Op-Ed Contributors

Friendly advice to Japan

By Hu Feiyue (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-23 08:16
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Tokyo should desist from taking a stance on Diaoyu Islands that could escalate tensions and harm bilateral relations

China has decided to temporarily suspend exchanges with Japan above the provincial and ministerial levels in response to Tokyo's decision on Sunday to extend the illegal detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat for another 10 days.

Demanding the immediate and unconditional return of the captain, Zhan Qixiong, China has halted talks with Japan on aviation issues and postponed a meeting to discuss joint exploration for oil and gas.

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China's countermeasures are justified, because Japan's move is a serious violation of and a brazen challenge to China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets, which have been an integral part of China since ancient times.

Japan claims that the detention of Zhan is in accordance with its so-called domestic law, which is based on Tokyo's new stance that "there is no territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands". The Chinese government and people are shocked at the U-turn in Japan's stance on the issue.

Japan Coast Guard illegally detained a Chinese trawler, its captain and crew after it collided with two of its ships near Diaoyu Islands on Sept 7. The crew was returned after China protested against Japan's open violation of its maritime rights. But Japan extended the illegitimate detention of the captain on Sunday.

Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday urged Japan to return the illegally detained captain "immediately and unconditionally." He said China-Japan relations had witnessed improvement and development but the good momentum has now suffered severe damage and Japan is solely responsible for it.

If Tokyo continues to adhere to the wrong stance, it will lead bilateral talks over the East China Sea issue into a stalemate and damage bilateral cooperation in other fields.

Of late, Japan has been trying to deny history. For instance, Japan's new Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara recently said there should be no territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands because they are an "integral part of Japanese territory". Such provocative acts of Japanese officials could force China to change its long-time policy on the Diaoyu Islands, that is, promoting friendship and cooperation with Japan by "shelving disputes for common development".

In its dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands, Japan has been saying the islands were terra nullius (land belonging to no one) before it occupied them. By doing so, Japan is trying to justify its so-called sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. It is using the ploy to argue that it occupied the islands before China. But Japan's claims do not hold water, because China has sufficient historical evidence to prove that the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets have been part of Chinese territory at least since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Japan enjoys certain advantages over China in the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, mainly because of the pro-Japan tactics that the United States has adopted in East Asia since the end of World War II. Despite occupying Japanese territory, the US changed its policies toward that country after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The US ignored the fact that China was a signatory of the Potsdam Declaration, which reduced Japan to its pre-1894 territory and stripped it of its pre-war empire as well as all its conquests during World War II.

The US unilaterally signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan on Sept 8, 1951. The treaty gave the US control over the Ryukyu Islands, as well as China's Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets. China had vehemently opposed that treaty.

On June 17, 1971, the US signed a pact with Japan and handed over the occupied Ryukyu Islands and China's Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets to it. China has opposed that pact, too, and made it clear to the US and Japan that it was a flagrant violation of its sovereignty.

In a joint declaration signed with Japan on normalization of Beijing-Tokyo diplomatic relations on Sept 29, 1972, China had made known its stance over the Diaoyu Islands in unequivocal terms.

Japan has been on record as saying that it fully understands and respects China's position and will continue to abide by Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration, which says: "The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine".

The US' unilateral decision to return the Ryukyu Islands and China's Diaoyu Islands to Japan without the authorization of other Potsdam Declaration signatories is thus invalid and illegal. So, Washington should accept responsibility for creating the China-Japan dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.

China is now pushing forward its plans to rejuvenate its northeastern regions and seeking the cooperation of its neighboring countries for the development of Northeast Asia. The plans, if executed fully, will create huge business opportunities for the neighboring countries.

Peace and development remain the dominant trend across the world, even though it would take some time for the remnants of Cold War mentality in Northeast Asia to die. But establishing a long-term and stable peace mechanism is in agreement with the majority of Northeast Asian nations.

Hopefully, Japan will accept historical facts and realize China's determination to resolve post-World War II issues. But it is imperative that Japan avoids any strategic misjudgment on issues closely related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity that could put a brake on the hard-won momentum of Sino-Japanese relations and cause irreparable damage to bilateral ties.

The author is a guest commentator for China Daily.

(China Daily 09/23/2010 page4)