Welcome to the World Wide Web Home page of Road to East Asia
Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 2, January-February, 1997
Located off the coast of Taiwan, this small island is rich in oil, which Japan desperately needs to fuel its factories. The discovery of this valuable resource was made in 1968. However, the battle for Diaoyutai started more than a century ago. Although old documents dating back to 1403 declared that it belonged to China, a Japanese flag was hoisted on the island in 1885. Immediately, China realized that a piece of their land had been stolen, but it did not take any action to reclaim it.
The two countries finally went to war in 1895, and China lost by a distance. Consequently, Japan consolidated its claim to Diaoyutai although the dispute over the island had remained unresolved until the U.S. acted as the peacemaker in 1951. Washington, with Japan's permission, took over Diaoyutai, and 17 years later announced the discovery of oil there. The U.S. then returned the island to Japan and refused to recognize any old records that provide evidence of China's ownership. Why did Washington all of a sudden make such a historic decision? Some suspected that it wanted the two East Asian countries to fight for the island so that a third party could reap some benefits from a troubled situation.
Yet protests against Washington's decision had continued until China and Japan signed a treaty in 1978, whereby the two countries agreed not to take any action against each other. Last summer, a group of young Japanese built a tower on Diaoyutai and hoisted a Japanese flag there. Some Chinese interpreted this as a conqueror's declaration of victory over a defeated nation. Last August, there were endless protests on the streets in Hong Kong -- the local residents burned the Japanese flag and boycotted Japanese products. Information about the situation was disseminated via the Internet to readers worldwide.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong crew, led by David Chan, traveled to Diaoyutai by boat, but they were disallowed to sail near the island by the Japanese troops. Chan and four other crew members, with ropes tied around them, dived into the water, trying to swim ashore. But Chan drowned in the high waves while the others were rescued by the Japanese. Meanwhile a group of Taiwanese managed to sneak through the Japanese barricade and destroyed the Japanese flag. In its place, the Chinese flag was hoisted for about ten minutes.
Why hasn't China taken any action to reclaim the island although it has the military capability to do so? Diaoyutai does not seem to be a top priority at present because Beijing is busy with the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty, I think. As well, Japan is one of the world's leading industrialized countries while China's productivity is skyrocketing. It is, therefore, important for Beijing to have an ally that has the most advanced technology. If Japan decides to dig up the oil on Daioyutai, however, it may risk a war with China.
"China Is Not Letting Diaoyutai Go That Easy." Ming Pao Daily News, 11 Sept. 1996, p. A1.
"Diaoyu Is Heading for Diaoyutai." Ming Pao Daily News, 23 Sept. 1996, p. A24.
"Evidence of Diaoyutai Belonging to China." Ming Pao Daily News, Oct. 1996, p. A1.
"Hong Kong Reporter Got Pictures of Diaoyutai Through Sky." Ming Pao Daily News, 7 Sept. 1996, p. A1.
"Protest Turned out to be a Big Success." Ming Pao Daily News, 14 Sept. 1996, p. A1.
"Reporters Are Having the Worst Time of Their Lives." Ming Pao Daily News, 23 Sept. 1996, p. A24.
"Protest Against Japan." Ming Pao Daily News, 23 Sept. 1996, p. A1.
"A Tribute to David Chan." Ming Pao Daily News, 6 Oct. 1996, pp. E1-8.
Illustration by Julie Shim