Despite his announcements of achievements, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba failed to win clear support from France, Britain and Germany for Japan’s sovereignty claims to the Senkaku Islands during his European tour.
Genba stressed Tokyo’s stance to his European counterparts amid heightened tensions between Japan and China, which also claims the islands, and Europe’s increased dependence on China’s economic strength to overcome the prolonged sovereign debt crisis.
In a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin on Oct. 19, Genba said the Senkaku Islands are “an inherent part of the territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based upon international law.”
He repeated Japan’s official line in his meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British counterpart William Hague during his three-nation trip that began Oct. 16.
Genba told reporters after each meeting that Japan obtained a degree of understanding on its stance. Before his departure from Japan, he said members of the Group of Eight industrialized economies “have a strong influence on international public opinion.”
But the reactions of the European ministers were unclear. Genba would not disclose what they specifically said, except that they agreed the dispute should be settled “peacefully and in accordance with international law.”
“One thing I can publicly cite as an achievement is that Japan has been able to strengthen the alliance on the overall situation in Asia and the Pacific, rather than specifically on the Senkakus,” Genba told reporters.
In reality, Germany, France and Britain have all kept their distance from the isles dispute.
Westerwelle, speaking after his meeting with Genba, only said he hopes the issue will be resolved peacefully.
Britain "is not partial toward any particular state" in the dispute, according to a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
French President Francois Hollande has been emphasizing Japan in an Asia policy shift from his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was committed to China. Still, the Hollande administration’s stance is that the Senkakus issue should be solved peacefully through negotiations.
China has become an increasingly important partner to Europe.
George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, has called on China to invest in infrastructure development in the country, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel closed a deal on sales of 50 Airbus aircraft during her trip to China in August.
Genba discussed Japan’s stance on the isles dispute when he spoke with the BBC and the Financial Times, as well as in an article contributed to French newspaper Le Figaro.
But the general view among the European media is that both Japan and China are to blame for the squabble.
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung criticized China as trying to resolve the dispute much like an imperialistic nation from a century ago.
But Suddeutsche Zeitung, another German newspaper, said Japan does not fully realize that it committed crimes against China before World War II.
(This article was written by Isamu Nikaido, Ken Matsui and Kazutaka Ito.)
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