On the morning of April 17, President Ma Ying-jeou attended the opening ceremonies of the 2013 (5th) International Conference on the Diaoyutai Islands Issue, held by Fu Jen Catholic University. The recent signing of a fisheries agreement between Taiwan and Japan contributes to peaceful resolution of disputes, said the president, who expressed hope that the pact could be a first step toward a resolution of the Diaoyutais issue, thereby promoting peace and prosperity in the East China Sea.
In remarks, the president first noted that China suffered defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and on April 17, 1895 the Qing court was forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki with Japan, under which China ceded Taiwan and its appurtenant islands (including the Diaoyutais), along with the Penghu Islands, to Japan. That is why Fu Jen Catholic University, the president explained, specially selected this day 118 years after that important event to hold an international symposium on issues related to the Diaoyutais, making this conference all the more meaningful.
President Ma told the participants at the event that the Diaoyutais were discovered early in the 15th century by China, which named the islands and used them. In 1683, he said, the Diaoyutais, together with Taiwan, were annexed by the Qing court. Later, in 1812, China established Kavalan Subprefecture under the Taiwan prefectural government in the area today known as Yilan County. Many historical documents indicate that the Diaoyutais were part of Chinese territory during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), he said, but after Japan's decisive victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan claimed that the Diaoyutais were terra nullius. In addition, the Japanese Cabinet secretly resolved to include the Diaoyutais as part of Japan's territory, but the Japanese emperor did not issue an Imperial Decree to this effect in accordance with precedent, and the outside world was thus not informed. From the standpoint of international law, the president commented, this was merely an internal statement of intent by Japan's government, and had no force internationally.
President Ma further stated that the Japanese government has claimed that the Diaoyutais have been inherent territory of Japan's throughout history and in accordance with international law. This, however, does not correspond with the facts, the president said. Documents dating to 1884, he noted, show that Japanese citizen Tatsushiro Koga filed an application to develop the Diaoyutais, and Minister of Home Affairs Aritomo Yamagata ordered Okinawa Governor Sutezo Nishimura to study the matter. Sutezo reported that the islets had already been named by the Qing court and that historical records also showed the Diaoyutais to be territory of the Qing court. Aritomo, the president said, then sent a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Kaoru Inoue, who in 1885 ordered postponement of the plan to establish a national landmark on the islands. It was thus recognized that the Diaoyutais belonged to China, the president mentioned, adding that Japan did not have sovereignty over them. It was not until May of 1969 that the Japanese government established a boundary marker on the Diaoyutais, which was after the dispute over the islets came to the fore, so Japan's claim to be the first occupant of the islets is untrue, and is void ab initio under international law.
Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki mandated that China cedes to Japan "the island of Formosa, together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa," and since the Diaoyutais are appurtenant to Taiwan, President Ma said, they were of course covered by Article 2. The president furthermore remarked that after World War II, Taiwan, and thus the Diaoyutais as well, were to be returned to the Republic of China in accordance with the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, and the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan and Note No. 1 in the accompanying Exchange of Notes. The Diaoyutais should thus have been returned to the ROC along with Taiwan, he said. In other words, the legal basis for Japanese rule over the Diaoyutais vanished after 1945, the president remarked. From 1945 to 1972, the Diaoyutais were under the trusteeship of the United States, and the Japanese government did not actually rule over the islets, he noted. In 1972, the president added, the United States handed over "administrative control" of the Diaoyutais to Japan, but Japan still did not have sovereignty.
With respect to the recent Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement, President Ma stated, the inking of this pact marks the single biggest change since the Diaoyutais controversy arose. The ROC has not made any concession on sovereignty, yet has made significant progress on fishing rights. The agreement, he said, applies to waters covering 74,000 square kilometers, which is double the size of Taiwan. In the future, Taiwan fishing boats operating in that area will not face interference by the Japanese, so Taiwan fishing boats now have another 1,400 square nautical miles (about 4,530 square kilometers) of waters in which to operate. Under this agreement, he noted, the area is jointly managed by both countries. In the future, the ROC will, under an institutionalized negotiation platform – a Taiwan-Japan fisheries committee – continue to talk with Japan on issues pertaining to sovereignty and other topics related to fishing rights in specific waters, the president commented.
President Ma stated that on August 5 of last year, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan, he unveiled his East China Sea Peace Initiative, calling for all parties involved to shelve disputes and instead share fisheries resources. The president then announced further concrete steps to implement the initiative, calling for separate sets of bilateral talks to be held among the three concerned parties, followed by a round of trilateral negotiations. President Ma said that this initiative has come to be taken seriously in the international community, with the English-language The Japan Times and the UK's The Guardian supporting the spirit of the initiative. Japanese author Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1994, also has expressed support, the president remarked.
President Ma stressed that the Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement signals successful implementation of the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Even though the dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutais has yet to be resolved, the fisheries agreement is a step forward. The president thanked the Japanese government for responding positively to the call by the ROC to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner, and said he hopes the agreement will be a first step toward settling the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutais. The sharing of resources serves as a starting point from which to gradually reduce tensions among nations in the area, he commented, and will help to promote peace and prosperity in the East China Sea.
Among those attending the event were National Security Council Secretary-General Jason C. Yuan (袁健生), National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Philip Y. M. Yang (楊永明), Minister of Foreign Affairs David Y. L. Lin (林永樂), Coast Guard Administration Minister Wang Ginn-Wang (王進旺), and Fu Jen Catholic University President Vincent Han-Sun Chiang (江漢聲).