COMMENTARY/ Satoshi Amako: Let's find a way to bury islands hatchet

September 19, 2012


As the standoff over the Senkaku Islands continues, China's government is telling its citizens it stands firm on claiming the territory it calls Diaoyu. But internationally, Beijing is probably racking its brains to find common ground. So what kind of messages might Tokyo offer?

In 2001, a U.S. intelligence aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan Island in southern China, where 24 personnel aboard were taken into custody. The administration of President George W. Bush expressed "regret" (over the loss of a Chinese pilot), which Beijing took as an apology and released the crew.

Can't Tokyo arrive at something similar? For instance, Japan makes a remark that allows for leeway of interpretation and provides a pretext for China to bury the hatchet on the domestic front.

There is a mid- to long-term need to create a crisis management system, setting up a line of communication between senior Japanese officials and their Chinese counterparts. It is essential to conduct thorough discussions and confirm on which topics consensus is achievable, either fully or partly.

It is important to recognize that confrontation between Japan and China has a strongly negative impact not only on those countries but also on the entire Asia-Pacific region. A future challenge lies in how to set up a mechanism to minimize problems.

In this dispute, Beijing took Tokyo's words, "government ownership," seriously. Tokyo brought the phrase too much to the fore. It would have been more judicious to say "the government will assume management" of the three islands it bought from a private owner.

The important thing, in so doing, is to maintain the status quo.

Tokyo said it acquired "ownership" of the islands, but it could also have said: "That, in fact, means maintaining the status quo. Both sides will benefit from burying the hatchet."

If Tokyo can say that, it may be one key to ending the ongoing crisis.

(This article is based on an interview by staff writer Ryota Emman.)


Satoshi Amako is a professor of contemporary China studies at Waseda University.

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Satoshi Amako (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Satoshi Amako (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Satoshi Amako (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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