Islands dispute leaves diplomatic ties in tatters
The territorial stand-off between China and Japan has raised the spectre of war, write CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing and DAVID McNEILLin Tokyo
ASIA’S TWO economic powerhouses should be celebrating 40 years of diplomatic ties. Instead Japan and China remain locked in a tense stand-off that has raised the spectre of war.
Beijing is trying to establish its sovereignty over a remote group of islets in the South China Sea, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Japan nationalised the islands this month after the right-wing governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, threatened to buy them.
Tensions have ratcheted up since then, with violent demonstrations across China and jingoistic sabre-rattling by Japanese right-wingers as one of the region’s most enduring enmities again heats up.
An official from the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries told Xinhua news agency that Japan had “ruined the atmosphere of the 40th anniversary”. He said the Japanese government’s decision to nationalise the islands was “illegal” and “severely damaged” relations.
Thousands of Chinese took to the streets last week in violent protests across the country in which Japanese businesses were attacked, cars set on fire and restaurants closed.
In Tokyo, an estimated 800 people marched yesterday to the Chinese embassy, where they shouted slogans denouncing China as a “brute state” and “fascist”. Nationalists waved Japanese flags and placards pledging to fight over the islands.
Japan’s coastguard continues to play a game of cat-and-mouse with Chinese fishing patrols in waters near the islands, about 2,000km (1,240 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would send a delegation to Japan today as part of diplomatic efforts to ease tensions over the dispute.
But with Japan facing an election before the end of the year and China about to embark on a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, the chances of compromise are slim. There are regular outbursts of anti-Japanese sentiment in China but this is the worst since 2005, when there were riots over a history book the Chinese felt downplayed Japanese atrocities in China during the second World War.
Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping told the China-Asean Business and Investment Summit last week that China was committed to solving disputes over territory and maritime rights peacefully. But he warned that it would also defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, who was re-elected government chief last week, reaffirmed the standard Tokyo line that the islands are Japanese and therefore the dispute can only be dealt with under domestic law.