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Special> Diaoyu Islands Dispute> Opinion
UPDATED: July 27, 2012
Japan Shows Short-Sighted Rashness in Island Disputes
By Wu Xia

Japan appears to be mired in bitter domestic conflict which has played back upon its foreign policy in a fresh attempt to "nationalize" Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea that actually belong to China.

China's determined stance over Diaoyu Islands will not let Tokyo play on the issue to seek to reverse its waning public support and cater to rising right-wing extremism in the country, foreign policy experts say.

"There is a tendency in Japan that more people are leaning to the right nowadays," said Zhao Gang, a Japan scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Under such circumstances, bringing up sovereignty disputes could gain traction with some voters."

"However, 'buying' the Diaoyu Islands is easier said than done. China has already made it clear that no one will ever be permitted to buy and sell China's sacred territory," Zhao said, referring to a Foreign Ministry statement in early July.

In a most recent twist, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the upper house of parliament on Tuesday that the central government has started making budgetary plans to formally begin "nationalizing" the Diaoyu Islands

Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told the Japanese House of Representatives that he had confirmed with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation of Security, an agreement symbolizing Washington's commitment to necessary security support.

This came months after nationalist Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara first floated his own scheme in April to "purchase" several of the islets from private owners, collecting 1.3 billion yen ($16.33 million) in public donations for the purchase.

Ambiguous U.S. support

According to Japanese media reports, a senior U.S. State Department official said in early July that the Diaoyu Islands fell within the scope of the Japan-U.S. security pact, which requires the the United States to defend Japan in the event of an armed attack.

"The possibility of the United States helping Japan to deal with China is slim," Liu Nanlai, an international law expert told a seminar in Beijing last week.

"The Diaoyu Islands is Chinese territory. Japan has broken international law in seizing the islands, and the United States should also obey international law."

"The United States should be reminded of its proclaimed stance that it would not take position regarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands," the expert said.

Analysts said Japan's efforts to involve the United States over the Diaoyu Islands show its lack of bargaining power.

"The United States has to consider its global strategy and I personally don't think Americans will show very clear support for Japan on this issue," said Zhao of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "The Japanese merely wanted to pull another country into the fight or to cling upon an outside power."

China's Foreign Ministry has voiced strong opposition, reaffirming its indisputable sovereignty over the islands and stressing that a bilateral arrangement between two countries "should not undermine the interests of a third party, including China."

Vulnerable to domestic pressure

Behind Tokyo's protracted drama over the Diaoyu Islands, analysts say, Japan's shifting political tides are disrupting its foreign policy, creating chaos and strategic myopia in the country.

The unpopular Noda administration is splintering over planned tax hikes as political kingpin Ichiro Ozawa left the ruling Democratic Party (DP) along with 49 other lawmakers to form a new party early July, pledging to overturn the tax proposal.

The move seriously threatened the prime minister's grip on power as his party's seats in the 480-member lower house slipped to 250. Ozawa's new party, now the third largest in the lower house, could dislodge the prime minister if it joins hands with other opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Japan's largest opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been pressing Noda to dissolve the lower house to start a snap election in a bid to push for a change of power.

If the LDP wins majority in the next election, the current LDP Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara, Tokyo governor's elder son, would be only one step away from becoming prime minister.

The senior Ishihara's plan to "buy" the Diaoyu Islands is intended to expose the DP's so-called "softness" and "compromise" on the issue, fanning right-wing extremism to corner the already fractured ruling party.

Noda's alleged plan to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands also serves to transfer public dissatisfaction from internal to international affairs, attempting to score domestic points at the expense of angering China, experts say.

Marking the 40th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations this year, China and Japan have witnessed ever-tightening economic ties and deepening cultural exchanges.

However, Japan's foreign policy lacks far-sighted planning as frequent political fights within the country and anti-China groups poison bilateral relations.

Chaos features in contemporary Japanese politics, and differing voices come from various interest groups in the country, Yang Bojiang, a Japan studies professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing said.

Conflicting positions are common among Japanese politicians because the country has not clarified its strategy on China. The senior officials' opinions remain far from unified, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2012)

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