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Japan, China embark on 'propaganda war'

Publication Date : 13-10-2012


Japanese government changes tactics on Senkaku Islands, begins appeals to international community


One month has passed since the Japanese government put part of the Senkaku Islands under state control in September.

Japan had until recently been reluctant to internationally air its claims to sovereignty over the islands, over which it denies the existence of any territorial dispute with China. However, the ongoing standoff over the islands has taken on aspects of a propaganda war aimed at the international community, prompting Japan to reverse its policy and appeal to world opinion regarding its claim.

Meanwhile, Chinese government vessels have been appearing in waters around the islands almost every day; tensions between such vessels and the Japan Coast Guard have been steady.

China aims at United States

Beijing began a large-scale propaganda campaign to win over international opinion, especially in the United States.

Last month, China ran advertising spreads in major US newspapers asserting its claim to the Senkaku Islands. In addition, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made remarks about the islands at the UN General Assembly at the end of September, saying Japan "stole" them from China.

The remarks were apparently intended to insinuate the Japan-China dispute over the islands should not remain as a mere bilateral issue, but rather that it poses a great challenge to the postwar international order. China apparently aims to lure international opinion--especially public opinion in the United States--away from Japan, as China was allied with the United States during World War II.

China holds that Japan stole the Senkaku Islands at the end of the Sino-Japanese War. China focuses on the 1943 Cairo Declaration that stipulated territory acquired by Japan from the Qing dynasty should be returned to the Republic of China. As Japan accepted the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, which called for implementation of the Cairo Declaration, China should have a valid claim to territorial sovereignty over the islands.

According to sources familiar with Japan-China diplomatic issues, it is believed China is ready to take any measures to have Japan recognise the existence of a territorial dispute over the islands. The Chinese finance minister, the governor of the People's Bank of China and representatives of four major Chinese banks did not attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Tokyo, in an apparent effort to accentuate the view that a dispute exists.

Japan changes strategy

In response to such Chinese moves, the government is considering a strategy of lobbying for international support by dispatching the Foreign Ministry's top three parliamentary ministers, including Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and a special advisor to the prime minister, to relevant countries to explain the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan's territory, both historically and under international law.

Foreign Ministry officials have been explaining Japan's position on the Senkaku issue to officials at various embassies in Tokyo and in the overseas media. "It will be more effective if Cabinet ministers and politicians explain the issue on their own," a senior ministry official said.

Japan does not acknowledge a territorial dispute between itself and China. Therefore, Tokyo has been reluctant to start a propaganda war with Beijing over the sovereignty of the islands because it might give the impression to the international community that a territorial dispute between the two exists.

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura emphasised at a press conference Wednesday the government would change its policy. "We need to make our case to the international community by explaining our stance and opinions to foreign countries and overseas media on various occasions," Fujimura said.

Concerning China's claims, based on the Cairo Declaration, the government holds that the Senkaku Islands were not included in the territory mentioned in the declaration, and that China also recognised the islands were part of Japan's territory after the Potsdam Declaration was announced.

Gemba rebutted China's claims, noting that China first asserted its territorial sovereignty claim over the islands in the 1970s. Gemba also pointed out a Chinese map of the world published in 1960 clearly identified the Senkaku Islands as "the Senkaku Group of Islands," as well as the name "Uotsurijima island." Also, the minister said there was a description of "the Senkaku Islands, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture, Empire of Japan" in a letter of appreciation sent to Japan from the then consul of the Republic of China in Nagasaki in 1920.

The government is expected to further assert its claims to the international community in the future.

Makinoda is a correspondent based in Beijing.


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