Editorial: Senkaku purchase must be settled calmly in Japan
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has made it clear that the national government will move toward nationalizing part of the Senkaku Islands in southwestern Japan, the purchase of which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been negotiating with their private owner.
Noda has objected to Tokyo's bid to buy the islands from the outset, as reflected by his statement: "The protection of (national) territory is the job of the national government, and it is unreasonable for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to be involved in it."
Indeed, ownerhip of the islands by the national government makes more sense than their purchase by the Tokyo government. Regardless, the sale and purchase of the islands should be pushed forth calmly and matter-of-factly.
The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan from the standpoint of both history and international law, but China also claims the islands, making them a point of contention between the two countries. Following a lecture by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara in April in the U.S. in which he declared, "Tokyo will protect the Senkakus," the manner in which the islands have been managed was shoved into the spotlight.
Of the Senkaku Islands, the national government leases Uotsuri, Minamikojima, and Kitakojima islands from private owner, paying them annual fees. From the perspective of territorial protection, however, these circumstances are hardly ideal. The national government had attempted to nationalize the islands in the past, but negotiations with the islands' owner had broken down.
Ishihara is proposing a resolution to this vulnerable state of territorial ownerhip, and the protection of the Senkaku Islands from Chinese attempts to undermine Japanese control over them. The metropolitan government has already collected 1.3 billion yen in donations for the purchase, and is poised to sign contracts with the islands' owner within the current fiscal year.
However, if the Tokyo Metropolitan Government were to fully take over the reins of a territorial dispute -- a responsibility that lies with the national government -- it would invite further confusion. Ishihara has said he is prepared to buy advertisements in multiple U.S. newspapers explaining the significance of Tokyo's bid to buy the islands, but such a move is inadvisable, as it would impress upon the international community that the territorial dispute between Japan and China is escalating.
Noda is believed to have started the ball rolling toward national government acquisition of the islands due to fears that Tokyo's bid was turning into a done deal, wresting control of the issue from the national government. That Tokyo's plan has won support from the public, and the Noda administration's desire to avoid any negative effects that critiques of a weak-kneed stance against China could have on national politics are also likely to have prompted the move.
The issue at hand, however, involves the protection and stable management of national territory, a matter of national sovereignty. Ishihara has criticized the Noda administration's move toward the nationalization of the disputed islands as "populist." It goes without saying that the matter must not be handled as a means to provide the administration with a popularity boost.
As the islands' owner are said to be more favorable toward the idea of selling to the Tokyo government than to the national government, the Noda administration is expected to face difficulties in its upcoming negotiations. As such, the administration should consult with Tokyo and the islands' private owner, including on the possibility of having the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buy the islands from the current owner, after which the national government would buy them from Tokyo.
Ultimately, ownerhip of the Senkaku Islands is a domestic issue. A continued clash between the national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government over territory belonging to Japan is meaningless, and represents a chaotic state of domestic affairs that we should not be exposing to the international community.
July 09, 2012(Mainichi Japan)