EDITORIAL: Government’s Senkakus purchase aims to end dispute flare-up

September 06, 2012

Japan's government is to buy three of the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture under an agreement reached with their private owner.

The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has expressed his intention to accept that deal. In April, he announced the intention of the Tokyo metropolitan government to buy the islets and launched an appeal for public donations to cover the cost.

The Noda administration has decided to buy the islets to ensure their “peaceful and stable maintenance and management,” according to Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba. The government has also decided to reject Ishihara’s demand that a port be built there as a storm haven for fishing boats.

The Chinese government has repeatedly voiced its strong opposition to Japan’s nationalization of the islands, which China calls Diaoyu. The deal between the Noda administration and the islands' current private owner is certain to provoke an angry reaction from Beijing.

Still, the move has effectively thwarted the Ishihara initiative to purchase the islands for the Tokyo metropolitan government. The nationalist governor not only provoked China by threatening to land on the islands himself, he also referred to the nation as “Shina,” a name commonly used in Japan until the end of World War II and now generally perceived as having a derogatory connotation.

Ishihara’s actions over the disputed territory left no choice for the central government but to nationalize the islands.

It is now vital to ensure that work begins to repair strained diplomatic relations between Japan and China.

There were many problems with the Tokyo metropolitan government’s plan to buy the islands in the first place.

Ishihara said the metropolitan government would buy the Senkakus in order to protect them. It goes without saying that negotiating diplomatic problems and defending territorial waters are the jobs of the central government.

In a recent meeting in Tokyo on the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, Ishihara criticized Japan’s response to diplomatic offensives by both Russia and China in the ongoing territorial disputes. “Among other factors, the Constitution is something that has sapped this nation’s vigor,” he said. “We had better throw it away.”

If he is using the Senkakus issue to whip up nationalism for such political ends, Ishihara is playing a very dangerous game and is acting in a way unsuited to a responsible politician.

This summer, Japanese police arrested Hong Kong-based activists who landed on the disputed islands. The incident triggered a fresh wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations across China.

Another incident that further hurt bilateral relations saw Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa’s official car forced to stop, and then its Japanese flag ripped off. This was an unpardonable act of barbarity.

The incident apparently unsettled the Chinese government. The Beijing Public Security Bureau detained two suspects for five days as an administrative punishment. Such unusually swift action indicates Beijing wants to prevent relations with Tokyo from deteriorating further.

The Japanese and Chinese governments are working to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of this year’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, to be held in Vladivostok, Russia, from Sept. 8.

It is unclear what attitude Hu will take toward Japan’s islands nationalization.

It should be remembered that this year marks the 40th anniversary of restoring diplomatic relations between Japan and China. The two countries should not allow a flare-up in a territorial dispute to spoil the celebration of that occasion.

We urge the leaders of the two nations to have a constructive conversation that helps rebuild important relations through efforts based on a broad perspective.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6

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