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Row over islands and Tokyo's governor

Publication Date : 01-11-2012


Japan's ultra-nationalist Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, whose plan to buy three of the disputed Seno Islands ignited a smouldering row with China, announced last Thursday he would resign and form a new party with his associates ahead of the snap general election Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to call before the end of this year. His associates are Takeo Hiranuma and his tiny Sunrise Party which holds only five parliamentary seats.

Ishihara may count on his son Nobuteru, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, to defect with a few lawmakers and is also trying to form a coalition with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's newly formed Japan Restoration Party.

Hashimoto, another ultra-nationalist, is expected to get his party into power with a big win at its debut general election. Even with the coalition organised and Hashimoto's victory, Ishihara's new party will not be able win the election and go on to rule the world's third largest economy.

Noda's Democratic Party of Japan, which currently holds 247 seats in the Lower House — a thin majority of seven — is expected to lose scores of seats in the upcoming election and fall from power. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has just elected former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe its president, holds 118 seats in the all-important lower house and is unlikely to win. That means there won't be any party that controls a simple majority of 261 seats in the chamber.

With his approval ratings at the lowest ever, Noda does not want to call the election now. He wishes to stay in office until next spring, but when the Diet convenes its extraordinary session next week, he may face a no-confidence vote from the opposition alliance. If there are a mere 10 defectors, he will be forced to call the election and be ousted.

As no single party is expected to control the majority in the Lower House after the election, Ichiro Ozawa, who left the Democratic Party that he had created to launch the People's Life First-Kizuna, will be needed to organise a coalition. People's Life holds 47 seats and is likely to add a few more,

There is no way to predict who is going to lead Japan's next Cabinet, but one thing is certain: Whoever controls government will turn more nationalistic. Ishihara openly calls for a revision of Japan's Constitution, which currently prohibits war. So will Abe, a grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi whose last wish was the restoration of Japan's right to conflict. If he wins big, the young ultra-nationalist Hashimoto may be a contender.

And that does not bode well for the current row over the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands and claims as its inherent territory. The eight uninhabited islets are called the Diaoyutai Islands in Taiwan, which also claims sovereignty.

It was Noda who nationalised the Senkakus as a way of foiling Ishihara's purchase plan for which 1.4 billion yen, or US$17.5 million, was raised. It was this nationalisation that touched off a Sino-Japanese dispute. Tensions have continued to mount in the East China Sea, where the People's Liberation Army has conducted sea manoeuvres and the United States together with Japan is scheduled to hold an amphibious war exercise simulating the recapture of an occupied island.

Beijing warned against it last Saturday. Zhang Zhijun, Chinese vice foreign minister, said Beijing is watching very closely what action Japan might take regarding the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent waters and “the action that Japan might take will shape China's countermeasures.”

“We have the confidence and the ability to uphold the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added, pointing out “No amount of foreign threats or pressure will shake the resolve of the Chinese government and people.”

But there will be no war between China and Japan, simply because neither of them wants it. Nonetheless, something has to be done to soothe the steadily mounting tensions in the South China Sea. It isn't difficult. It only takes Noda reversing Japan's stance on the Senkakus and admit there exists a sovereignty dispute among Japan, China and Taiwan. The dovish Noda should do so before he is forced to step down.


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