After World War II, the U.S. assumed responsibility for the islets. When the Americans returned Okinawa to Japanese control, the islets tagged along. This September, when the Chinese general called for war, the Japanese government assumed direct national control over the islets. The Chinese government called this an affront to China's sovereignty.
A cartographer can add and erase names. Defense officials can build warships and start training more sailors and marines.
Diplomats seeking peaceful resolution face a complex challenge. Delve into the dispute, and you'll discover World War II isn't quite over.
China contends that the Treaty of San Francisco, which officially ended World War II between the Allied Powers and Japan, required Japan to relinquish control of all but its main islands and a few small islands in their immediate vicinity. The treaty wasn't signed until 1951. Neither mainland China nor Taiwan were party to the treaty's negotiations, nor was the Soviet Union.
The treaty did incorporate language used in the Allied surrender terms of 1945 that Republic of China leader Chiang Kai-shek had approved, but today Tokyo and Beijing dispute what "relinquishing control" meant. Japan points to the U.S. return of Okinawa (and the Senkakus) as a diplomatic marker.
This fall, Japanese diplomats indicated that they are prepared to resolve another Asian island dispute which also involves conflicting interpretations of the World War II surrender agreements. The Kurile Islands, which have Japanese inhabitants, lie between Japan and Siberia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Russia (no longer the Soviet Union) has occupied the Kuriles since 1945.
Resolving the Kurile dispute could involve paying Russia an indemnity and sharing maritime resources. A Kurile resolution could also set a precedent for peacefully resolving other Asian maritime border disagreements.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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