Japan must be judged by actions over Diaoyu Islands spat, not rhetoric

By Hai Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-5 19:51:01

On September 10, 2012, the Noda administration in Japan unilaterally "nationalized" the Diaoyu Islands, which is the territory of China, defying the political consensus reached by China and Japan in the 1970s.

Given Japan's perfidious actions, China has adopted a series of effective and reasonable countermeasures. China's marine surveillance vessels have continued routine patrols and law enforcement activities in territorial waters around the islands. Patrols by maritime surveillance ships and planes mark an important step for China in safeguarding the sovereignty of the islands.

On December 26, the cabinet of newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally took office. How will the new administration deal with the dispute?

According to remarks Abe made during his election campaign, there are two sides to his stance and rhetoric over the issue. On the one hand, Abe stands firm on the island row with China. On the other, the new cabinet has demonstrated a flexibility to improve strained ties with China.

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had claimed that it would send permanent staff to the islands if Abe were elected. Abe stressed that there is no dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands and Japan will not compromise. He also claimed that the cabinet would set up a national security enhancement ministerial post to reinforce national security.

While showing toughness, Abe has left some space for maneuver. It was reported on December 27 by Asahi Shimbun that Abe did not want to see Sino-Japanese relations, including economic ties, affected by the spat. Japan's declarations, however, are different from its actions. Both the Noda and Abe administrations have presented their "sincerity" to the international community in being willing to solve the Diaoyu Islands issue through negociation, on the prerequisite that no sovereignty dispute exists.

But in fact, Japan continues to strengthen deployment and keep closer watch over the islands. Japan's Coast Guard has increased the frequency of interception of China's administrative ships, and monitors China's marine surveillance ships and planes everyday.

Recently, Japan even expanded its area of control into airspace where China's maritime surveillance aircraft routinely patrol. The nearest point of this route is only 75 nautical miles (140 kilometers) from the territorial airspace of the Diaoyu Islands. It is above the islands' exclusive economic zone, which is entirely within the freedom of overflight zone as prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Some sensible Japanese have suggested the Japanese government admit a territorial dispute and solve it via peaceful dialogue. But the extreme right-wing politicians are seeking to amend Japan's Peace Constitution, set up a national defense army and reinforce Japan's military. When we listen to the Japanese rhetoric of improving ties with China, we should concentrate more on its actions.

Since the 1980s, Japan has provoked disputes over the Diaoyu Islands. China has to make great efforts to solve the dispute in a peaceful way, but at the same time keep alert and be prepared for complicated situations.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute for Marine Affairs under the State Oceanic Administration. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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