The Republic of China (ROC), or Taiwan, claims sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands—known as the Diaoyu Islands in the People’s Republic of China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan—as the legitimate government of China. Taipei holds that China has controlled the island group since the Ming Dynasty and that the islands were returned to the ROC by Japan in 1945. Taiwan argues that the Diaoyutais fall under the jurisdiction of Yilan County.
Taiwan claims the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands based on surveying expeditions, fishing activities and naval patrols extending as far back as the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The islands and Taiwan itself passed under Japanese control with the conclusion of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Taiwan argues that the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands should have gone back to the ROC following the end of World War II, which nullified the treaty. However, the United States administered the islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture before turning over control to Japan in 1972. Taiwan continues to maintain that the reversion of the islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture constituted only a transfer of administrative rights but not of sovereignty.
“This area belongs to us historically, geographically and legally…We must defend our sovereignty and protect our fishing rights.”
-Wang Jin-pyng, president of the Legislative Yuan, 2005
“The Diaoyutais belong to us, belong to Taiwan, there is no doubt about it … I’m here to show our determination to protect our territory.”
– President Chen Shui-bian, 2005
“(1) Taiwan has sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands; (2) Taiwan will carry out diplomatic relations with Japan in a peaceful and rational manner; (3) Taiwan will not consider cooperation with China in order to avoid the problem of ambiguous sovereignty; and (4) Taiwan will give priority to safeguarding the rights and interests of fishermen in any negotiations.”
– Tsai Ing-wen, chair of the Democratic Progressive Party, 2010
“We do not recognize the Japanese occupation [of the Diaoyutai Islands] because it is invalid under international law … The Republic of China government will fight for every inch of our territory to defend our sovereignty.”
– President Ma Ying-jeou, 2012
“The Diaoyutai Islands actually form an inherent part of the territory of the Republic of China (Taiwan) based on the islands’ geographical location, geological structure, relevant historical evidence, and international law.”
– Foreign Minister Yung-lo Lin, 2012
“The Diaoyutai Islands are an inherent part of the Republic of China and are islands appertaining to Taiwan, whether considered from the perspective of history, geography, geology, use, or international law.”
– Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2015
February 1971: Taiwan made the first public assertion for its own claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.
March-May 1971: Taiwan twice requested that the United States not include the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands when returning Okinawa Prefecture to Japanese administration.
August 1996: Japan and Taiwan began talks regarding fishing rights in waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.
June 2005: Defense Minister Lee Jye; the president of the Legislative Yuan, Wang Jin-pyng; and a cross-party group of fifteen legislators conducted an inspection tour of disputed waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.
September 2012: President Ma Ying-jeou proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative, based on the concept that while sovereignty is indivisible, resources can be shared. The initiative comprises two stages: (1) shelve territorial disputes through meaningful dialogue and (2) share resources through joint development.
September 2012: Dozens of fishing boats and twelve coast guard ships from Taiwan briefly entered waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. The Japan Coast Guard said the vessels left Japanese territorial waters after it issued a warning and fired water cannons at the ships.
September 2012: Taiwan strongly protested Japan’s decision to purchase part of the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands
January 2013: A fishing boat carrying Taiwanese activists and accompanied by four Taiwanese cutters entered the contiguous zone off Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands but was chased off by the Japan Coast Guard using a water cannon.
April 2013: Taiwan and Japan reached an agreement giving Taiwan fishing rights in waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.
January 2014: Japan and Taiwan agreed to new rules for longline tuna fishing in waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, clarifying the agreement made in April 2013.
Taiwan and Japan began talks in 1996 over fishing rights in the waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. Both sides engaged in a further seventeen rounds of negotiations before finally concluding an agreement in 2014. The agreement does not apply within twelve nautical miles of the islands because of sovereignty claims but otherwise gives both sides fishing rights in nearby waters.
Taiwan bases its territorial claims on a nine-dash line, drawn from an official map published by the government of the Republic of China in 1947. Identical to the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan’s claims today include the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands), Paracel Islands (Shisha Islands), Pratas Islands (Tungsha Islands), the Macclesfield Bank (Chungsha Islands) and their surrounding waters. Differing from China, however, the Taiwan government has made it clear that its claims are limited to the islands and 3 to 12 nautical miles of their adjacent waters. As President Ma Ying-jeou stressed in 2014, there were ‘no other so-called claims to sea regions.’ Despite this clarification, these claims still overlap with those of Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Taiwan currently occupies Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island) and Zhongzhou Reef—two features which are also contested by China, the Philippines, and Vietnam—which it administers as part of Cijin District, Kaohsiung.
The Taiwan government has repeatedly made historical arguments for its sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea. In September 2014, President Ma stated that the Republic of China had issued the Map of Chinese Islands in the South China Sea in 1935 to advocate ROC sovereignty over islands in the area. Again in 1947, the Republic of China published a map of its territories in the South China Sea to assert its claims.
“The Spratly Islands, including the Swallow Reef (Layang-Layang atoll), are located in Taiwan’s territorial waters. From either a historical, geographical or international legal perspective, the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Islands, Pratas Islands and nearby waters are part of Taiwan’s territory and territorial waters…The government of Taiwan calls on neighboring countries in the South China Sea to shelve sovereignty disputes and jointly explore resources based on the principle and spirit of the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Our government is willing to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation and dialogue.”
– Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2008
“No matter from what perspective one uses—history, geography or international law—one can see that the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands), Shisha Islands (Paracel Islands), Chungsha Islands (Macclesfield Islands), Tungsha Islands (Pratas Islands), as well as their surrounding waters, and respective seabed and subsoil, all consist of the inherent territory of the Republic of China (Taiwan). These archipelagoes without a doubt fall under the sovereignty of the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Therefore, the government reasserts that it enjoys all rights over the islands and their surrounding waters. Furthermore, it cannot accept any claim to sovereignty over, or occupation of, these areas by other countries or territories. …The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) reiterates that it upholds the basic principles of ‘safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, peace and reciprocity, and joint exploration’ and remains willing to work with other countries in exploring the resources of the South China Sea. The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) also urges the neighboring countries bordering the South China Sea to exercise self-constraint so that peaceful resolutions to South China Sea disputes can be reached through consultation and dialogue. Taiwan remains willing to participate in dialogue aiming to form resolutions to disputes and promote regional peace, stability and development.”
– Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2010
“Zhongye Island (Thi-tu Island) belongs to the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and, whether looked at from the perspective of history, geography or international law, the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands), the Shisha Islands (Paracel Islands), the Chungsha Islands (Macclesfield Islands) and the Tungsha Islands (Pratas Islands), as well as their surrounding waters, sea beds, and subsoil, are an inherent part of the territory of the Republic of China (Taiwan). These archipelagoes subsequently fall under the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which reasserts its rights over the islands and their surrounding waters, and refutes all claims to sovereignty over, or occupation of, these areas by other countries and areas…The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) reiterates that it maintains the basic principles of ‘safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint exploration’, as well as willingness to work with other countries and areas to harvest the resources of the South China Sea.”
– Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2012
“In fact, the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative could also apply to the South China Sea.”
– Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2014
“We should try to resolve the disputes through peaceful means, rather than give up the territory to deal with the problem…Our basic stance is that sovereignty cannot be compromised, but natural resources can be shared”
– Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 2015
August 1964: Deputy Minister of National Defense Chiang Ching-kuo conducted an inspection tour of Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island).
December 2000: President Chen Shui-bian conducted an inspection tour of the Pratas Islands (Tungsha Islands).
January 2003: Vice President Annette Lu visited Pratas Islands (Tungsha Islands) on behalf of President Chen Shui-bian.
July 2005: President Chen Shui-bian – accompanied by the minster of national defense, the minister of the Coast Guard and journalists – conducted an inspection tour of the Pratas Islands (Tungsha Islands), drawing negative reactions from Chinese media.
February 2008: President Chen Shui-bian inaugurated a runway on Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island) in the Spratly Islands and declared it an intrinsic part of Taiwan’s territory, drawing protest from the Philippines.
August 2008: Taiwan’s government proposed the Spratly Initiative, calling on countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea to shelve sovereignty disputes and jointly explore resources.
July 2011: Students and teachers from Taiwan National Ocean University participated in a workshop held by the Ministry of National Defense on Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island), coinciding with exercises conducted by the navy. President Ma Ying-jeou received the students and teachers in an official ceremony upon their return.
September 2012: Taiwan’s Coast Guard conducted exercises for legislators and Ministry of National Defense officials visiting the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands).
May 2014: Taiwan began building a $100 million port next to its airstrip on Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island), with construction expected to be complete by late 2015.
October 2014: Chen Yeong-kang, commander of the ROC Navy, and Shih Yi-che, head of communications at the Coast Guard Administration, publicly discussed the possibility of stationing armed vessels permanently on Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island), drawing protests from the Philippines and Vietnam.
April 2015: Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed its decision to send P-3C anti-submarine aircraft to patrol its southeastern waters as well as its claimed territories in the South China Sea.