Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai Island Conflict

Brendan Tang Work in progress. Works cited at:


Events that directly make up the substance of the dispute

UNECAFE Report Suggests Natural Resources


UN ECAFE publishes report suggesting possible oil resources near Senkaku islands. “neither the then-Republic of China nor the People’s Republic of China voiced a word about that settlement then or afterwards, until a few years after the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) published a report in 1968 indicating the possibility of petroleum resources in the areas surrounding the Islands.” (Hayashi)

Taiwanese reporters driven out


Reporters ejected from islands by Japanese for trying to raise a Taiwanese flag (Downs and Saunders 126).

Okinawa reversion agreement


Okinawa Reversion Agreement signed between US and Japan. Challenged by China and Taiwan. (qtd. in Koo 213-4) "[Japan] views the 1971 Ryukyu (Okinawa) reversion agreement with the United States as validating its sovereignty." (Dzurek)

Taiwan claims sovereignty

February 23, 1971

Taiwanese foreign Minister Wei Tao-Ming claims Taiwanese sovereignty of Senkaku Islands (Lee 12)

De-escalation by Tokyo

March 11, 1971

"On 11 March Tokyo clearly signaled that, in order to avoid friction with Beijing, attempts to develop oil from the disputed area would be suspended and that the return of Okinawa to Japan by the United States would be delayed until May 1972." (Koo)

Issue shelved


Japan and China agree to shelve the sovereignty issue "indefinitely" (Downs and Saunders 126).

Chinese fishing boat incident

April 12, 1978

"A group of about 140 Chinese fishing boats armed with machine guns approached the Senkaku Islands, and forty of them entered Japan's twelve-mile territorial waters." Displayed signs claiming Chinese sovereignty. Japanese coast guard ordered the boats to leave, Japanese government asked Chinese government to withdraw. (Lee 430) "all major Japanese political groups… endorsed the Japanese government's denouncement of the Chinese fishing expedition" (qtd. in Koo 217).

Japanese extremists build lighthouse

August 1978

Japanese ultra-nationalists build a lighthouse on Uotsuri Island. (Mutsuku 1996)

JMSA prepare to recognize lighthouse

September 29, 1990

JMSA prepares to recognize as "official navigation mark" lighthouse on main island built in 1978 and repaired in 1988-9 by Japanese extremist group Japan Youth Federation (Downs and Saunders 128).

Taiwanese activists repelled

October 21, 1990

Taiwanese activists attempting to plant torch on islands turned away by JMSA (Downs and Saunders 129).

Japan PM promises caution

October 23, 1990

Japanese Prime Minister promises to "adopt a cautious attitude in dealing with the lighthouse application" (Koo 220).

Lighthouse status rejected

April 1991

Japan Youth Federation's application for official lighthouse status rejected by Japanese government (qtd. in Koo 220).

Second Japanese lighthouse

July 14, 1996

Japan Youth Federation builds a second lighthouse on Kita Kojima (Downs and Saunders 133, Mutsuku).

Japanese EEZ

July 26, 1996

Japan ratifies "Convention on the Law of the Sea, declaring a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone [EEZ] [including] the Diaoyu islands" (Downs and Saunders 134)

Japanese nationalists erect flag and memorial

August 1996

The Senkaku Islands Defense Association, a Japanese nationalist group, erects on Uotsuri "a Japanese flag and a memorial to 75 former residents who died when the boat evacuating them sank in 1945" (Mutsuku).

Ikeda asserts Japanese control

August 18, 1996

"In discussions with Hong Kong officials… Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda reaffirmed Japan's claim to the islands. A Hong Kong newspaper quoted him as saying 'The Diaoyu Islands have always been Japan's territory; Japan already effectively governs the islands, so the territorial issue does not exist." (qtd. in Downs and Saunders 133) Statement strongly opposed by Chinese popular demonstrations and press as well as government.

UN General Assembly

Sept 24, 1996

Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers (Qian and Ikeda) meet at the UN General Assembly in New York. Conciliatory tone, but no progress on resolution. (Downs and Saunders 134)

David Chan death and protests

October 9, 1996

Chinese and Taiwanese protests rage and activists plant flags on islands after death of David Chan, Hong Kong activist who died after jumping into the water when JMSA prevented his boat from landing on Diaoyu. (Downs and Saunders 134-5)

Japan sinks ship in Chinese EEZ

December 2001

“In December 2001, Japan’s coast guard pursued an ‘unidentified ship,’ suspected to be a spy ship from North Korea, and sank the ship in the Chinese EEZ.” (Su 45)

Fishery talks stall

February 2009

Between Japan and Taiwan. (Shu-Ling)

Fishery talks recommence

December 2012

"Concern for the plight of Taiwanese fishermen represents an olive branch of sorts between Japan and Taiwan as a means to renew trust by setting aside more contentious issues and focusing on what they can agree upon."


Events that are significant to understand the climate surrounding the issue, but that are not directly involved in the unfolding of the conflict itself

Peace treaty fails


Sino-Japanese peace treaty attempt fails. China refuses Japanese proposals. (Tretiak)

Chairman Mao dies

September 9, 1976

Death of Mao Zedong. ("Chairman Mao dies.")

PFT talks begin

February 17, 1978

Peace treaty talks informally begin in Peking (Tretiak).

PFT talks break down

April 1978

Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty (PFT) talks "basically broke down" (Tretiak).

PFT talks resume

July 18, 1978

Final PFT negotiations resume (Tretiak).

PFT signed

August 12, 1978

Japan and China sign PFT. (Lee)

Chinese open door policy

December 1978

Deng Xiaoping officially announces Chinese open-door policy (Koo 218).

Tiananmen Square Massacre

June 4, 1989