EDITORIAL: China’s hard-line response on Senkaku issue counterproductive

September 13, 2012

The Japanese government’s move to purchase the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture from private ownership has provoked a furious response from China, which also claims sovereignty over the territory in the East China Sea.

We strongly urge China to exercise restraint in dealing with the matter so as to avoid causing serious friction in overall bilateral relations.

China’s reaction to Japan’s purchase of three of the uninhabited islands was far stronger than Tokyo had expected.

Premier Wen Jiabao denounced Japan’s move in unusually strong language, saying, China “will never budge even half an inch over the sovereignty and territorial issue.” China’s foreign ministry issued a statement declaring, “The Chinese government will not sit idly by watching its territorial sovereignty being infringed upon.”

The Ministry of National Defense and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, the parliament of the country, also separately issued a comment and a statement criticizing Japan’s decision.

On the day the Japanese Cabinet formalized the decision to buy the islands, Beijing sent two China Marine Surveillance patrol ships to waters near the islands.

The latest flare-up of the long-running territorial dispute is already beginning to affect exchanges between the two countries in a number of areas. There is also talk of China imposing economic sanctions against Japan.

We understand that China has a case concerning the issue, too, but it is clear that neither country stands to gain anything from retaliatory steps in economic and cultural areas.

Clearly, there is no possibility that the Japanese government will revoke its decision. It is also obvious that China’s actions will do nothing to help solve the situation.

There is another worrisome factor in China’s response.

In 1895, Japan found that no other country had laid claim to the Senkaku Islands and incorporated them into its territory.

But the statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry accused Japan of using the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 to “illegally” occupy the islands.

This assertion can only serve to fan Chinese public sentiment against Japan amid a fresh wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations.

China also has started making a concerted effort to win international support for its claim to the islands. Japan needs to step up its own efforts to make sure that its position on the issue is understood by explaining the grounds on which it bases its claim.

The central government’s decision to buy the islands was triggered by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s announcement in April of the metropolitan government’s plan to purchase them.

Many Chinese seem to believe the Japanese government took advantage of Ishihara’s action to strengthen its control over the islands.

But Japan’s decision was aimed at preventing unnecessary diplomatic friction over the islands, which would have flared if they had come under Ishihara’s management. After all, he has a history of exhibiting provocative behavior with regard to China.

The purchase was the only possible way for the central government to prevent the metropolitan government from gaining control of the islands.

Japan has repeatedly explained this to China.

Moreover, the decision in no way will change the manner in which the islands are administered by the Japanese government as part of Japanese territory.

The government has been effectively controlling the islands, albeit by leasing them for a number of years before going ahead with the purchase.

The Noda administration decided not to build a shelter for fishing boats or a lighthouse on the islands to avoid making any change to their current state. These decisions were made out of consideration to China.

Beijing should reflect on these Japanese efforts to prevent a diplomatic row over the islands from spinning out of control.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 13

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Uotsurishima, one of the 
Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, is now state property. The Japanese government purchased it from a private landowner. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

Uotsurishima, one of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, is now state property. The Japanese government purchased it from a private landowner. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

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  • Uotsurishima, one of the 
Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, is now state property. The Japanese government purchased it from a private landowner. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

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