115. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The Chinese Claim to the Senkaku Islets

You asked for information on the Chinese claim to the Senkaku Islets. The most recent summary of this was contained in a Note Verbale sent the State Department by the Chinese Embassy on March 15 (Tab A).2 Its main points are as follows:

  • —As early as the 15th century Chinese historical records considered the Senkakus as the boundary separating Taiwan from the independent kingdom of the Ryukyus.
  • —The geological structure of the Senkaku Islets is similar to that of other islets associated with Taiwan. The Senkakus are closer to Taiwan than to the Ryukyus and are separated from the Ryukyus by the Okinawa Trough at the end of the Continental Shelf, which is 2,000 meters in depth.
  • —Taiwanese fisherman have traditionally fished in the area of the Senkakus and called at these islets.
  • —The Japanese Government did not include the Senkakus in Okinawa Prefecture until after China’s cession of Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan after the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895.
  • —For regional security considerations the GRC has hitherto not challenged the U.S. military occupation of the Senkakus under Article 3 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. However, according to international law temporary military occupation of an area does not affect the ultimate determination of its sovereignty.
  • —In view of the expected termination of the U.S. occupation of the Ryukyu Islands in 1972, the U.S. is requested to respect the GRC’s sovereign rights over the Senkaku Islets and restore them to the GRC when this termination takes place.

Comment. As you can imagine, the Japanese Government has a comparable list of apparently offsetting arguments and maintains simply [Page 297] that the Senkakus remain Japanese. State’s position is that in occupying the Ryukyus and the Senkakus in 1945, and in proposing to return them to Japan in 1972, the U.S. passes no judgement as to conflicting claims over any portion of them, which should be settled directly by the parties concerned.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 521, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. VI. Confidential. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it on April 23.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Kissinger’s handwritten comment in the margin reads: “But that is nonsense since it gives islands to Japan. How can we get a more neutral position?”