Category SFPT
Sub-Category Article 4(b)
Question What is the significance of the Article of the San Francisco Peace treaty (SFPT) which places both the Ryukyus and Taiwan under the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government (USMG)?
Answer In order to understand the significance of this Article, one must have knowledge of the subject of military jurisdiction under the US Constitution.


Geography notes

Ryukyu islands --
a chain of Japanese islands in the western Pacific Ocean at the eastern limit of the East China Sea. They stretch southwest from the island of Kyushu (the most southwesterly of Japan's four main islands) toward the island of Taiwan. The largest of the Ryukyu islands is Okinawa Island.

Military government is the form of administration by which an occupying power exercises governmental authority over occupied territory. It is necessary to understand some basic concepts about the functioning of "military government" in order to understand the meaning of certain clauses in the post-war San Francisco Peace treaty (SFPT), and how they will be implemented.

Some important clauses of the treaty are as follows:

Article 2
(b) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.

Article 3
Japan will concur in any proposal of the United States to the United Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29deg. north latitude (including the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands), Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin Islands, Rosario Island and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island. Pending the making of such a proposal and affirmative action thereon, the United States will have the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters.

Article 4
(b) Japan recognizes the validity of dispositions of property of Japan and Japanese nationals made by or pursuant to directives of the United States Military Government in any of the areas referred to in Articles 2 and 3.

Important definition
Property --
(1) something, as land and assets, legally possessed,
(2) a piece of real estate,
(3) something tangible or intangible to which its owner has legal title,
(4) the right of ownership; title.

The SFPT came into force on April 28, 1952, and according to Articles 3 and 4(b) of the treaty, the Ryukyus were formally elevated to the status of United Nations trusteeship, while continuing under the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government.

The Amami group of the Ryukyu island chain was returned to Japan in December 1953. In the following years, the United States began returning additional island groups in this chain to Japan. The last island group was returned to Japan effective May 15, 1972, and both USCAR and the Office of US High Commissioner on Okinawa (Ryukyus) ceased on this date. Indeed, this date of May 15, 1972 was fully announced and widely publicized, and has become part of the historical and legal record.

In this "transfer of territorial sovereignty" process, it is important to understand the effect of Article 4(b) of the peace treaty. Significantly, the Article 2 and Article 3 territories are all regarded as "Japanese property." In the English language, "property" includes the concept of "territorial title," and in the relationships between states, "territorial title" includes the concept of "territorial sovereignty." Indeed, in United States history, the cessions of Louisiana in 1803, the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, Alaska in 1867, Puerto Rico in 1899, the Virgin Islands in 1917, etc. were all considered to be transactions involving "property," whereby "territorial sovereignty" was transferred.

From the above we can fully clarify the steps involved in dealing with the disposition of the Ryukyus, based on Article 4(b) of the Senate-ratified San Francisco Peace treaty.

  1. The situation develops that United States military forces conquer a particular geographic area.
  2. After the surrender of local military forces, the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government begins. In other words, the United States is the "conqueror" and will be the "principal occupying power."
  3. After the local people have organized their own civil government and received recognition by the US federal government, the jurisdiction of USMG over the territory is terminated by formal announcement by the US President.

Thus, in the situation of all the island groups in the Ryukyu chain, the civil governments (Japanese administration) were already in place and functioning as of May 15, 1972, and the jurisdiction of USMG over these SFPT Article 3 territories was terminated.

Are Formosa and the Pescadores still under USMG jurisdiction?

During the period of WWII in the Pacific, all military attacks against the four main Japanese islands and (Japanese) Taiwan were conducted by US military forces. After the Japanese Emperor agreed to an unconditional surrender, Five Star General Douglas MacArthur promulgated General Order No. 1 on Sept. 2, 1945, directing Chiang Kai-shek to go to Taiwan to accept the surrender of Japanese troops.

In a similar fashion to the situation with the Ryukyus, the United States is the "conqueror" and will be the "principal occupying power." The Oct. 25, 1945 Japanese surrender ceremonies in Taipei were held on behalf of the Allies, however under international law, the United States is the principal occupying power, so Taiwan had then become an overseas territory under the jurisdiction of USMG. Taiwan's international legal status as of late Oct. 1945 is "independent customs territory under the jurisdiction of USMG on Japanese soil, with administrative authority for the military occupation delegated to the Chinese Nationalists."

Indeed, none of the Allies recognized any transfer of Taiwan's territorial sovereignty to the China at any time in the 1940's.

In the present day, when comparing the disposition of the Ryukyu Island chain with the disposition of Taiwan, the most significant difference is that we fail to find any announcement by the US President of a termination of USMG jurisdiction over Taiwan. Hence, we must conclude that USMG jurisdiction over Taiwan is still active.

Further References and Links
Taiwan's Legal Status: Taiwan's Legal Status: An Overview of the San Francisco Peace treaty

Areas Conquered by U.S. Military Forces and therefore under USMG Jurisdiction -- with later "new disposition" by peace treaty