CEAS MA student researches history of disputed China Sea islands

Xiang Zhai

Friction between China and Japan over sovereignty for the resource-rich Diaoyu Islands has escalated in recent years. Research by East Asian Studies graduate student Xiang Zhai reveals new details about the dispute that might help resolve it.

A desolate chain of small, rocky islands in the East China Sea has caused more than a few waves between Japan and China in recent years.

The Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands, were under Chinese rule from ancient times until the late 19th century when Japan laid claim to the uninhabited islands. The United States affirmed the Japanese claim in 1971 under the Okinawa reversion agreement.

China renewed its interest in the 1970s when oil and natural gas were found there. Many Chinese also perceive the Diaoyu Islands as a symbol of China's historical defeats. As such, the islands have continued to be a source of tension between the two nations.

New research by Stanford's Xiang Zhai, a master's degree candidate in the Center for East Asian Studies, dispels widely accepted narratives about the history of the islands. Zhai says his findings, which draw from the recently declassified diaries of Chiang Kai-shek, could help resolve the conflict.

Zhai's investigation centers on Chiang, who ruled China from 1927 to 1949 and Taiwan from 1949 to 1975. His alleged indifference toward the fate of the Diaoyu Islands is frequently cited as the reason that the islands have not come back under Chinese control. According to Zhai, academia has paid insufficient attention to Chiang's role in determining the islands' fate.

Xiang's MA thesis has been published in the Journal of Contemporary China.  The open access link to the article is at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10670564.2015.1030967


Click below for the complete article in the Stanford Report.