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Tension lingers as US envoy arrives in Beijing

Publication Date : 17-10-2012

 

China-Japan tension over islands dispute lingers as US envoy arrives in Beijing

 

Japan plays up Chinese sea drill and launches propaganda blitz

A senior US diplomat arrived in Beijing amid tensions with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as Senkaku) as Tokyo launched a global propaganda blitz to support its claims over the islands that belong to China.

The visit came as tension escalated following Japanese media overhyping a routine naval voyage in international waters by Chinese vessels into something more alarming.

Commenting on the visit, observers said Washington should remember its promise of neutrality on the issue and refrain from meddling in troubled waters.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived in Beijing yesterday evening, from Tokyo, the fourth senior US official to visit China this year.

He is expected to meet Chinese officials on Wednesday before flying to Myanmar.

Sun Zhe, a professor on American studies at Tsinghua University, said the visit will probably not make a major difference in easing tension.

Cecil Haney, the United States Pacific Fleet's commander, reiterated yesterday Washington's stance of not taking sides over the issue.

But Tokyo is poised for a November drill with Washington that will simulate a retaking of a remote island from foreign forces. Kyodo News said the drill was aimed at the Diaoyu Islands.

The Foreign Ministry warned yesterday that "intentionally highlighting the security agenda and fuelling regional tensions are not conducive to political and mutual trust in the region".

Haney said the drill was not directed at any third party.

David Shambaugh, China specialist and director of the China Policy Programme at George Washington University, agreed with the US taking a neutral stance on the issue.

He said China should understand that Washington is a treaty ally of Japan, but "to be supportive to the US-Japan alliance is not necessary to be supportive to Japan's claim to those islands". He suggested that the tensions should be resolved through negotiations or "shelving" them for the moment.

"If the dispute cannot be resolved, it should be shelved just like Premier Zhou Enlai and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka agreed in 1972," he told China Daily.

"Now in this particular instance, Japan has taken the initiative to change the agreement that Tanaka and Zhou made in 1972 by 'purchasing' those islands, so Japan is responsible for attempting to change the status quo," Shambaugh said.

Chinese ships

Tension grew yesterday as Japanese media overhyped a Chinese navy fleet of seven vessels passing through international waters close to an Okinawan island in the southwest of Japan. The fleet was on its way home after a regular training in the Pacific.

Yesterday's drama was the latest chapter in a serious diplomatic standoff that erupted in September after Tokyo "purchased" the Diaoyu Islands, which have belonged to China for centuries.

The Ministry of National Defence told China Daily yesterday that Chinese vessels routinely training and sailing in the waters was "justified and legal".

Leading Japanese media reported, with some sensational headlines, that the vessels were heading toward the islands and the Japanese government went on high alert.

The vessels were, at the time of the reports, around 200 kilometres away from the Diaoyu Islands, Japan's NHK Television confirmed later.

Zhou Yongsheng, a specialist on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the Japanese cabinet's hard line shows its lack of sincerity.

Japan's publicity

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's visits to Britain, France and Germany this week is part of Japan's propaganda campaign to seek international recognition for its claim over the islands.

Other propaganda measures include printing pamphlets on the Diaoyu Islands in 10 languages and distributing them through international organisations.

The moves came shortly after Osamu Fujimura, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said that the country needs to "make our case to the international community by explaining our stance and opinions to countries and overseas media on various occasions".

Despite its efforts, some European media called on Japan to reflect on the rise of rightists and extreme nationalism.

"Aided by a pandering press, a handful of nationalists can have a dangerous impact beyond Japan's shores," said British news magazine The Economists.

French newspaper Le Monde said the weak administration of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda failed to tackle the rightists.

German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung said that no Japanese leader had offered sincere apologies for wartime atrocities, unlike German chancellors, especially Willy Brandt who knelt at the monument to Warsaw Ghetto victims in 1970.

Analysts called on Japan to reflect on its wartime past.

Zhou, with China Foreign Affairs University, said the fact that Japan does not have a view of history that takes account of the facts is the major reason behind rows between Japan and its Asian neighbours.

 

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