It took a bit of tracking down, but I finally found what I was looking for.
I was hunting for a four-character phrase that is now taboo in China, but which must have appeared in published form at some point.
A newspaper from decades ago, purchased on a Chinese e-commerce site, held the answer.
On a thoroughly yellowed page was clearly printed "Senkaku Islands."
This edition of the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, dated Jan. 8, 1953, carried an article under the headline: "People of the Ryukyu islands fight against U.S. occupation."
It starts out introducing the Ryukyu islands as comprising the Senkaku Islands, the Okinawa islands and other isles.
The article criticizes the United States: "The U.S. government is building military bases, while American soldiers are raping Ryukyu women and assaulting people."
It then closes by stating that the fight for liberation from U.S. rule is not unrelated to the struggle for the Japanese people's independence as well as people around the world fighting for peace.
This article was written when China was not asserting its territorial claim to the Diaoyu Islands, as the Senkakus are called in Chinese. But then in the late-1960s, after a United Nations oceanic survey indicated the possibility of rich marine resources, including oil, in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands, China began to assert its sovereignty over them.
China's pretext is "Ming dynasty records with the phrase 'Diaoyu Islands'" (according to the Oct. 18, 1996, edition of People's Daily). However, during talks on normalizing diplomatic relations between Japan and China held in 1972, then Chinese Premier Chou En-lai said in no uncertain terms to his Japanese counterpart, Kakuei Tanaka, "This (the Senkaku Islands issue) has become a problem because of the oil."
Clearly this was why China had decided to assert its sovereignty over the islands, which to this day remain in dispute.
Chinese schoolchildren are taught in textbooks that "the Diaoyu Islands have been an integral part of China since ancient times."
Inputting the words "Senkaku Islands" on the major Chinese search engine Baidu will turn up titles that contain the phrase "Diaoyu Island chain." The censorship regime imposed by one-party rule shows no sign of missing a beat when it comes to maritime interests on which China has taken a hard-line stand. China calls important sea areas its "blue territories."
One of the diplomatic principles espoused by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is "taoguang yanghui," which means "hide our capabilities and lie low."
A more liberal translation is "a capable falcon hides its talons." Thirty years have passed since China changed course and began opening up its economy.
With its increased economic clout and military muscle, China is gradually spreading its talons in the arena of diplomacy.
How about in Japan?
In Washington, D.C., Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara gave a speech in which he announced his plan for the Tokyo metropolitan government to purchase three of the Senkaku Islands. After his speech, Ishihara said, "I’m going to make the national government weep in regret."
Japan's ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, told a British newspaper that Ishihara's plan could trigger an "extremely grave crisis" in Japan-China relations. Niwa was criticized for the remark.
If Tokyo buys the islands, the relationship between Japan and China will surely worsen. The Noda administration instructed the ambassador to "apologize" for commenting on something that is common knowledge in diplomatic circles and made frantic efforts to defuse the situation.
The government then reiterated that there is no "territorial dispute" involving the Senkaku Islands. It seems that the government is not formulating proactive or cautionary policies for dealing with a "crisis" that is sure to come.
I was asked by a Chinese who is well-versed in Japan, "I can understand that Japan would get upset about the Takeshima isles and the Northern Territories, which are effectively ruled by other countries, but why the Senkakus?"
While this individual fears the direction that Sino-Japanese relations may take, he continued by saying that putting "territorial disputes" in the international limelight may not be such a bad thing for China.
As for Ishihara, he regards the situation as "illogical" and is urging the central government to buy up the islands.
If that is his opinion, then, as a patriot, isn't there some other way to go about it? I can't help but feel that Ishihara is barking up the wrong tree.
* * *
Nobuyoshi Sakajiri is chief of The Asahi Shimbun's China General Bureau.
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