Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has confirmed the central government plans to buy three of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that belong to Okinawa Prefecture.
We hope the move will lead to stable control of the uninhabited islands by the government and mark a first step toward eased diplomatic tensions with China and Taiwan, which claim sovereignty over them.
The Tokyo metropolitan government has already started preparing to buy the Senkaku Islands. Since Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has a history of openly exhibiting hostility toward China, there have been serious concerns that the metropolitan government’s purchase of the islands could heighten tensions between Japan and China.
Ishihara should actively cooperate with the central government’s plan to buy the islands.
The planned nationalization of the islands will undoubtedly provoke an angry response from China and Taiwan. But the long-term purpose of the move is to rein in unnecessary provocative acts by putting the islands under state control to avert dangerous unforeseen incidents.
We urge China to make a cool-headed response to the government’s plan.
It is indisputable that the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan’s effective control, are Japanese possessions. The central government has leased the three islands from the owner and bans private citizens from landing on them.
When Japan and China negotiated an agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations in 1972, the governments of the two countries became aware of the possibility of a territorial dispute over the islands.
But China showed a willingness to shelve the issue, and no diplomatic row broke out over the islands for some time.
However, the issue has become a diplomatic sore point between the two countries in recent years because of China’s naval expansion in the region and increased activities by Chinese boats in waters around the islands.
In September 2010, a Chinese fishing trawler rammed two Japan Coast Guard ships near the Senkaku Islands, triggering a bitter diplomatic row that seriously strained the bilateral ties.
Since territorial disputes stir nationalistic impulses, provocative action by one of the countries forces the other to take countermeasures, often causing the situation to escalate.
A political leader’s restrained response to such an action is immediately criticized as “weak-kneed” at home.
Even if the Tokyo metropolitan government buys the Senkaku Islands and allows people to land on them or build facilities there, Beijing would not drop its territorial claim on them.
As it prepares for a leadership transition in autumn, China is certain to make an even more hard-line response to such actions.
In a recent forum held in Tokyo, participating experts from both Japan and China voiced concerns about a possible military clash between the two countries over the Senkaku Islands.
Such a situation, which nobody wants to see, must never be allowed to occur. We strongly call on China to rein in provocative acts by Chinese fishing vessels and patrol boats around the islands.
The Japanese government, for its part, should give China a convincing explanation about the purposes of its plan to buy the islands while making every possible effort to prevent accidental clashes from taking place in the area.
The Japanese government has been taking the official position that there is no territorial dispute between Japan and China. Even if that is a logically consistent position, Japan is unlikely to see any significant progress toward a solution to the dispute if it sticks to its guns.
Our hope is that the government will take this opportunity to acknowledge that there is a territorial dispute over the islands so that both sides can hold candid talks over the issue with an open mind.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 8
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