In the court of public opinion over the Senkaku Islands, Japan is going low-key even as China takes out full-page ads in not only major newspapers in the West, but even in small Eastern European nations where many readers may not know where the disputed islands are located.
At an Oct. 5 news conference, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba was asked by a Hong Kong reporter if Japan was planning to strengthen its overseas publicity campaign by using newspaper ads.
"We will pass on our position through our overseas embassies and are not considering newspaper ads in the same way (as China)," Genba responded.
In the Sept. 28 editions of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, China placed full-page ads in English claiming the Diaoyu Islands were Chinese territory. Diaoyu is the name used by China for the Senkakus.
While the Foreign Ministry instructed overseas embassies and consulates-general to issue protests to the major newspapers, no counter ads have been placed in those papers.
One reason is that an official with a group of overseas correspondents said one reason for the ads is a lack of confidence on the part of China.
A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said, "We will not become involved in propaganda."
Instead of flashy ads, officials at Japanese embassies are explaining Japan's position on the Senkakus issue to noted columnists and editors of Asian editions of major Western newspapers as well as to foreign correspondents based in China.
Consideration is also being given to having experts in Congress or think tanks knowledgeable about Japan release commentaries. The Japanese strategy is to focus on a more effective approach by focusing on individuals who have influence over public opinion.
However, there are some within the Japanese government who feel such a low-key approach is inadequate.
Nine years ago, China added three battle fronts to its national defense policy--public opinion, psychology and law.
A high-ranking Defense Ministry official said, "Using overseas media is one element of a battle over public opinion."
Because China is also placing full-page ads in newspapers in small Eastern European nations, a Foreign Ministry source said, "Nations that are not directly involved in the Japan-China relationship could be easily swayed by such publicity."
At a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in late September, China argued that Japan stole the Senkakus in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. In response, a Japanese official said China had no basis in international law for its arguments.
"Relying only on legal arguments will not be very convincing," said Kiyotaka Kawabata, a political affairs officer at U.N. headquarters in New York. "There is a need to carefully explain modern history and the background to the legitimate acquisition of the territory."
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