Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Diaoyu Islands belong to China

By Fu Ying (China Daily) Updated: 2012-09-21 08:02

Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying talks to Japanese journalists about current disputes and expresses Chinese concerns

Editor's note: On Sept 14, Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying gave an interview on the issue of Diaoyu Islands at the Chinese Foreign Ministry to journalists from 16 Japanese media outlets, including Jiji Press, Kyodo News, Mainichi Shinbun, Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo Shinbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Sankei Shinbun, TV Asahi and TV Tokyo. The main points of the interview ran as follows:

The Japanese government's explanation for its "purchase" of the islands was to prevent an earlier "purchase" proposal by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, which would involve development and construction on the islands. The Japanese government feared that Ishihara's "purchase" would make it difficult for it to manage the islands and would lead to damaged relations with China. Why has such a course of action still caused a strong backlash from the Chinese side?

It wouldn't be difficult to manage for the Chinese side. The Diaoyu Islands belong to China, and we will be able to manage it. What I want to state is that there are clear historical and legal grounds to China's sovereignty over Diaoyu Islands. In my conversations with the Japanese side on this issue, I often hear such assertions as: "the Islands have been an inherent territory of Japan". However, a look through historical evidence would find that before 1868, the year when the Meiji Restoration started, there were no Japanese historical records of the Diaoyu Islands being part of Japan. Contrast this with the many Chinese books and documents showing that the islands have always belonged to China.

The Japanese claim that the Islands were "terra nullius" before 1895 does not square with facts. You may look through the 1972 book by Japanese historian and Kyoto University Professor Kiyoshi Inoue The Historical Analysis of Diaoyu Islands. He used numerous historical facts to show that Diaoyu Islands were not "terra nullius" but Chinese territory. This was not unknown to the then Japanese government.

Why has the Chinese side responded so strongly to the Japanese government's "purchase" of the islands? The simple reason is that according to international law, Japan has no right to buy or sell the Diaoyu Islands when it does not even have sovereignty over them in the first place. China on its part has exercised self-restraint on the basis of the common understanding reached between the leaders of the two countries years ago on the Diaoyu Islands dispute. And this has largely contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability around these islands over the past decades. Should such common understanding be denied or reneged on, what basis would there be for China to continue exercising restraint?

The 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan relations falls later this month. In the context of the recent incident, how would the Chinese side mark this anniversary?

This year is of great significance to China-Japan relations, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of our diplomatic ties. We had hoped to move bilateral relations forward to a new level by holding a series of commemorative activities. Yet, such hopes have clashed with the flare-up of the Diaoyu Islands dispute. The irresponsible acts by the Japanese government are neither comprehensible nor acceptable. We are deeply concerned as to which direction the situation would develop.

Recently there has been massive coverage in the Chinese media about the "purchase of the islands" by Japan, showing rising anti-Japan emotions among the Chinese people. Yesterday, several attacks against Japanese nationals took place in Shanghai. And more protests would take place over the weekend. What will China do to protect the safety and security of Japanese citizens and companies in China?

Both the Foreign Ministry and relevant authorities in China have gone to great lengths in their statements and measures to urge rational and law-based expressions of feelings and demands by the Chinese people. Public security authorities have also made tremendous efforts to protect the safety and security of Japanese people and entities in China. You may have observed that despite the scale of protests, things have remained stable and under control.

In recent years there has been a big increase in the number of foreigners living in China. I assume you have many Chinese friends here, so you know how the Chinese people welcome and respect foreigners. Yet they were totally outraged by the Japanese government's irresponsible act over the Diaoyu Islands. Being here, you must have felt for yourselves the strong and natural expressions of common emotions by an entire nation.

Political contentions between countries should not stand in the way of economic and cultural exchanges. Forty years ago, it was the extensive exchanges between the two peoples that led to the normalization of ties between the two countries. Do you agree that the restrictions of economic and cultural ties as a result of political differences go against international norms?

I am not sure whether you know this, but Yomiuri Shimbun published an editorial about these Islands on May 31, 1979, reminding people that they should not become a seed of trouble. The article made explicit references to the consensus China and Japan had reached on how to manage this dispute. I agree that we should go down the road of friendship that was opened by our leaders 40 years ago, rather than going against their consensus, which would only undermine the basis of our relations.

Since Sept 10, I have kept receiving notice about the canceling of planned exchanges with Japan, and now such spontaneous cancellations have increased exponentially. Many people felt that in the current circumstances, it is no longer possible to continue business-as-usual. People are deeply hurt by Japan's actions. I cannot but feel that what used to be a warm spring of interactions between our peoples had given way to an arctic winter which suddenly arrived. The many cancelations were like lamps switching off one after another. We hope that the Japanese government can recognize how grave the situation is and come back to the existing common understanding between the two countries.

There have been repeated episodes of confrontations between China and Japan in the past decade, especially in 2005 and 2010. Each time it would take big efforts on both sides to turn their relationship around. What purpose would be served by China's tough counter-measures and strong-worded statements this time around?

Like people in other countries, the Chinese are capable of strong emotions over things they truly care about. What the Japanese government has done over the Diaoyu Islands was like rubbing salt into a deep open wound on the heart of the Chinese people.

The Diaoyu Islands issue is highly sensitive as it not just concerns territory and sovereignty, but also brings back memories of the Sino-Japanese sea war of 1895 and Japan's invasion of China during World War II. It's hardly surprising that it should have stirred strong emotions among the Chinese people, who expect and trust that today's China is better able to protect its national interests. Official statements from China about Japan's "purchase" of the islands are reflections of the views and feelings of the Chinese nation. These statements are highly principled and send clear signals.

Based on my many years of experience in Sino-Japanese relations, I cannot but feel deeply concerned about this truly grave moment of crisis in our relations. How it is seen and handled will exert a far-reaching impact on the future of China-Japan relations.

Given the difficulty in reconciling the positions of the two sides, has China ever considered seeking a solution in an international framework? What makes China oppose both the "nationalization" and the "purchase" of the islands by the Tokyo Governor? Is there any other alternative acceptable to China?

What the two sides should do is to put this issue in a bigger international context, and seek to address the profound perception gap between the two sides. The world around us is changing fast. The most important and pressing task for China and Japan as two major countries in the world is to address the lingering effect of the international financial crisis. China and Japan working together to address common challenges is what the region expects of us.

Such a confrontational course of our relations serves no interests, neither our two people's nor those of the region. Japan should come back to the right track of stable management of the dispute, as led by the older generation of our leaders.

The historical facts are clear. We have full confidence in the solid historical and legal basis for our claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese claim does not hold water in international law. The way out from our point of view is for getting discussions started through bilateral channels to work toward a reasonable solution.

Several Chinese surveillance ships entered Japan's "territorial waters" around the islands this morning. Is China concerned about the possibility of confrontation with Japan's Coast Guard, which has occurred in the past?

The Diaoyu Islands are part of Chinese territory. Chinese maritime vessels, including marine surveillance ships, administrative ships and fishing boats, have the right to operate in these waters. This is our position. The potential for conflicts has made it all the more necessary for the two sides to deal with the dispute in a cool-headed way and seek to resolve it through peaceful negotiations.

There has also been much discussion in the media on the question of ownership of Okinawa, which is used to weaken the legal grounds for Japan's "actual control" of the islands. What is China's comment on this?

I have also noticed media reports about Okinawa. This is mainly because Japan's claims to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands are seen to be related to Okinawa. That is how many Chinese not just in the mainland, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan became interested in the history of Okinawa, and started to probe into questions such as what happened to Ryukyu Islands, and what is the relationship between Ryukyu and the Diaoyu Islands.

Much historical evidence has been presented that serves to show that the Diaoyu Islands have never been part of Ryukyu in history. As far as I understand, the academics are trying to prove in another way that the Diaoyu Islands are part of China and became so many centuries ago.

As things stand, the situation is tense and volatile. The Japanese side needs to have no illusions about the severity of the situation. I agree with the view that the two sides should find a way through diplomatic talks to move things in the right direction.

It has been 40 years since China and Japan normalized their relations. And four political documents have been signed including the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which have sustained our relations through the decades. The two governments, peoples and societies should have the wisdom and capability to properly handle this issue and prevent matters from slipping further along a dangerous track.

(China Daily 09/21/2012 page8)

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