Gusuku Islands (城久諸島)
Disputed region
Other names: Penghu Islands (澎湖群岛), Pescadores Islands
Location Akitsu Strait
Area 141.052 km2 (54.460 sq mi)
Administered by
Akitsuflag Akitsu
Province Gusuku Province
Capital city Makou City
Largest city Makou (80,439)
Claimed by
Flag of the People's Republic of China China
Province Fujian
County Penghu
Capital city Magong City
Largest city Magong
Population 203,423 (as of 2014)
Density 1,442/km2 (3,735/sq mi)/km²
Ethnic groups Akitian

The Gusuku Islands dispute is a territorial dispute between Akitsu and China over the Gusuku Islands, known as the Penghu Islands in China. Some foreign papers use the Pescadores Islands as the name for the islands, as it is perceived by some to be more politically neutral.

The islands have been administered by Akitsu since August of 1901, before which it had been controlled by 3 separate independent nations. Akitsu gained the Gusuku Islands following the conclusion of the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty. China claims this treaty was illegal, based on the claim that the Gusuku Islands were part of China and not controlled by three independent nations at the time.

The modern dispute largely stems from conflicting interpretations of the historic state of sovereignty over the islands. The Akitian claims are based off the argument that the authorities controlling the Gusuku Islands were independent and sovereign nations at the time, and that the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty was concluded between Akitsu and Gusuku legally. China claims that the Gusuku Islands were part of China at the time, and that thus the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty is illegal.

While many western researchers and historians agree that the Gusuku Islands was independent from China. However researchers and historians, primarily from China, dispute this position.


Up to 7th century

There are some historic relics found in the Gusuku Islands that show that it was visited by people from Akitsu and China. That said, there were no permanent settlements on the Gusuku Islands during this time. Neither Akitsu nor China considered the islands to be part of their territory during this time.

Until after the 6th and 7th centuries, the Akitian and Chinese historical narratives generally agree. Some minor differences do come up when examining the two, the most notable difference being that Akitsu says that Akitians were first to visit the Gusuku Islands but China says the Chinese were the first to visit the islands, but for the most part they are identical up to this point. None of these differences are a major point of contention as they are not the basis of the Akitian and Chinese territorial claims to the islands.

660 AD - 971 AD

Some Akitians began fleeing the chaos of the Reimei period in 660 AD, forming the first permanent settlements on the Gusuku Islands. Settlement of the islands were largely funded by the rich, who sought to keep their fortunes safe by moving them to the islands which were not considered part of Akitsu at the time. First they funded moves from peasants to establish settlements there, later on they had the peasants build fortresses there. Eventually, some elites completely relocated to the islands, declaring themselves the rulers of various small kingdoms on the islands. In order to secure themselves, the kingdoms sought protection from the Tang dynasty. They accepted status as a tributary state of the Tang, thus gaining their protection. The kingdoms of Akitsu knew they couldn't hope to win against the Tang, and thus simply recognized the formation of the new kingdoms in Gusuku.

When the Tang collapsed in 907, the kingdoms of Gusuku immediately started looking for another protector. Initially they got protection from Later Liang, which still had control of territory in southern China through Liu Yin. They switched protectors to the Southern Han in 918, a year after Liu Yan, Liu Yin's brother, separated from Later Liang and established Southern Han. They again switched protectors in 971, when Southern Han was conquered by the Song dynasty. There were kingdoms of Gusuku that refused to switch allegiances, but these kingdoms were easily conquered by other kingdoms in Gusuku with the assistance of the Southern Han and later on the Song.

The Akitian and Chinese historical narratives generally agree for the period between 660 AD - 971 AD as well. There are far less differences in this narrative, and this is not the basis of the Chinese territorial claim, though Akitsu uses this as part of the basis for claiming that Gusuku was independent since around 660 AD, so it is not a major point of contention. However, starting in 971 AD the historical narratives start to greatly diverge.

Post-971 AD history according to Akitian sources

971 AD - 1410 AD

For the most part Gusuku was stable for the next few centuries. The kingdoms of Gusuku intermittently allowed the Song to station representatives there. Things started to change again when the Mongols invaded the Song in 1259. At first the kingdoms of Gusuku were unified in their backing of the Song, but when Kublai Khan began his offensive against the Song the kingdoms of Gusuku started to get worried. In 1276, when the Song had lost most of their territory, the kingdoms of Gusuku asked the Mongols what their terms for not invading was. When the Mongols then demanded that Gusuku become a vassal, they accepted, knowing that they couldn't hope to defeat the Mongol armies. Again, the few kingdoms that refused to accept Mongol domination were invaded and conquered by other kingdoms. This vassal relationship lasted into the Yuan dynasty. Protectors switched again in 1370, this time to the Ming dynasty.

1410 AD - 1454 AD

In 1410 AD, Akitsu entered the Eisen period, a period of constant warfare between Akitian Senshi clans for control over Akitsu that lasted for several centuries. Several Akitian Senshi escaped Akitsu, eyeing to establish their own kingdoms and get away from the war. These Senshi started attacking Gusuku in 1410. Naturally the kingdoms of Gusuku sought the protection of the Ming. At first, the Ming assisted the defending kingdoms of Gusuku in a limited fashion as they were facing conflicts against the Northern Yuan dynasty. However, by the time the end of the 1440's came around the Ming was much more hesitant to send aid to the Gusuku Islands. By then not only were the Ming facing wars against the Mongols, but they also faced internal rebellion, and their Emperor had been kidnapped in the Tumu Crisis bringing about a total collapse of the Ming's northern defense lines. All the Gusuku kingdoms started falling due to a sudden decrease in aid from the Ming, as the remaining forces were not enough to fight off the constant attacks by the various Senshi clans attacking them. By 1454 AD, all of the original kingdoms in Gusuku had been conquered by the Senshi.

1454 AD - 1868 AD

Once the conquests were over, the Senshi who had conquered Gusuku started fighting against each other. This fight didn't last long, as eventually three senshi kingdoms managed to ally with each other and conquer Gusuku. They agreed not to go after each other and instead focus on maintaining their independence. To this end, all three of the kingdoms started exporting weapons to the factions fighting in Akitsu. This would eventually become a lucrative industry for the kingdoms, with Akitian demand for weapons being extremely high due to the ongoing wars. Even after the Eisen period ended in 1658 demand was high as the three kingdoms that remained in Akitsu didn't trust each other and thus kept a constant supply of new weapons.

The senshi also reestablished a tributary relationship with the Ming in case the kingdoms changed their minds and decided to invade. They continued this relationship with the Qing dynasty when the Ming fell.

During this time strong defenses were build by the rulers of Gusuku, giving rise to the Akitian name for the islands (the Akitian word for "castle" is "gusuku"). At the same time, fishing communities continued on the coast, giving rise to the Portugese and later English name of the islands.

1868 AD - 1901 AD

Things started to change rapidly for the Gusuku Islands in 1868. The Akitian kingdoms began rapid modernization programs, and eventually outpaced Gusuku in terms of technological development. The weapons that Gusuku made was no longer up to par with the weapons Akitsu used, and thus trade rapidly declined between the two nations. The economy of Gusuku began to stagnate. By the time the 1890's came around the economic stagnation started contributing to Akitian nationalist feelings, fueled in part by Akitian nationalist movements in Akitsu. The movement grew rapidly in Gusuku, and after Akitian unification in 1899 the governments of Gusuku formed a joint diplomatic team and entered into negotiations with the Akitian government regarding integration. These negotiations ended in the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty in 1901.

Post-971 AD history according to Chinese sources

971 AD - 1410 AD

The kingdoms of the Gusuku Islands were largely stable from 971 AD to 1410 AD. However, when the Mongols invaded the Song the kingdoms of Gusuku went into panic. Fearing for their own nation, they contacted the Mongols and asked what their demands were. The Mongols demanded complete vassalization, a condition which the Gusuku Islands accepted. When the Mongol Empire fell, the kings of the Gusuku Islands were allowed to retain their territory. However, rather than becoming an independent state in a tributary relationship with the Yuan dynasty, they became a part of the Yuan dynasty. Gusuku remained part of China through the Ming dynasty.

1410 AD - 1454 AD

When the Eisen period of Akitsu came around and the Senshi invaded, the Ming dynasty did everything they could to stop the invasions. However, trying to fight off the many troubles that it had at the time proved difficult to do, especially during the Tumu Crisis. Eventually, the Senshi won.

1454 AD - 1868 AD

When the Senshi won they first fought against each other, but within a decade an alliance of three kingdoms had gained control of Gusuku and the rulers immediately sent a message to the Ming asking what the conditions for maintaining their rule was. The Ming responded that the conditions were to accept Ming authority over the land and become local authorities of the Ming, reporting to Fujian Province. The rulers, knowing of Ming's superior military power, accepted. The Ming allowed Gusuku to continue their weapons trade with Akitsu, knowing that it was beneficial to the local economy. The same policies were continued under the Qing dynasty.

1868 AD - 1901 AD

In 1868, the rulers of Gusuku started noticing Akitsu's rapid modernization. They knew that in order to maintain independence was to avoid invasion by Akitsu. Then, when trade with Akitsu started decreasing they knew that they had to do something. Initially they sought closer ties with mainland China, but things didn't go too well. Eventually, the Qing was defeated in the First Sino-Japanse War. This proved to be a devastating defeat for the Qing. In 1899, when Akitsu was finally unified, the Qing's defeat in the war alongside Akitsu's modernization allowed for imperialist forces within Akitsu to use the threat of an invasion to force the authorities of Gusuku into negotiations in 1899. Using the same threat of an invasion, the Akitians forced the authorities of the Gusuku Islands to accept a treaty of annexation.

Post-971 AD history according to other historians

Most international historians agree with the Akitian side of events. However they do acknowledge that the Gusuku Islands and China had a sort of special relationship throughout history that is toned down in the Akitian narrative. Most mainstream historians reject the notion that the Gusuku Islands were part of China during the Ming and Qing dynasties, though there is a lot more dispute when it comes to whether or not Gusuku was part of the Yuan dynasty. Most scholars consider the relationship between Gusuku and the Yuan dynasty to be one similar to the relationship between Korea and the Yuan dynasty, only the government of the Gusuku Islands was able to reassert their authority following the collapse of the Yuan dynasty, unlike Korea which saw the fall of the Kingdom of Goryeo and rise of the Joseon dynasty. From there, historians agree that the Gusuku Islands was an independent country, but also acknowledge that a tributary relationship with China existed.

Recent events

The Gusuku Islands issue was not raised by China until 1953, when it claimed the islands based on "historic grounds". Akitsu at the time didn't consider the PRC the legitimate government of China, but nonetheless protested the decision. The two governments put aside the issue when relations were normalized in 1979. However, in recent times the dispute has been flaring up again.

In October of 2014, a Chinese government-affiliated think-tank organized a online referendum regarding the political status of Gusuku. Though the results came back overwhealingly in favor of Gusuku joining China, the referendum has been called a farce by many international groups. A vague category of "Gusuku residents outside of Gusuku" allowed people not from Gusuku to vote, and more than 2 million people accessed the ballot from China alone, leading people to believe that the think tank intentionally allowed Chinese people to vote in the referendum in order to ensure a "yes" result.

The Akitian government has announced that they will be holding a counter-referendum of sorts in response to this. The issue is to be put on the ballot in the Gusuku Islands in the 2015 Akitian general elections.

On the morning of December 16th, 2014 China Coast Guard vessels escorted Chinese fishing vessels and entered into waters surrounding the Gusuku Islands for the first time, resulting in the Gusuku Islands crisis.

Modern positions

Akitian position

  • The Gusuku Islands were a sovereign and independent nation, and were not part of China for at the very least several centuries before annexation.
    • The governments of the Gusuku Islands lasted through several Chinese dynasties, the only real "falls" being when one kingdom was conquered by another kingdom, but that didn't result in the formation of a new kingdom until senshi from Akitsu invaded.
    • The invasions by the Senshi resulted in the falls of old kingdoms in Gusuku, but the Ming dynasty had lasted through this era.
  • The Gusuku Islands were not part of China during both the Ming and Qing dynasties. This is clearly shown by maps made in both Akitsu and China.
  • The Gusuku Islands became part of Akitsu through the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty, which was made in response to growing Akitian nationalist sentiments both within Gusuku and Akitsu.
  • The Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty was not concluded using any threat of force, and thus does not violate international law.
  • At the time it was signed, China never protested the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty.
  • The 2014 referendum by the Chinese think-tank is invalid because it allowed more than 2 million people from mainland China access to the ballot, effectively rigging the vote.
  • The people of Gusuku are more closely related to Akitsu than to China.
    • The languages spoken in Gusuku is the same as the languages spoken in the rest of Akitsu. While the local dialect is influenced by Chinese, the language spoken in Gusuku is still Akitian and is mutually intelligible with the Akitian spoken in the rest of Akitsu. Furthermore, most residents are bilingual, being able to speak Japanese as a second language.
    • Furthermore, the people of Gusuku take part in the rituals of Reido, Akitsu's native religion.

Chinese position

  • The Gusuku Islands have a part of China since the Yuan dynasty.
  • The government of the Gusuku Islands actively sought and maintained a tributary relationship with ancient China.
  • The Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty is invalid because the Gusuku Islands were part of China at the time it was signed, and the Chinese government at the time was not a signiatory.
  • Furthermore, the Akitsu-Gusuku Annexation Treaty came near the end of the Boxer Rebellion and a few years after the end of the First Sino-Japanese War, both of which weakened China to western imperialists.
  • As such, the annexation of Gusuku by Akitsu was illegal.
  • Other territories stolen from China have been returned to China, including Manchuria, the Liaodong Peninsula, Hong Kong and Macau.