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You might be right, but you’re wrong with that tone of voice

Now, I generally know better than to go sticking my neck out on issues like this, but I actually agree that China should be in control of the Diaoyu islands. The problem is that I was tempted to side with the Japanese after witnessing the disgusting display of mindless nationalism over the weekend (which in some cases included calls for wiping out all Japanese, and seemed to be state-sponsored).

Hidden behind the calls for boycotts and sanctions, and the embarrassing claim based on the policy of “first come, first serve,” (which can be found in legal texts between “Dibs” and “Finders keepers”) makes it seem like this entire issue is nothing more than a ploy to drum up support for the Party. Or, that perhaps the islands really do belong to Japan, since the Chinese papers keep referring to them as having been “stolen” and that the Japanese gov’t “buying” them from the owners is “illegal,” which make China’s current assertions seem dubious.

However, People’s Daily does have a very calm explanation of China’s claims over the islands, but they last stated the rational case in 2010.

In January 1895, three months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed between Japan and China, after the latter was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Japan illegally took over the Diaoyu Islands and included them in its Okinawa Prefecture. It cannot be denied that the Diaoyu Islands were ceded to Japan as subsidiary islands of Taiwan in 1895 after the Treaty was signed.

However, in December 1943, leaders of the United States, Britain and China signed the Cairo Declaration, declaring that all the territories that Japan had seized from China should be returned. The Potsdam Proclamation signed by China, the United States and Britain in July 1945 (later adhered to by the Soviet Union) stipulated that: “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out”.

In August 1945, Japan accepted the Potsdam Proclamation and surrendered unconditionally, which means both documents came into effect.

After World War II ended, China took back its territories stolen by Japan, including Taiwan Island and its subsidiary islands. Therefore as part of the Taiwan Islands, the Diaoyu Islands were returned to China under international law.

However, in September 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty with the US and other allied powers, and single-handedly surrendered the Diaoyu Islands, along with Okinawa, to the administration of Washington.

In response, Zhou Enlai, the then premier and foreign minister of China, sternly declared that a San Francisco treaty signed without the People’s Republic of China’s participation is unlawful and illegitimate.

In June 1971, Washington and Tokyo signed the “Okinawa Reversion Agreement,” parceling up the “administrative rights” of Diaoyu Islands to Japan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in response issued a statement in December later that year, which said “the agreement is a blatant infringement on China’s territorial sovereignty that is intolerable for the Chinese people. The US and Japan list China’s Diaoyu and other islands into the agreement’s ‘reversion area’ is completely unlawful. It cannot change the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty right on those islands.”

Unfortunately, People’s Daily, Global Times, and seemingly every other newspaper (but Caixin, which toed the line), has lost their ability to reason coolly this time around, and are now in the process of trying to contain the firestorm they have ignited.

The current banner of People’s Daily, which doesn’t seem to be promoting a peaceful solution

So why is it that the Party has a fairly reasonable claim that could be argued to the international crowd, and yet they seem to prefer throwing eggs and running military drills to practice capturing islands? Perhaps, the Party isn’t trying to win any of the foreign countries over to their side, if they were the protests would involve a lot less profanity and genocide, and a touch more English. Instead they are simply interested in winning over their own people – even if it means losing the bigger battle over the islands.

The one thing you can be angry about

On Saturday Yaxue shared the story of “Subverter” Chen Pingfu. Essentially, he was deeply in debt after paying for a surgery, and turned to performing in public to try and pay off the money he owed his family members. For this he was threatened and eventually beaten by “public servants,” but he continued on. When he complained about this treatment online, he was further harassed by police, and was forced out of the only job he’d been able to find in years. Chen was a man desperately clinging to the last shred of dignity he had and local officials were determined to take that away from him.

Apparently in China, when the gov’t takes away your job and threaten you by saying, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” you are supposed to swallow the bitter pill in absolute silence. For if you are angry, and express that in any public forum, you can be sentenced for “subverting state power.”

But we saw this weekend, that there is still one thing you can be angry about – Japan.

There were massive protests against Japan’s gov’t buying islands (from a Japanese family) which China claims (for excellent coverage see Eric’s coverage at Sinostand). Friends in Nanjing reported seeing smaller crowds gathered and one emailed me to comment on what happened during the Rape of Nanjing, “I still believe only a twisted and distorted nation could have done such horrific things and have enjoyed. It runs in the blood.”

From what Eric at Sinostand saw first hand, he had little doubt that these were gov’t sanctioned, if not gov’t supported protests, as the crowd hoisted Mao posters, and chanted for the long life of the Communist Party (in Xiamen they clearly were). People’s Daily has also hosted a series of other inflammatory news about Japan, which makes it seem as though the gov’t is not done stoking the fire. Global Times condemned the violent protests, but supported the protests over all (this is perhaps the most explicit piece from GT that shows their allegiance to the Party). This fits neatly with the Party’s beloved narrative that they are the only force that can protect China from being carved up by foreign imperialists (of which Japan is the worst).

Perhaps Chinese people really are this upset with Japan (over a move that has changed nothing as far as the issue of the Diaoyu islands is concerned). China does not accept Japanese control of the islands and so Japan’s recent actions should be as upsetting to Chinese students as China buying Hawaii from some guy in Gansu would be to an American. Furthermore, supporters of the Party like to remind us that the Chinese people are of low character, and would be very warlike without the firm control of the gov’t. Or perhaps it’s just that this is the only issue that one can actually take to the streets over without fear of being beaten by police, forced out of your job, or disappearing into the back of a Public Security Bureau van.

A friend in Chengdu told me that one of his greatest regrets in college was participating in the anti-American protests sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (these were also massive). He told me more than once, that after the U.S. apologized, the protests were halted, and the students were sent back to their universities lest they begin to protest anything else. He feels now as though he was nothing more than a pawn in the gov’t’s game, but at the time it had been a liberating feeling to go and scream and wave banners.

For now the students seem content with venting their frustration with the Japanese gov’t, but as China’s economy slows down and graduates can’t find jobs, it’s only a matter of time before they realize who they are really angry with.