The Pinnacle Islands in dispute

In several languages the Pinnacle Islands are disputed even as to their name. (Incidentally, the term “pinnacle” is often used by geologists to describe such steeply towering rock formations ; and some prominent landmark recalled from home, such as the Pinnacle Rocks, a group of dolerite columns that rise starkly from the North Sea off Northumberland, may well have inspired British mariners when they named the Pinnacle Islands of Asia.)

TOKYO, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Japan brushed off stern warnings by China and bought a group of islands on Tuesday that both claim, in a growing dispute that threatens to deepen strains between Asia’s two biggest economies. . . .

The Japanese Coast Guard will administer the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge maritime gas fields. . . .

The government bought three of five islets that it has been leasing from the Kurihara family, which bought the islands in 1972 from another Japanese family that had controlled them since the 1890s. The government has owned one of the remaining islets and continues to lease one from the Kurihara family.

Noda floated the plan to buy the islets in July to head off what appeared to be a much more provocative bid by Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, a harsh critic of China, to purchase them and make the islands available for development.

Records of these islands date back to as early as the 15th century. They were referred as Diaoyu in books such as Voyage with a Tail Wind (simplified Chinese: 顺风相送; traditional Chinese: 順風相送; pinyin: Shǜnfēng Xiāngsòng) (1403)  and Record of the Imperial Envoy’s Visit to Ryūkyū (simplified Chinese: 使琉球录; traditional Chinese: 使琉球錄; pinyin: Shĭ Liúqiú Lù ) (1534). Adopted by the Chinese Imperial Map of the Ming Dynasty, both the Chinese name for the island group (Diaoyu) and the Japanese name for the main island (Uotsuri) both literally mean “angling”. . . .

In 1870s and 1880s, the English name Pinnacle Islands was used by the British navy for the rocks adjacent to the largest island Uotsuri Jima/Diaoyu Dao (then called Hoa-pin-su); Kuba Jima/Huangwei Yu (then called Ti-a-usu); and Taishō Jima/Chiwei Yu. The name “Pinnacle Islands” is used by some as an English-language equivalent to “Senkaku” or “Diaoyu”.

In 1900, when Tsune Kuroiwa, a teacher at the Okinawa Prefecture Normal School, visited the islands, he adopted the name Senkaku Retto (simplified Chinese: 尖阁列岛; traditional Chinese: 尖閣列島; pinyin: Jiāngéliè Dăo), literally Pinnacle Islands, to refer the whole island group, based on the British name. The first official document recording the name Senkaku Retto was by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nihon Gaiko Monjo (日本外交文書, Documents on Japanese Foreign Relations) in the 1950s. In Japanese, Sentō Shosho (尖頭諸嶼) and Senkaku Shosho (尖閣諸嶼) were translations used for these “Pinnacle Islands” by various Japanese sources. Subsequently, the entire island group came to be called Senkaku Rettō, which later evolved into Senkaku Shotō.

The collective use of the name “Senkaku” to denote the entire group began with the advent of the controversy in the 1970s.

Linus Hagström, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 5, 2012 :

In this article I refer to the disputed islands as ‘Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands’. Since I do not take any position on the territorial dispute I merely choose to refer to their names in alphabetical order. In earlier works I called the islands ‘Pinnacle Islands’ to retain neutrality. See, for example, Linus Hagström, ‘Quiet Power: Japan’s China Policy in Regard to the Pinnacle Islands’, The Pacific Review, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2005), pp. 159–88. However, not only is ‘Pinnacle’ a direct translation of ‘Senkaku’; this approach also has not been very influential. A recent exception whereby a piece of work does use the name ‘Pinnacle Islands’ is that of Paul O’Shea’s ‘Playing the Sovereignty Game: Understanding Japan’s Territorial Disputes,’ Ph.D. dissertation, University of Sheffield, 2011.








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