Recently released British government files attest to a prior agreement between Japan and China to shelve their territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The files record a 1982 conversation between Zenko Suzuki and Margaret Thatcher, then the prime ministers of Japan and the U.K., respectively. In that conversation, Suzuki told Thatcher that he had reached an agreement with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to maintain the status quo on the disputed territories.
According to the British records, Suzuki and Thatcher were discussing how best to handle negotiations between China and the U.K. over Hong Kong, which was to be returned to Chinese control in 1997. Suzuki recommended that Thatcher deal directly with Deng Xiaoping himself, as Suzuki had “easily reached agreement” to “leave aside the differences of detail” over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu territories. “[I]n consequence it had been agreed that, without raising the matter concretely, the status quo should be maintained, so that the issue was effectively shelved,” the document paraphrases Suzuki as saying. Since Japan maintains administrative control over the islands, the “shelving” of the dispute and acceptance of the status quo could be seen as a diplomatic victory for Tokyo.