Whose Island is It, Anyway?

While we end our summer with buckets of sweat and political ads, China ends the season by putting out fires ignited by civil unrest, patriotic fervor and rage. But like most national feuds there is more than one narration being shoved into the public sphere.

In early September, Japan purchased the Diaoyu islands then later incorporated them as a part of Japan. Although the eight islands are uninhabited, they are situated in the East China Sea near Taiwan. Historically, the islands have been recorded as a part of China, but over time it has been tossed back and forth between Japan and China.

The public sentiment over the purchase mirrors the aftermath of a championship game. Throughout cities like Shanghai, hundreds of protestors pillaged sushi restaurants and flipped Hondas and Toyotas parked in the street, and went as far as setting cars on fire.

However, this is not just a hoard of angry individuals suffering from mob mentality, rather it is a sentiment that has breached everyday life. Restaurant owners and employees have joined in pinning signs excluding Japanese patrons, “No Dogs and No Japanese.” Meanwhile other banners praise The People’s Republic and cry “Free China.”

Naturally, despite their nauseating, overzealous nationalism and blatant racism, one would side with the China. The islands were a part of China, but were seized countless times by Japan. There is an element of justification present which seems to give onlookers a sense of duty to restore fairness.

There is also the sympathy of China and Japan’s dreadful past. Diaoyu is a symbolic reminder of Japan’s ruthless occupation of China during the 1930s and ’40s, which sparked events like the Rape of Nanking. While Japan continues to deny such atrocities, anti-Japanese movements will easily form and fill China’s streets with racism and maniacal patriotism. And again such denial of one’s actions leaves Japan looking like an unrepentant bully attempting to hide its misdeeds beneath the rug.

But despite the pursuit of fairness and having sympathy, entitlement to a particular land is not decided by record. The United States is the best example since it was not an ancient land bestowed by God for all Americans (at least not by my understanding) we live on stolen land. First this land was taken from the Native populous, then it was taken away from their British, Spanish and French conquerors, later we killed thousands of our own countrymen who had brazenly attempted to secede from the union.

Also, we cannot forget Hawaii or U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. We have as much historical right to these lands as Japan has to the Diaoyu islands. But no one is in favor of returning the lands to their rightful owners.

Yet, we are fooled if we believe that the people and their government have the same intention. As with most conflicts between nations, there is an oil and strategic purpose. China and Japan are both in need of resources and the islands represent a solution. Beneath the Diaoyu islands are oil deposits and lest we forget in the event of war they are strategically valuable.

Although I doubt the turmoil will escalate into war since both nations are economically dependent, there is still doubt over the practicality of China’s demands. What lands really belong to whom?

For obvious reasons, I refuse to accept the notion that history is the determining factor, since it is really a nation’s strength, which determines the scope of its sovereignty. But more importantly we can’t be fooled by the seemingly, simplistic motives because it is the simplistic presentation of fairness that creates the illusion of justification.

Nidia Sandoval is a fourth-year history major. She can be reached at nidias@uci.edu.