Three years after recapturing the Falkland Islands from Argentina, Britain built a military port there. But the port's opening ceremony was ruined by a Member of Parliament who insulted the islanders by remarking to the effect that the islanders, who let Argentina occupy the Falklands without much of a fight, were "far less brave" than Argentine mothers who stood up to the military junta.
Being abroad apparently makes some people, especially politicians, throw discretion out the window and shoot off their mouths.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara is certainly no exception. On a recent visit to the United States he openly talked of his plans to have the Tokyo metropolitan government buy the disputed Senkaku Islands.
"I'm going to make the central government sorry for this," he said.
But after he returned to Japan, he toned it down a bit.
"If the central government takes all necessary measures (to protect the islands), I will back down," he said upon his arrival at Narita Airport.
It appears that making the islands the metropolitan government's property was not really Ishihara's true intention. Rather, he wanted to shake the central government out of its seeming lethargy regarding the territorial dispute and prod it into action, so that he himself will go down in history as the "man who made the Senkaku Islands property of the state."
I see his point. So long as the islands remain private property, they may some day fall into the "wrong" hands. In fact, a foreign party is said to have already made an offer of 35 billion yen ($429 million) for three islands.
If the islands are to become public property to ensure the perpetuation of Japanese ownership, obviously they should be purchased by the Japanese government, not the Tokyo metropolitan government.
China and Taiwan have been staking claims to the Senkaku Islands since the 1970s because of the abundance of natural resources in the surrounding waters. Chinese and Taiwanese fishing boats and patrol vessels have been showing up there lately to challenge Japan's effective control since the Meiji Era (1868-1912). China, whose maritime ambitions are escalating, is having endless disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea.
What to do? Being on friendly terms with our neighbors is certainly important, but our neighbors may take advantage of us if we remain overly cautious in diplomacy for fear of offending them.
Any decent country would firmly assert its sovereignty while engaging its partners in thorough debate over any dispute. The world is watching us.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 21
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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