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Gist of Rajya Sabha TV : Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands Dispute

Published: 4th Jul, 2020


Japan and China claim the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Tiaoyu in China, as their own, but Japan has administered them since 1972. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were formally claimed by Japan in 1895. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the island chain was controlled by the US until 1971 before its return. Since then, Japan has administered the island chains. China began to reassert claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the 1970s, citing historic rights to the area. However, Japan does not recognise Chinese claims. More recently, there has been a flare up in the region. The Japanese government said on Thursday it had protested to China regarding a set of names recently assigned by Beijing to seabed zones in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. In this edition of The Big Picture we analyse the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute.

Why RSTV? RSTV assumes significance for UPSC aspirants as it provide them high knowledge and enhances their critical understanding. Here we are providing Gist of Rajya Sabha TV discussion on ‘Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands Dispute’.

Topic relevance from RSTV Debate on ‘Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands Dispute’ for UPSC: Direct questions can be asked on:

  • Geographic location of Senkaku islands
  • The dispute & countries involved
  • Importance of the disputed region
  • Recent developments

Edited excerpts from the debate:

What is the dispute about?

  • The dispute is over the claim of Senkaku islands, which are currently controlled by the Japanese since 1895.
  • However, in between 1945 to 1972, the islands were administered by the United States. In 1971, the US handed over the authority to Japan in 1971.
  • The island chain, claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan, is made up of five islets and three barren rocks covering an area of 7 square kilometres
  • The Senkaku Islands are composed of five islands –
    • Uotsurijima Island
    • Taishojima Island
    • Kubajima Island

  • Kitakojima Island
  • Minamikojima Island
  • and three rocks –
    • Okinokita-iwa Rock
    • Okinominami-iwa Rock
    • Tobise-iwa Rock
  • The Japanese-administered island chain is located about 200km southwest of Japan’s Okinawa island and a similar distance northeast of Taiwan.
  • Japan annexed the archipelago following China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese war from 1894 to 1895.
  • Yet the islands were left out of the Treaty of San Francisco at the end of the second world war that returned to China most of the territories previously occupied by Japan.
  • Under the terms of Japan’s surrender, the island chain was controlled by the US until 1971, when it was returned to Japan along with Okinawa and other surrounding islands.
  • Japan does not recognise China’s claims nor the existence of a dispute over the islands’ sovereignty.

    Territorial and maritime disputes of China

    • The Senkakus island chain dispute with Japan is not the only territorial and maritime dispute that China has long had with many of its neighbours.
    • China shares its borders with 14 countries but it is in loggerhead with most nations over territories including islands.
    • It hasisland and maritime border disputes with Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and its extension.
    • The disputes include islands, reefs, banks and other features in the South China Sea including-
      • Spratly Islands (with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan)
      • Paracel Islands (Vietnam)
      • Scarborough Shoal (Philippines)
      • Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam)

Taiwan, the third player in the game

  • Self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a Chinese province, also claims ownership of the chain.
  • And objections to the administrative reclassification of the islands in Taiwan shows the depths to which the islands hook their respective claimants.
  • Tsai Wen-yi, a city councilman in Taiwan's Yilan County, said if the Japanese change goes through, he'll organize a flotilla of fishing boats from the area to "defend" the islands from Japan, according to a report from the Taipei Times.

Why are they so coveted?

  • The Senkaku islands matter because they have great economic and strategic value.
  • Senkaku Islands are known to have abundance of natural resources, rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits. It is also strategically important as it is close to international trade routes.
  • Their location also has strategic significance due to the rising competition between US and China for military primacyin the Asia-Pacific region.
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East pointed out in 1969 that the region between Taiwan and Japan “appears to have great promise as a future oil province of the world”.
  • Japan and China are among the world’s top importers of fossil fuels.
  • Abundant fishing resources: Abundant fishing resources can be found nearby, as can important shipping lanes used by Japan, South Korea and China for energy imports.
  • The islands have also become a focal point of the broader rivalry between the two countries.
  • In Japan, conservatives led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believe the country has made amends for its wartime imperialism and wish to rewrite the country’s “pacifist” constitution.
  • Chinese leaders, meanwhile, have been known to deploy anti-Japanese rhetoric and are increasingly assertive in their territorial claims.

The latest development

  • The Ishigaki city council in Japan’s Okinawa division has passed a bill to change the name of an administrative area covering the disputed uninhabited island chain to Tonoshiro Senkaku from Tonoshiro.

The new names

  • The assembly changed the name of the southern Japan area containing the Senkaku Islands from "Tonoshiro" to "Tonoshiro Senkaku," which both Beijing and Taipei see as an attempt to cement Tokyo's claim by inserting the Japanese name "Senkaku."
  • The renaming takes effect on October 1 and it is aimed at resolving administrative confusion between a locale in downtown Ishigaki, which shares the name "Tonoshiro" with the isles.
  • The new bill will assert Japan’s claim over the chain of Islands in the East-China sea, which is situated island 1,931 km southwest of Tokyo.
  • The Senkakus island chain, which China refers as Diaoyus, has been administered by Japan since 1972.
  • However, the legal status of these islands is disputed currently.


The islands have potential oil and natural gas reserves, are near prominent shipping routes, and are surrounded by rich fishing areas. However, China's current push for its claims in the Indo-Pacific, apart from the billion dollars worth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could trigger a possible clash in near future.


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