention two other historical events that occurred during the period when Taiwan and the Okinawa Prefecture were under the control of Japan. One was a 1940 court case initiated by Okinawans on who has jurisdiction over the Diaoyu 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 Diaoyu Islands to fish, they had to obtain a permit from a jurisdiction in Taiwan.
Therefore, historically, geographically, and legally, for many centuries these islands have been part of Taiwan, and therefore China.
Japan claims that they discovered the Diaoyu Islands in 1884, and started exploring these unoccupied and unclaimed islands, and then annexed them on January 11, 1895 as part of the Okinawa Prefecture.  What Japan does not state is that their exploration took place several centuries after it had been known to the world, including Japan, that the Diaoyu Islands have been part of China, and furthermore that their own government documents clearly showed that Japan had been involved in a secret plan to steal the Diaoyu Islands from China. As a matter of fact, a secret report was sent on September 22, 1885 from the governor of Okinawa Prefecture to Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs regarding setting up sovereignty markers to incorporate the Diaoyu Islands into the Okinawa Prefecture. The report stated that these uninhabited islands were, in fact, the same as the Diaoyu Islands that were recorded in various Qing court documents. They were concerned about China’s objection to their planned annexation. That was why Japan hesitated to annex the Diaoyu Islands to become part of the Okinawa Prefecture until January 11, 1895 when it was clear that Japan was going to win the First Sino-Japanese War (that ended on April 17, 1895). Even this annexation decision was done in secrecy; Japan did not publicly announce this action. This secret scheme of trickery is well documented in Japan’s own government documents, as pointed out by independent analyses by Han-Yi Shaw, a Chinese scholar in Taiwan, and Professor Kiyoshi Inoue, a Japanese historian at Kyoto University.  Both concluded that there is no doubt that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China.
How Should the Dispute Be Settled?
To any objective person, there is no doubt that the Diaoyu Islands clearly belong to China. The Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the 1945 Japanese Instrument of Surrender all stated clearly that Japan should return to China: Taiwan and other territories that Japan had stolen from China. This therefore means that when Japan returned Taiwan to China after the end of WWII, the Diaoyu Islands were also returned to China, and the case should have been closed. Why is there still a dispute?
However, after the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in China in 1949, the U.S. adopted a policy to weaken and contain China. Starting in the early 1950s, the U.S. began to use Japan as its partner and pawn, and adopted an antagonistic attitude toward China. This antagonistic attitude toward China had many manifestations. One obvious one was not inviting China, either the government of the Republic of China (ROC) or the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, when China was one of the victorious countries and the country that suffered the most casualties and atrocities under the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. From the very beginning, the People’s Republic of China stated that “If the People’s Republic of China is excluded from the preparation, formulation and signing of the peace treaty with Japan, it will, no matter what its content and outcome are, be regarded as illegal and therefore invalid by the central people’s government.” The San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed on September 8, 1951, and placed the Ryukyu Islands under UN’s trusteeship, with the U.S. as the sole administering authority.
However, even the San Francisco Peace Treaty did not include the Diaoyu Islands as part of the territory of the Ryukyu Islands. It was more than a year later on December 25, 1953, when the U.S. unilaterally expanded the territory of Ryukyu Islands to include the Diaoyu Islands! Then in 1972 the U.S. handed over to Japan the administrative control of the Ryukyu Islands, including the Diaoyu Islands.
This unilateral decision of the U.S. ignored completely the historical evidence and the decisions of the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the 1945 Japanese Instrument of Surrender in which the U.S. played the primary role. This decision not only planted a seed for dispute, but at the same time also helps to re-militarize an expansion-minded Japan, a country that still has not acknowledged and apologized for the massive atrocities it committed in China and Asia during WWII , and a country that unleashed the Pearl Harbor surprise attack on the U.S.
In spite of repeated strong statements from both the PRC and ROC that the Diaoyu Islands clearly belong to China, the Japanese government “purchased” the Diaoyu Islands on September 10, 2012 from the so-called Japanese private “owners” of the islands and then nationalized it. How can there be Japanese private owners and how can the Japanese government purchase and nationalize lands that belong to another country? This latest action has resulted in even stronger statements from the PRC and the ROC, warning Japan that if it does not stop its actions to steal lands that clearly belong to China, Japan will have to bear all consequences.
U.S.’s Inconsistent Foreign Policy
The stakes and tension have been raised in the East China Sea between Japan and China. It could very well lead to military actions and war. Yet, the U.S. government has continued to stick with its ambiguous and internally inconsistent policy of stating that the sovereignty of these islands is unsettled, but these islands are covered under the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty. Will the U.S. be courageous enough to adopt a policy that is fair and agrees with the facts? Is the U.S. willing to be dragged by Japan into a war in the East China Sea that it has no moral or legal reasons to be involved? Will the American people stand by while her sons and daughters fight in an unjustified war far away from home?
In the current new world order, China will be the major economic competitor to the U.S. However, should the U.S. continue to adopt an antagonistic attitude to weaken and contain China, or should the U.S. adopt a more collaborative approach with China that could lead to a win-win-win situation for the U.S., China, and world peace?
Note: A shorter version of this article was submitted to the Op Ed page of the (1) New York Times on 9/13/12 and was rejected, (2) Wall Street Journal on 9/17/12 and was rejected, and (3) Washington Post on 9/24/12 and was also rejected. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusion about the objectivity and independence of our press.
 Japan annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879 and changed its name to Okinawa Prefecture.
 Click here to see Han-Yi Shaw’s article.
 Click here to see Professor Kiyoshi Inoue’s article.
 For more discussion of this issue, read the article in this same release “Significance of the 75th Anniversary of the Nanking Massacre.”