INTERVIEW/ Kazuhiko Togo: Japan should talk on the Senkaku Islands squarely

August 20, 2012


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 Kazuhiko Togo, former head of the Treaties Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

* * *

Question: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the Takeshima islets on Aug. 10. What do you think about that?

Answer: As one of the persons who have been working to solve past issues and make friendly relations between Japan and South Korea, I feel I was betrayed. South Korea has rejected any talks on sovereignty over the Takeshima islets, saying, "There are no territorial issues (concerning Takeshima)." Japan has also refrained from putting the Takeshima issue in the center of Japan-South Korea relations in order not to damage the bilateral relations. The position of Takeshima in the relations between Japan and South Korea has been completely different from that of the Northern Territories in the Japan-Russia relations (that has been given a high profile).

South Korea and Russia act freely in Takeshima and the Northern Territories respectively. On the other hand, the Japanese government is restricting Japanese people’s landing on the Senkaku Islands. I think that the current situation in which only Japan is forced to endure has reached the limit.

Q: What do you think about Japan’s policy of appealing to the International Court of Justice?

A: I don’t think that it is the best way to immediately bring the (Takeshima) issue to the ICJ. First of all, Japan should call on South Korea to discuss Takeshima seriously. It should make efforts to set up councils between governments and between private-sector experts so that those from both countries can talk frankly. The method will strengthen Japan’s status in the international community. That is because the attitude of “rejecting any talks” when the assertions from both parties are different is unacceptable.

Q: But Japan claims that any territorial issues do not exist on the Senkaku Islands.

A: As for the issue, Japan must drastically change its policies. Japan has to listen to the opinions of China and Taiwan. Then, it should make its assertions directly, including one stating that, “Don’t enter the islands.” It is necessary for the Japanese government to do its best through diplomacy. If Japan takes a contradictory stance of seeking talks on Takeshima and rejecting ones on Senkaku, other countries will point out the contradiction.

Q: Don’t you think that Japan’s position will become weak if it admits that there is a territorial issue concerning the Senkaku Islands?

A: If Japan takes a hardline stance while rejecting talks, the Chinese military will appear around the Senkaku Islands someday. The result will be a military confrontation between Japan and China. There could be a situation in which Japanese people’s blood will be spilled. There are no stupider things than inviting a war by expecting loosely that current situations can be maintained. Japan should make its best efforts through diplomacy to avoid wars while heightening its defensive powers, including implementation of the right to collective self-defense. It is important for Japan to take the initiative. It should not stand on the defensive side.

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Kazuhiko Togo (Photo by Koichi Ueda)

Kazuhiko Togo (Photo by Koichi Ueda)

  • Kazuhiko Togo (Photo by Koichi Ueda)

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