Japan claims sovereignty over the Takeshima islets, the Senkaku Islands and the Northern Territories. Now, however, the claims are under threat. What should Japan do? The Asahi Shimbun interviewed Makoto Iokibe, former president of the National Defense Academy of Japan.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
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Question: Apart from the issues of Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the Northern Territories last month. What do you think about that?
Answer: Until World War II, Japan also changed its territories through wars. Now, however, it is difficult to do so. In such an era, countries that effectively control the disputed areas are in extremely advantageous positions. For those countries, the best interest is not to heighten the profile of their control. But Russia and South Korea are taking provocative actions with their top leaders visiting the disputed areas. Amid the sluggish economy, it is difficult for leaders of any countries to take forward-looking policies. In such a situation, they try to obtain their people's support by readily stirring up nationalism.
Q: How should Japan deal with those countries?
A: If criticism is repeated in a tit-for-tat fashion based on nationalism, the result will be the repetition of the catastrophes of the 20th century. What is necessary for the existence and the prosperity of Japan will be to maintain the Japan-U.S. alliance and cooperative economic relations with China. Keeping these long-term policies in mind, Japan should deal with the issues strategically.
The Hong Kong activists’ landing on one of the Senkaku Islands on Aug. 15 was not made under the initiative of the Chinese government. It only gave a tacit approval to the landing. Not to enter into a confrontation mode is the common interest of Japan and China that have strong economic relations. As Japan is effectively controlling the Senkaku Islands, the best interest for the country is that the issue be given a low profile.
On the other hand, what is important for Japan is to prepare a sufficient defense to counter a situation in which China tries to occupy the islands. Japan’s defensive power is considerable. If Japan demonstrates its power in a positive manner, China will feel that it is inappropriate to try to occupy the islands. The alliance with the United States also offers huge support for Japan.
Q: How should Japan deal with South Korea and Russia (which are effectively controlling the Takeshima islets and Northern Territories respectively)?
A: The appeal to the International Court of Justice is a good idea in that Japan would show that it respects international legitimacy. As both Japan and South Korea are countries of democracy and market-oriented economies, they should find a way to graduate from relations that are often thrown into turmoil by Takeshima and historical issues. It is not easy to resolve the Northern Territories issue, either. There will be no other way except for waiting for a solution while promoting joint development of natural resources and economic cooperation and, as a result, cultivating a mutual understanding.
Q: A hardline stance is intensifying in Japan. What do you think about it?
A: Any country easily becomes emotional on territorial issues. In Japan, too, support for a hardline stance is becoming stronger. But nationalism with a narrow perspective will ruin our country. I want Japanese to behave calmly with dignity. In order for the people to do so, the Japanese government must strengthen its preparations and deal with the issues appropriately.
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