There is no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are historically and legally Japanese territory. China also did not begin making territorial claims on the islands until 1971.
While the best option would have been to table the issue, it is preferable to have the central government own the islands, rather than the Tokyo metropolitan government.
However, there is no relationship of trust now between Japan and China to resolve the Senkaku issue. For that reason, China will react emotionally regardless of whether the Tokyo metropolitan government buys the islands or the islands come under national ownership.
There is the strong possibility that China will interpret recent moves as an attempt by Japan to strengthen its effective control of the islands.
Efforts should be made to carefully explain to China that national ownership is meant to avoid the dangers of having the Tokyo metropolitan government own the islands and to stabilize the situation.
What will be most important is to avoid having China misread Japan's intentions.
China has tried until now to respond in a comparatively calm manner. That is different from the incident in which a Chinese trawler collided with two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in September 2010. At that time, China halted exports of rare earth metals.
Although it is difficult to predict what action China will take, I think there is very little chance Beijing would go so far as to utilize military force. There is nothing good that could come out of it for China even if it put up a full-fledged fight. There is no mistaking a desire to avoid having the issue influence various aspects of the Japan-China relationship.
Although there are many important themes in the bilateral relationship, no progress will be made if attention is only focused on the Senkaku issue.
The Japanese media is playing up the issue excessively because regardless of who owns them there would be no problem as long as Japan continued quietly with effectively controlling the islands.
After the end of the Cold War, China's strategy has been to expand the maritime and air space that is subject to its control and defense. There is also no doubt that it will become much more active in its maritime advances in conjunction with the growth of its national power.
The important point will be finding a way to co-exist with such a China.
Both sides will have to avoid something as foolish as an arms race in which each side thinks if the other party takes a strong stand, then we must take an even stronger stand.
That means each side will have to deal with the issue while confirming the intentions of the other party.
An atmosphere of exclusionary nationalism is strengthening among the Chinese people now. That could mean an increase in those who say that giving in to Japan will only lead to more demands from Tokyo.
While the Communist Party government depends on nationalism to unify the nation, it also faces the dilemma of having heightened nationalism changing into criticism of the government.
The Senkaku issue should be returned to Pandora's box, and the best course would be to leave the issue alone.
There will likely be a change in general secretary at this autumn's Communist Party National Congress. The leadership will also face problems if an issue that incites the public should arise in a season of political change.
Chinese leaders are likely asking why Japan is raising such a ruckus at such a delicate time for them. No one can afford to be seen as weak-kneed.
At the same time, there is still a strong sense of being a victim in China. The memory of being victimized by the major powers ever since the modern era continues to be reawakened there. Even after it became the second-largest economy in the world, China continues to raise the slogan of "We will be clobbered if we fall behind."
One recent cause for concern is that the United States has been stressing a return to an emphasis on Asia.
For example, there is the energy issue, which is a life-and-death issue for China's development. Japan also at one time described its sea lanes as a lifeline. Similarly, in China today there are some people who are concerned about what would happen if the United States or India teamed up with nations in Southeast Asia to interfere in China's sea routes.
If the United States and the nations of Southeast Asia should strengthen their relationship, there are those in China who immediately see that as a move to contain them or that Japan is also taking part.
There are biases in media reporting, so there are even some people who mistakenly believe that Japan is becoming a major military power and is trying to take over the Senkakus.
Although China has continued to record rapid economic development, there are still many domestic contradictions so there is still no complete self-confidence in China. An age in which value is placed on achieving an affluent nation and strong military will likely continue in China for the time being.
What should Japan do in the mid- to long term?
In order to restrain exclusionary nationalism and to gradually construct a relationship of trust, dialogue at various levels will have to be carried out with China. Specifically, Japan should join the strategic dialogue between the United States and China.
Efforts should also be made to bring about human security in all of East Asia by involving the well-off class in China.
While promoting exchange among the youths of the two nations, efforts should also be made to make allies of not only the moderate elements among the Chinese leadership, but also among those in the private sector with an international viewpoint and a means of transmitting their views.
It will be important to make such low-key efforts.
(This article was compiled from an interview by Kentaro Isomura.)
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Akio Takahara is a professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in modern Chinese politics.
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