Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's remarks on the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina when talking about the Diaoyu Islands dispute on Thursday, claiming "the rule of law at sea" is the key to solving the problem. Thatcher at that time said Britain was defending an important principle that international law should prevail over the use of force.
It seems like there's nothing wrong with the literal meaning of Abe's remarks. But by referring to the Falklands War, was he dropping a hint that he would defend "the rule of law at sea" as Thatcher did?
In fact, when it comes to the Diaoyu Islands, Japan seems more likely to use force than respect laws. A Chinese marine surveillance plane patroled areas around the Diaoyu Islands on Thursday morning, and it was immediately "intercepted" by a Japanese F15 fighter. There have been repeated situations when Japanese fighters confronted civilian Chinese planes. Japan even warned that it might use tracer bullets against Chinese surveillance planes. So far, there have been no Chinese fighters or warships moving close to Diaoyu.
Japanese politicians, including the Prime Minister, constantly stated that Japan will "defend" the Diaoyu Islands "at any cost," which implies a willingness to resort to force. But Chinese diplomats are restrained verbally when reacting to Japan's provocations. If Chinese top leaders also frequently showed China's resolution to defend Diaoyu at any cost, what would the status quo of the dispute look like today?
Abe has been trying to be tactful since he took office. He expressed that he values Sino-Japanese relations, but then quickly shifted to a non-negotiable stance over the Diaoyu Islands dispute, vowing to defend Diaoyu "at any cost." Abe presents the Chinese public with the stereotypical example of hypocritical Japanese politicians who deep down, are hostile to China.
Abe's actions and remarks during the past two months have further deepened Sino-Japanese conflicts, and no matter what his intentions were, his administration is pushing the two countries in the direction of becoming more antagonistic toward each other.
The global community cannot help China and Japan solve the Diaoyu Islands dispute. This is a matter for the two parties. The Abe administration is skilled at provoking China in the arena of international public opinion. They think they will gain the upper hand by doing so, but in fact, this only intensifies bilateral conflicts.
It's possible that the Abe government is trying to use confrontations with China to pave the way for amendments to the Peace Constitution and increased militarization. Many analysts believe so. Whatever the real intention of the Abe administration is, it's playing a mere game that China doesn't need to worry about.
A tendency to quibble is a particular characteristic of Japan's leaders. Abe's actions have created mistaken impressions among Japan's people. His words upset Chinese people, but the Japanese are the ones who have really been deceived by Abe's words.