The former president says Taiwan and China have only relatively recently started to lay claim to the islands. (File photo/Huang Kuo-feng)
Taiwan's former president Lee Teng-hui has said that the Diaoyutai (Diaoyu or Senkaku) islands have always belonged to Japan, China Times reported on Sept. 13.
Our sister newspaper reported Lee's remarks in an interview with a Japanese magazine in which he affirmed the Japanese claim to the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
"The Diaoyu islands, no matter whether in the past, for now or in the future, certainly belong to Japan," Lee said in the interview. "I say this because I know Taiwan's and Japan's history very well. Also, I have said that the Diaoyu islands belong to Japan ever since I was the president." Lee was in office from 1988 to 2000.
Lee said that Japan established its sovereignty over the islands in 1895, when they were not under the control of the Qing empire of China. This was the same year when Japan began to rule Taiwan, having extracted the then island province as a concession after defeating the Qing in the First Sino-Japanese War.
It was not until 1971, Lee said, that China began to claim sovereignty over the islands, while Taiwan also joined the protest in the same year, the year that the PRC ousted the ROC from the China seat at the United Nations. But neither government ever had the sovereignty over the islands in the past, Lee said.
"The most important thing is not sovereignty. The most important thing is fishery issues. I hereby urge the two governments to fix the problems as soon as possible so fishermen can return to that area for their work," Lee said.
Lee's remarks stand in contrast to those of President Ma Ying-jeou, who has reasserted Taiwan's claim to the islands and said that the islands have always been ROC territory, while also calling on all parties involved in the dispute to join his East China Sea peace initiative to resolve the situation through dialogue and jointly pursue economic interests in the area.
Japan's government on Tuesday signed a deal with the private owners of three of the islets in the uninhabited chain to purchase and nationalize them, a move condemned by both Beijing and Taipei as illegal appropriation of sovereign territory.
Lee Teng-hui 李登輝