The Economist Rewrites International Law and Gets the Senkakus Wrong

by Michael Auslin

I have to give The Economist credit for focusing as much attention as it has on the Sino-Japanese spat over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The two sides, as I just wrote for NRO, are sliding dangerously (and negligently) toward war, probably through accident or miscalculation, rather than serious plan. However, The Economist gets one crucial fact terribly wrong in its recent piece, “The Drums of War.” The lead paragraphs include this line:

So both countries are claiming to own the islands and both are pretending to administer them.

That makes it seem like a toss-up as to who has the right to control the islands. However, Tokyo has administered them since 1972, with the reversion of Okinawa and other U.S.-held territory taken in 1945. For four decades, there has been no dispute over administration, and only recently has the sovereignty question been raised by China, in part due to strategic concerns and in part to the discovery of oil and gas reserves under the seabed near the islands. Now, both Peking and Tokyo are disputing ownership of the islands (and the resources around them), but there is little reason for The Economist to question who actually administers them, and has been doing so for 40 years.

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