Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Scholar's fantasy of a treaty

By Gong Yingchun (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-21 07:53

Claims in essay 'From San Francisco to the South China Sea' go against principles of international law and do not hold water

Masahiro Matsumura, a professor of international politics from St. Andrew's University in Osaka, Japan, recently wrote an essay entitled "From San Francisco to the South China Sea", which has garnered wide attention. However, the opinions he expresses are beyond the bounds of common sense.

Matsumura says that in Article 2 of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced its sovereignty claims over the Nansha (Spratly) Islands and the Xisha (Paracel) Islands without reassigning them to any single country, thus, these islands remain legally under the collective custody of the other 48 state parties to the treaty, including the Philippines and Vietnam. Here the professor should be reminded that Vietnam denounced the San Francisco Peace Treaty in an announcement. China was never a signatory and has never recognized the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which Japan uses to try to justify not returning the Diaoyu Islands to China.

Matsumura seems to believe that Japan, as a defeated aggressor, was entitled to bestow the new legal status of terra nullius upon Manchuria (northeastern China), Taiwan, the Pescadores (Penghu), the Spratly and the Paracel islands and all the other territories stolen from China, instead of returning them to China, the original owner, as required by the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation and Japanese Instrument of Surrender. Where did Japan get such a right to "reassign" the territories stolen from China as a result of its aggression? If the Spratly and the Paracel islands should be put under the so-called collective custody, what about the Kurile Islands, Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it? In Article 2 of the same treaty, "Japan renounces all rights, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it" without reassigning them to any single country either.

In his essay, Matsumura does not mention a word about the 1943 Cairo Declaration, the 1945 Potsdam Proclamation as well as the 1945 Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the basics for postwar international order. He seems to forget that according to the international documents, the legal status and future fate of "all the territories that Japan has stolen from the Chinese" were clear and certain: They shall all be restored to China.

China retrieved its once lost territories of Taiwan island and the Pescadores, with Diaoyu Islands remaining under foreign control, in 1945, and the Spratly and the Paracel islands in 1946. China's measures of restoration met no objection from any country. The historical context shows that six years before the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the legal status of Taiwan, the Pescadores, the Spratly and the Paracel islands as the territories of China had been clear and beyond doubt.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty only reconfirmed the postwar order laid down by the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, rather than changing it. Under the treaty, Japan was only obliged to renounce all rights, titles and claims over territories it had grabbed and was not, in any sense, entitled to "reassign" them.

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