WASHINGTON — A report compiled by the CIA on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands around the time China started to formally claim them as its own concluded that Japan's sovereignty case was by far the stronger and more convincing.
"The Japanese claim to sovereignty over the Senkakus is strong, and the burden of proof of ownership would seem to fall on the Chinese," said the intelligence report, which was drafted in May 1971 and was included in declassified documents from the National Security Archive of George Washington University.
In related documents, the CIA stated that any dispute between Japan, China and Taiwan over the islands would not have arisen had it not been for the discovery of potential oil reserves on the nearby continental shelf in the late 1960s.
The islets in the East China Sea are known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.
"The Senkaku Islands, uninhabited and unimportant, have emerged from obscurity to give their name to an undersea region that conceivably could cause international conflict: If oil in commercial quantities is not found, they could ultimately lapse again into obscurity," the report noted.
The documents illustrate the skepticism some U.S. officials felt about the validity of China's ownership claim over the isles, although this has never become Washington's official position on the matter.
The report noted that the Red Guard atlas, which was published in 1966 in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, includes a map of Communist China's international administrative areas.
"This map definitely indicates that the ocean area in which the Senkakus are located is beyond China's border," it pointed out.
The atlas, along with another map, indicate that "the Senkaku Islands belong to the Ryukyus (now Okinawa Prefecture), and therefore to Japan," the report concluded.
In addition, "none of the Chinese Nationalist (Taiwanese) maps that were examined indicate that the Senkaku ocean area is within China's boundaries," it stated.
A random selection of maps published in Europe also fail to show the Senkakus are part of China's sovereign territory, while the 1967 edition of the Soviet Union's official world atlas included a chart specifically designating the Senkakus as Japanese territory, the report said.
An April 1978 memorandum the U.S. National Security Council prepared for Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said, "Our interest is in doing nothing to undercut the Japanese, but at the same time remaining aloof from this potentially contentious Sino-Japanese territorial issue."
These documents demonstrate that while affirming that the Senkakus fall under Japan's jurisdiction, U.S. administrations dating back to the 1970s have consistently maintained a neutral stance on the issue.