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The Conflict over the Diaoyu Islands

Learn about the on-going conflict over the Diaoyu Islands


The conflict over the Diaoyu Islands often comes up in news with tensions rising each time a Chinese or Taiwanese boat veers too close to the island chain or public posturing over who owns the islands reignites the fight for the uninhabited islands.

The Japanese government’s decision to pay ¥2.05 billion (US$26 million) for three of the chain’s eight islands in mid-September in a move to nationalize the archipelago has only angered China and Taiwan, which both claim the islands and condemned Japan’s recent action.

Where Are the Diaoyu Islands and Who Controls Them?

The Diaoyu Islands (釣魚台列島), referred to as the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese, are a small chain of eight uninhabited islands in the East China Sea northeast of Taiwan. The islands, which are home to endangered species, include Diaoyu Dao (釣魚島), Huangwei Yu (黃尾嶼), Chiwei Yu (赤尾嶼), Nan Xiaodao (南小島), Bei Xiaodao (北小島), Da Bei Xiaodao (大北小島), Da Nan Xiaodao (大南小島), and Fei Jiao Yan (飛礁岩). In Japanese, the islands are referred to as Uotsuri-jima, Kuba-jima, Taisho-jima, Minami-Ko-jima, Kita-Ko-jima, Oki-no-Kita-iwa, Oki-no-Minami-iwa, and Tobise. The islands are are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

China bases its claim to the islands on the arguments that the islands were discovered by Chinese in the 14th century and that they reverted back to Chinese control following Japan’s surrendered in World War II in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration.

Both China and Taiwan claim the islands are part of Toucheng Township in Yilan County in northeastern Taiwan. China’s and Taiwan’s claims to the islands overlap because China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though Taiwan has been politically divided from China since the end of Chinese Civil War in 1949. While China and Taiwan have their differences, both hold firm that the Diaoyu Islands do not belong to Japan.

Japan does not acknowledge China’s control of the islands prior to 1895. Japan gained control of the islands in 1895 during the first Sino-Japanese War and retained control until its surrender after World War II in 1945. The United States took over control of the islands until 1972 and returned the Diaoyu Islands to Japan in 1972 under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty.

Japan claims the islands are part of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture and maintains the island chain was not included in the list of islands that were to be returned after its surrender of World War II. The issue of control reached a turning point after a 1968 United Nations study found that undersea oil and gas deposits may be located in the vicinity of the islands. Once the U.S. returned the islands to Japan, Taiwan and China both claimed ownership of the islands.

History of the Diaoyu Islands:

The Japanese central government formally annexed the islands on January 14, 1895 and a few years later they were bought by Japanese entrepreneur Koga Tatsushiro, who built a bonito processing plant on the islands but later closed it. The islands were passed on to his descendants who sold some of the islands to the Kurihara family. Since 2002, the Japanese government has rented four of the islands from the Kurihara family, of which one island is used by the U.S. military.

Several notable incidents have ratcheted up the conflict. The captain and crew of a Chinese fishing boat were detained after their boat collided with a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat in September 2010 near the disputed island chain.

In August 2012, a group of activists from Hong Kong docked on Uotsuri-jima (Diaoyu Dao) and raised both a PRC flag and an ROC (Taiwan) flag. They were arrested by Japanese Coast Guard officials and deported back to Hong Kong.

Weeks later, a group of Japanese set sail for the islands and hoisted several Japanese flags. The action led to large-scale anti-Japanese protests in China. Though the Japanese government has prevented Okinawa Prefecture from developing the islands, it recently purchased three of the islands from the Kurihara family, angering China and Taiwan.

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