Tokyo can’t fool world with unfounded ‘inherent’ claims to Diaoyu Islands

By Peter J. Li Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-27 20:13:01

The Diaoyu Islands dispute has drawn much international attention. The overseas Chinese community has followed every development of the crisis since its inception when Tokyo decided to "nationalize" the islands despite China's opposition.

The countermeasures China adopted in response to the Japanese provocation are legitimate, farsighted and right on target. Japan can continue to deny that the islands are in dispute. Yet the days when Japan could impose settlements on its disadvantaged neighbors are gone forever.

Japan's challenge to the verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East is certainly a waste of time. But its misinformation regarding the Diaoyu Islands and China's intentions must be refuted head-on. 

Are the disputed islands "an integral part" of Japan as Tokyo and its right-wing politicians have vehemently claimed? The answer is a resounding "Not at all." 

The islands historically were part of the Taiwan Prefecture of Fujian Province and later of the Taiwan Province of China. They were not even part of the Ryukyu Islands of what is called Okinawa today.

Since Okinawa is not part of the "land handed down by the Japanese ancestors," as the claim literally goes, calling the Diaoyu Islands "an integral part of Japan" is farcical and ludicrous. Japan is unabashedly a master manipulator for its own interest.

The current confrontation over the disputed islands was instigated single-handedly by Japan.

Knowing the complex situation surrounding the US transfer of the islands to the administrative control of Japan, the Chinese side has insisted that the dispute be resolved through bilateral talks.

Tokyo's unilateral decision to "nationalize" the islands was a state act to exclude China as a party from the territory's settlement.

Beijing's countermeasures, such as sending its fleet of the maritime surveillance ships to the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, serve to refute Japan's sovereignty claim and to undermine Tokyo's control of the islands.

Unilateral actions at the expense of other rightful parties to a dispute do not sit well in the 21st century. Tokyo's act to permanently possess the Diaoyu Islands, the booty of war, can never pass without a strong Chinese reaction.

China bashing has been a popular game in Japan in the last few years. Isolated incidents involving, say, problematic Chinese products, are often blown out of proportion in the Japanese media.

Fishing in China's traditional fishing areas has been portrayed as the vanguard of invasion. Chinese criticism of the tribute paid by Japanese leaders at the Yasukuni Shrine is rejected as an unwelcome Chinese interference in Japan's internal affairs.

With China's overtaking one economic power after another in the new century, Japan's sense of crisis deepened.

When Beijing elbowed Tokyo out of the seat of the world's second biggest economy in 2010, a position proudly occupied by Japan for more than four decades, China has become, in the eyes of right-wing politicians, a nightmare rather than a neighbor whose civilization has helped shape the Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years.

As an economic power, Japan will never become a political equal if it cannot adjust to the new reality in East Asia.  

China's assertive response may have caused some concerns. Yet, is China justified to recover its territories lost under duress? Japan's seizure of the Diaoyu Islands, taking advantage of China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 is a textbook case of an aggressor violating a disadvantaged party.

The islands should have been returned to China in 1945 together with all other stolen territories. The fact that the islands were not returned then and that they were later placed under Japan's administrative control in 1971 does not negate China's right to seek their recovery.

Japan's provocation has produced an undesirable result contrary to its intentions. With China's routine patrol of the islands by its maritime surveillance ships, Japan's so-called effective control is gone. Beijing is likely to consolidate this result of the first bout of the Sino-Japanese wrangling.

For Japan to emerge as a normal country, what Tokyo lacks is not military hardware or a veto-holding seat at the UN Security Council.

What Japan needs is reincarnation. For that to happen, Japan must quit challenging postwar arrangements, account in earnest for its ugly past, and reconcile with the new reality in regional and world politics.   

The author is associate professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown, Texas, the US.

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