Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in United States–Japan–China Relations

Chapter 2

Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in United States–Japan–China Relations

Kimie Hara

The dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands erupted in the 1970s, but the territorial dispute between Japan and China itself had started earlier, over Okinawa, immediately after the Second World War. The major point of dispute in the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue is whether these islands are part of Okinawa or part of Taiwan. The former is the position of the Japanese government, while the latter is the position of both Chinese governments, that is, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. There was no such dispute over these islands before the end of the Second World War, that is, when both Okinawa and Taiwan were territories of the Japanese Empire.

Many studies have been written on the cross-Taiwan Strait and Okinawa problems. There are also many Senkaku/Diaoyu studies, but as with the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute between Japan and Korea, little attention has been paid to the Cold War context. The reason for this is, in addition to the fact that Taiwan (ROC) remained in the “West,” that the dispute surfaced during the period of détente when major states in the West, including the United States and Japan, were improving relations with China (PRC). Also, newly discovered maritime resources, particularly potential oil and gas reserves, in the neighboring areas began to attract attention. However, the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue is also a dispute between “China,” which mostly (except for Taiwan) became communist after the Second World War, and Japan, which became a “client state” (McCormack 2007) of the United States in the San Francisco System against the background of the Cold War.

This chapter1 investigates how the territorial disposition of Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were dealt with in the process of constructing the post-war international order in East Asia and how the territorial disputes between Japan and China emerged, developed, and remained in the regional Cold War system, with particular attention paid to the relations between Japan, China, and the United States. In doing so, it attempts to answer both the first and the third questions raised in the introductory chapter about the evolvement of the dispute and about possible solutions for it.

Okinawa and Taiwan in the Allies’ Blueprint for Post-war Regional Order

Okinawa was once an independent kingdom (Ryukyu) and became a tributary state to Japan in 1609. It also retained tributary relations with China until 1872, when it was incorporated into Japan as Ryukyu-han. In 1879, 16 years before Japan’s acquisition of Taiwan, it was designated as Okinawa Prefecture. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were incorporated into Okinawa Prefecture by a cabinet decision in January 1895. Three months later, in April 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Treaty of Shimonoseki, as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War.

Half a century later, at the end of the Second World War, Okinawa and the Senkaku/Diaoyu were occupied by the US military, between April and June 1945. Taiwan was incorporated into China (ROC) as a province after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Six years later in September 1951, Japan formally renounced Taiwan in the peace treaty signed in San Francisco. Okinawa was placed under US administration together with the other US-occupied islands, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu. However, the treaty specified neither precise limits nor the final designation of the disposed territories. The problems surrounding Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu are closely related to the post-war territorial dispositions of Japan, particularly in the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Cairo Declaration and the Principle of “No Territorial Expansion”

Several wartime international agreements covered the post-war disposition of the territories formerly under Japanese control. A key agreement made by the Allied leaders was the Cairo Declaration of 1943. This was a communiqué agreed on during the US–UK–China summit meeting held in Cairo from November 22, and released on December 1, after the US–UK–USSR summit held in Tehran between November 28 and December 1, 1943. It stipulated that Japan would be expelled from all the territories it had taken “by violence and greed,” adopting the principle of “no territorial expansion,” which was originally laid down in the Atlantic Charter, a blueprint for the post-war world signed by Anglo-American leaders on a battleship off the shores of Newfoundland. The Cairo Declaration specifically referred to Taiwan as to be “restored to the Republic of China.”

The Cairo Declaration made no specific mention of Okinawa or Senkaku/Diaoyu. However, the future of Okinawa was discussed by President Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo. According to the record of their meeting, the “President referred to the question of the Ryukyu Islands and enquired more than once whether China would want the Ryukyus.” To this, “the Generalissimo replied that China would be agreeable to joint occupation of the Ryukyus by China and the United States, and, eventually, joint administration by the two countries under the trusteeship of an international organization” (US State Department 1943, p. 324).

China had by then publicly shown strong interest in the future possession of Okinawa; the Nationalist (ROC) government on several occasions indicated its wish to secure the islands’ transfer to China. In a press statement on November 5, 1942, for example, Foreign Minister T.V. Soong included the islands among the territories that China expected to “recover” (Hara 2007, p. 161). It appears that, having been briefed about the Chinese interest in obtaining Okinawa, Roosevelt asked Chiang about the Chinese preference for treatment of the islands. However, Chiang instead proposed joint occupation and eventual joint administration with the United States under international trusteeship. Chiang noted in his diary that he had responded this way 1) to “put the US at ease” by not pursuing China’s territorial ambitions, 2) because the Ryukyus had belonged to Japan prior to the Sino-Japanese War, and 3) as joint control with the US is more valid than our exclusive control (Chiang 1977, p.122; Zhang 2007, pp. 683–4).

According to Wada’s study on the Cairo communiqué and its preparation, the United States and United Kingdom did not originally plan to include the sentence reflecting the principle of no territorial expansion: “They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion.” It did not appear in the first and second drafts, and was likely a last-minute addition at Chiang’s suggestion (Wada 2013).

Three weeks prior to the Cairo Conference, on November 5–6, 1943, Japan had hosted the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo. This epoch-making event was the very first international conference held only among non-Caucasian states on the basis of Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” initiative. The major participants were Hideki Tojo (prime minister of Japan), Zhang Jinghui (prime minister of Manchukuo), Wang Jingwei (president of the Reorganized National Government of China in Nanjing), Ba Maw (head of state, Burma), José P. Laurel (president of the Second Philippine Republic), Subhas Chandra Bose (head of state of the Provisional Government of Free India), and Wan Waithayakon (envoy from the Kingdom of Thailand). They were the representatives of Japan’s allies, friends, and puppet regimes.2 However, no representative was invited from Indonesia, which Japan had decided to incorporate into its own territory.

The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia adopted at this conference presented a competing strain of rhetoric to that of the Anglo-American Atlantic Charter. It stated that the “countries of Greater East Asia, with a view to contributing to the cause of world peace, undertake to cooperate toward prosecuting the War of Greater East Asia to a successful conclusion, liberating their region from the yoke of British-American domination, and ensuring their self-existence and self-defense,” and listed dignifying principles, including “abolition of racial discrimination,” in constructing a Greater East Asia. However, no phrase such as “no territorial expansion” was included here, as Japan planned to expand its territories to Southeast Asia.

The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference, 1943

It is the basic principle for the establishment of world peace that the nations of the world have each its proper place, and enjoy prosperity in common through mutual aid and assistance.

The United States of America and the British Empire have in seeking their own prosperity oppressed other nations and peoples. Especially in East Asia, they indulged in insatiable aggression and exploitation, and sought to satisfy their inordinate ambition of enslaving the entire region, and finally they came to menace seriously the stability of East Asia. Herein lies the cause of the recent war. The countries of Greater East Asia, with a view to contributing to the cause of world peace, undertake to cooperate toward prosecuting the War of Greater East Asia to a successful conclusion, liberating their region from the yoke of British-American domination, and ensuring their self-existence and self-defense, and in constructing a Greater East Asia in accordance with the following principles:

The countries of Greater East Asia through mutual cooperation will ensure the stability of their region and construct an order of common prosperity and well-being based upon justice.

The countries of Greater East Asia will ensure the fraternity of nations in their region, by respecting one another’s sovereignty and independence and practicing mutual assistance and amity.

The countries of Greater East Asia by respecting one another’s traditions and developing the creative faculties of each race will enhance the culture and civilization of Greater East Asia.

The countries of Greater East Asia will endeavor to accelerate their economic development through close cooperation upon a basis of reciprocity and to promote thereby the general prosperity of their region.

The countries of Greater East Asia will cultivate friendly relations with all the countries of the world, and work for the abolition of racial discrimination, the promotion of cultural intercourse and the opening of resources throughout the world, and contribute thereby to the progress of mankind.

For Chiang, the Cairo Conference was to counter the Greater East Asia Conference, in which Wang Jingwei of the Nanjing Government had participated. Therefore, it is understandable that he brought up the “no territorial expansion” principle of the Atlantic Charter here as a rhetorical device that contested and defied that of the Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia (Wada 2013). But this principle had already become merely nominal among the Allied Powers. At the Tehran Conference, which followed the Cairo Conference, the US, and Soviet leaders discussed Sakhalin and the Kuriles in terms of the Soviet conditions for joining the war against Japan. Roosevelt, on returning to Washington, informed the Pacific War Council that “the Kuriles would be conceded to Stalin as a price for Soviet participation” (Allison, Kimura, and Sarkisov 1992, p. 86).

Whereas the USSR had ambitions to acquire Japan’s northern territories, China restated its intention to acquire the southern territories of Okinawa. The ROC foreign minister T.V. Soong stated on October 29, 1944, that Japan would have to evacuate the Ryukyu Islands; at a press conference a few days later, he added that China would “recover” the islands after the war. Furthermore, although the first edition of Chiang Kai-shek’s China’s Destiny did not mention the Ryukyus, its revised edition of January 1, 1944, described them as integral parts of China, particularly necessary for its national defense (Hara 2007, p. 161).

Yalta Blueprint

The Allies’ principle of no territorial expansion had clearly become a dead letter at the US–UK–USSR Yalta Conference of February 1945, where Roosevelt and Churchill recognized Soviet territorial expansion in Eastern Europe as well as in its Far East. The “Agreement Regarding Entry of the Soviet Union Into the War Against Japan” signed by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill in February 1945—the so-called Yalta Protocol—is an important agreement providing a core blueprint for the post-war international order in the Asia-Pacific. It outlined the conditions under which the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan. In addition to the cession of territories (Southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands) by Japan to the USSR, it included agreements concerning China, such as the preservation of the status quo in Outer Mongolia (1), the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base, the internationalization of Dairen with Soviet preeminent status (2-b), and joint Soviet–Chinese operation of the Chinese Eastern and South Manchurian railways (2-c) (US State Department 1945, p. 984).

These arrangements, the protocol stated, would “require concurrence of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek,” and “the President will take measures in order to obtain this concurrence on advice from Marshal Stalin.” The protocol concluded:

For its part the Soviet Union expresses its readiness to conclude with the National Government of China a pact of friendship and alliance between the USSR and China in order to render assistance to China with its armed forces for the purpose of liberating China from the Japanese yoke. (US State Department 1945, p. 984)

The above conditions were concessions by the United States and United Kingdom to have the USSR break its neutrality pact with, and declare war on, Japan. They were rewards for the USSR’s cooperation in ending the war quickly. It should be noted that “China” here was the Republic of China (ROC), led by Chiang Kai-shek, which the USSR, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom, then supported as the legitimate government of China. According to the record of a meeting with Roosevelt at Yalta, Stalin thought that “Chiang Kai-Shek should assume leadership” for the purpose of having “a united front against the Japanese” (US State Department 1945, p. 771). Thus, in the Yalta blueprint, China meant the ROC.

According to a briefing paper prepared by State Department before the Yalta Conference, the goal of US China policy was:

By every proper means to promote establishment of a broadly representative government which will bring about internal unity, including reconcilement of Kuomintang-Communist differences, and which will effectively discharge its internal and international responsibilities. (US State Department 1945, p. 356)

The United States expected an independent China to act as a stabilizing factor in the Far East, without falling into any power bloc (Soeya 1997, p. 35). In addition, cooperation between China and the United Kingdom was considered an essential part of UN solidarity and necessary for the development of independent China. For that purpose, the briefing paper even mentioned that:

We [US] should welcome the restoration by Great Britain of Hong Kong to China and we are prepared in that event to urge upon China the desirability of preserving its status as a free port. (US State Department 1945, pp. 352–7)

At the time of the Yalta Conference, whereas the United States wished China to become a stable power in the Far East, the United Kingdom appeared to have a different preference; that is, it desired “a weak and possibly disunited China in the post-war period” (US State Department 1945, pp. 352–3). For the United Kingdom—a prewar colonial power in major parts of South and Southeast Asia, including India, Burma, and Malaya—recovery of its colonial interests was an important objective, and applied also to China. In contrast with the United States, which preferred building cooperative relations with China by welcoming the reversion of Hong Kong, the United Kingdom was interested in regaining its prewar semi-colonialist status in China. Thus, the Big Three had already shown some signs of difference over their China policy. Nevertheless, at Yalta in February 1945 they were groping for ways to construct the post-war international order by maintaining their cooperative relations (Hara 2004).

The Yalta Protocol makes no specific mention of Okinawa or Taiwan. There was general agreement at Yalta that territorial trusteeship would apply to “territory to be detached from the enemy” as a result of the Second World War, but no specific territories were discussed.

The Yalta Conference was held about a month or so before the Battle of Okinawa. Yet, the US military was by then keenly aware of the importance of the military presence, thereby showing strong interest in having bases across the Pacific.