Washington clear on administration of the Senkakus

May 23, 2012
Financial Times

 To the Editor of the Financial Times

May 23, 2012


From Mr John J. Tkacik Jr.

Sir, Kuo-Chung Lin of Taipei’s office in London skates on pretty thin ice when he alludes to Washington’s legal stance on “sovereignty” and “jurisdiction” over the Senkaku Islands (Letters, May 16). Indeed, as UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher learnt in 1982, Americans rarely take sides in sovereignty disputes.
In fact, Washington has never taken a position even on “sovereignty” over Taiwan itself, a question the US still regards as unfinished business from the second world war.
At the end of the war, Japan ceded “right, title and claim” to Taiwan, and it was the intention of the victorious powers – eventually – to transfer “sovereignty” over Taiwan to the “Republic of China” in a formal peace treaty. Alas, by the time the San Francisco Peace Treaty was finally concluded in September 1951, the “Republic of China” had abandoned China and the “People’s Republic of China” had launched a bloody war against the UN in Korea.
The US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and other victors in the Pacific War negotiated the San Francisco treaty without representatives from either Taipei or Peking, declaring that while “the treaty provides for Japan to renounce its sovereignty over Formosa [Taiwan] ... the treaty itself does not determine the future of those islands.” The Soviet Union refused to ratify the treaty in part because it failed to explicate “Chinese” sovereignty over Taiwan. In 1955, the Senate ratified a US defence treaty with the “Republic of China” on the understanding that it “will not modify or affect the existing legal status of Formosa”. Thirty years ago, on July 14, 1982, a few weeks after the Falklands war, President Ronald Reagan assured Taiwan’s President Chiang Ching-kuo that, whatever else the US had agreed with the People’s Republic of China in their three communiqués, “the US had not altered its longstanding position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan”.
So, while Mr Lin is correct in saying that the US government does not take a position on “sovereignty” over the Senkaku Islands, it does explicitly recognise that the Senkakus are “under Japanese administration”.
The state department reiterated on March 24 2004, that the US-Japan mutual security “treaty applies to the territories under the administration of Japan; thus, Article 5 of the [treaty] applies to the Senkaku Islands”. This is not a trivial matter. If the Senkaku Islands come under attack, the treaty comes into effect.
Washington has publicly and privately reiterated this stance to Taipei time and again since the Okinawa Reversion Treaty in 1972, most recently in September 2010.
John J. Tkacik Jr, Senior Fellow, Director Asia Future Project, International Assessment and Strategy Center, Alexandria, Va, US


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