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President Ma attends "Examining the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands Dispute Under New and Multiple Perspectives" international conference

President Ma Ying-jeou visited the Academia Sinica on the morning of April 17 to attend an international academic seminar entitled "Examining the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands Dispute Under New and Multiple Perspectives." In addition to outlining the four major stages in the course of development of the dispute over the Dioayutai Islets, the president also called on all parties involved to act in accordance with his East China Sea Peace Initiative and the Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security in resolving the dispute.

In remarks, President Ma stated that April 17 marked the 119th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, and this year marks the 120th anniversary of the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Over this period, the dispute over the Diaoyutai islets has remained unresolved despite the passage of time, and has become a major threat to regional peace, he said. President Ma expressed hope that the experts and scholars attending the conference will offer innovative ideas based on rationality and diverse perspectives in an effort to pursue a resolution.

President Ma specially outlined for his listeners the four historical phases in the course of the development of the dispute over the Diaoyutai Islets.

The first stage, he said, was before 1895. With respect to this period, a big question is whether the Diaoyutais were considered "terra nullius." According to historical documents, the islets were discovered and named in 1372, he said. Subsequently, the Ming Dynasty's (1368-1644) Hu Zongxian (胡宗憲), then minister of defense and commander-in-chief, included the Diaoyutai Islets in the Compilation of Maps on Managing the Sea《籌海圖說》, thereby incorporating the islets into the defense system for China's southeast coast, he remarked. President Ma further noted that in 1683 during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the emperor formally included the Diaoyutais as territory of China in Taiwan Prefecture, Fujian Province. In 1812, the Diaoyutais were placed under the administration of the Kavalan Office of the Taiwan prefectural government, he added, pointing out that the Record of Missions to Taiwan and Adjacent Waters《臺海使槎錄》and the Illustrations of Taiwan《全臺圖說》prove that China effectively ruled over the Diaoyutai Islets during the Qing Dynasty. Consequently, the president remarked, the Diaoyutais, while uninhabited, were not "terra nullius."

President Ma further stated that Japan has had an interest in developing the Diaoyutais ever since the Meiji Restoration (1867-1868). In 1885, he said, Japan dispatched officials to survey the islands with the aim of setting up a national marker on the islands. Subsequently, however, the Qing Dynasty lost the First Sino-Japanese War and consequently Japanese Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito and his cabinet on January 14, 1895 decided to annex the Diaoyutais. That decision, however, was secret and not formally announced through an imperial decree, he said. Japan's move in this respect was different from its 1879 annexation of the Ryukyu Islands via imperial decree, the president said.

President Ma emphasized that the Japanese government believes that it annexed the Diaoyutais, referred to as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, in accordance with the principle of "discovery and occupation" under international law. However, the president said that this principle would apply to the Diaoyutais only if the islets were considered "terra nullius." He pointed out, though, that the Diaoyutais were already shown as territory of China and appurtenant islands of Taiwan before 1985. As a result, Japan's incorporation of the islands can be regarded as "null and void ab initio," he said.

Next, the president moved on to the second stage, between 1895 and 1945, when Japan ruled over the Diaoyutai Islets. The question regarding this period has to do with the basis for Japan's rule over the islands. According to historical records, he said, Japan's rule is based on Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which states that territories to be ceded to Japan included "the island of Formosa, together with all the islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa."

President Ma then remarked that the third stage begins with Japan's surrender at the end of World War II in 1945 and continues to 1972. Documents such as the Cairo Declaration of 1943, the Potsdam Proclamation of 1945, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender clearly state that "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China." Furthermore, the president noted, the 1952 Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan also stipulates that "All treaties, conventions and agreements concluded before December 9, 1941 between Japan and China have become null and void as a consequence of the war." Therefore, he said, the Treaty of Shimonoseki was subsequently considered void, and the basis for Japan's annexation of the Diaoyutais no longer existed, so the Diaoyutai islets were restored to the ROC in 1945.

The fourth stage of the dispute started in 1972 when the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, and it continues to this day, he remarked. President Ma stated that the United States already began to serve as trustee of the Diaoyutais in the third stage. At that time, he said, the United States only exercised administration over the islands, and not sovereignty. He said that the United States in May 1971 officially notified the ROC that it would restore to Tokyo the administrative authority it had acquired from Japan and that this would not prejudice any of the ROC's sovereignty claims. The Americans, he mentioned, also emphasized that the territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands would be resolved by the ROC and Japan themselves. The president said that this shows that the United States not only recognized the existing sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutais, but also felt that it was only handing over administrative authority to Tokyo.

President Ma mentioned that after the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Far East explored the Diaoyutais in 1968 and discovered that seas adjacent to the islands contained abundant oil and gas resources, nations in the periphery to the islets began making sovereignty claims, and the situation has since become increasingly heated. The president pointed to the announcement by the Japanese government on September 11, 2012 of its nationalization of the islands, saying that this elicited a sharp response from mainland China. Mainland authorities, he said, subsequently began to dispatch oceanic surveillance vessels, fishing vessels, and military aircraft to the seas and airspace around the islands. The president noted that on November 23 of last year, mainland China then announced that it was designating an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which included the Diaoyutai Islets.

President Ma said that the ROC, as a nation bordering the East China Sea, is deeply concerned about the situation. He pointed out that the United States, according to Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America, is obliged to defend Japanese territory. He said many parties fear that the dispute over the Diaoyutai Islets could draw the world's strongest economies and military nations into war on an unimaginable scale. President Ma remarked that it was with this in mind that on August 5, 2012 he unveiled the East China Sea Peace Initiative, which stresses the concept that "although sovereignty over national territory cannot be compromised, natural resources can be shared." He said he hopes that all parties involved can act in line with the initiative in order to reduce tensions and engage in peaceful dialogue. The president added that the ROC and the Japanese governments subsequently resumed fishing negotiations and on April 10 of last year signed a fisheries agreement. This agreement, he commented, has provided fishing grounds to Taiwanese fishermen that are twice the size of Taiwan. Even more important, he said, is that due to the "without prejudice" clause in the agreement, both Taiwan and Japan can, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, continue to advocate their sovereignty over the islands. Therefore, this agreement has achieved the objective of "not ceding an inch on sovereignty, making great progress in terms of fishing rights, and largely reducing disputes," the president said, adding that the seas around the Diaoyutais are now at their most peaceful stage in the past 40 years.

As for mainland China's establishment of an ADIZ in the East China Sea, President Ma noted, on February 26 of this year he delivered the Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security, urging all parties with overlapping claims in the area to engage in negotiations and peaceful dialogue. At the same time, he said he hopes that a regional multilateral negotiation mechanism could be established and that guidelines governing behavior in the East China Sea could be formulated in order to gradually reduce the controversy.

Lastly, President Ma again declared that both the East China Sea Peace Initiative or the Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security seek to "reduce tensions, increase dialogue, and resolve disputes through peaceful means," and thus realize the concept that "although sovereignty over national territory cannot be compromised, natural resources can be shared." He said that especially as the Diaoyutais are inherent territory of the ROC and appurtenant islands of Taiwan, the government has consistently embraced the philosophy of "safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint exploration and development." This concept, he remarked, can be applied in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The president stated that Taiwan is located at the heart of East Asia. It not only links the East China Sea and the South China Sea, but also is a center for regional economic integration and regional security. Consequently, he said, Taiwan needs to adopt a different way of thinking about the tensions in peripheral seas, reduce the complexity of the problems, and use diplomatic means to resolve issues. This, President Ma commented, will turn the East China Sea into a sea of peace and cooperation.

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