Military tension around Diaoyu Islands overstated, experts say

Updated: 2013-10-27 08:10

By Li Xiaokun, Zhang Yunbi and Pu Zhendong(China Daily)

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The security situation around the Diaoyu Islands is actually "not as serious" as the media make it out to be, veteran officers and defense-studies scholars from China and Japan said on Saturday in Beijing.

"Both Tokyo and Beijing knows full well that there is not any warship around the islands, and warships from both sides have always kept at a distance to avoid direct contact," said Yoji Kouda, retired vice-admiral of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

"Is it really appropriate to define the situation as 'military tension'?"

Kouda was speaking at the Ninth Foreign Policies and Security Session of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum.

Li Wei, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said there have been too many mass media reports on the "military standoff" and "the rising risks of conflict".

"The traditional US-Japanese alliance has a comparative advantage on using media campaigns to accuse China of posing a military threat and exerting considerable pressure on China," Li said.

"As a result, the Chinese media will send opposing messages, which in return may be used by Tokyo, creating a vicious circle," Li said.

The latest row between the two neighbors regarding defense issues falls on a recent policy proposal, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that authorizes Japanese armed forces to shoot down unmanned aircraft from abroad.

Military tension around Diaoyu Islands overstated, experts say

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has said that once a drone from China intrudes into "Japanese airspace", into which Tokyo has included China's Diaoyu Islands, the Japanese military may shoot it down, Japanese media reported.

However, Osamu Onoda, a retired officer of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Air Training Command, said at the forum: "I used to work in the air force, and I don't find tensions increasing above the East China Sea.

"We are very clear of the activities of the Chinese navy and air forces there ... and vice versa for China.

"In the past year, there were indeed more urgent plane scrambles. But the Chinese planes did not get closer to Japan's airspace, and did not fly further toward the East. It is this fact that I must make clear."

Calling threats to shoot down Chinese planes a "deliberate provocation", Ministry of National Defense spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a news briefing on Saturday that the normal training and overflights of the Chinese air force, including its drones, in waters of the East China Sea are in accord with international law and practice.

"Chinese planes never have intruded into any country's territorial airspace, and China never allows other countries to trespass into our airspace," Geng said, urging Japan to never underestimate the Chinese military's will and resolve to protect state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

If the Japanese threats, including the "shoot down" policy, were ever carried out, it would be a serious provocation to China and an act of war, Geng said, adding, "China will take resolute measures to strike back, and the perpetrators will assume full responsibility."

Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the Diaoyu Islands topic was treated as a "diplomatic agenda item" more than 40 years ago, according to the consensus between the leaders of both sides, but now the situation has sent "an alarming signal that the recognition on the islands topic is shifting toward a defense or security sphere".

Gen Nakatani, former chief of the Japanese Defense Agency when Junichiro Koizumi was Japanese prime minister, said that instead of seeking provocations to flare tensions around the islands, the two sides should put a crisis management mechanism in place as soon as possible.

The armed forces from both sides have already maintained an exhausting standoff for a long time, "which indicates a growing likelihood of miscalculation or errors taking place", Kouda said, stressing the need of the management mechanism.

Key to start talks

To solve the impasse in bilateral relations, Kazuhiko Togo, director of the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University, said that although Tokyo has yet to admit the existence of the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, the two nations should start talks first.

However, Chen Jian, former undersecretary-general of the United Nations and former Chinese ambassador to Japan, said that admitting the existence of the Diaoyu Islands dispute will be the basis of a summit between the two nations.

He said Japan should respect the spirit of talks between then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and then-Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1972, during which the two sides reached an understanding on the Diaoyu Islands issue and lead to the normalization of the countries' relations later that year.

"Since tensions flared up over the Diaoyu Islands, China has followed the spirit of the talks, which agreed to leave the Diaoyu Islands issue to later generations, and did not take countermeasures."

"If Japan denies the existence of the mutual understanding, China will have to take actions," Chen said.

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 Military tension around Diaoyu Islands overstated, experts say

Koichi Kato (second from right), president of the Japan-China Friendship Association, attends the political session of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum on Saturday.

 Military tension around Diaoyu Islands overstated, experts say

Xu Dunxin, the former Chinese ambassador to Japan and also a former vice-foreign minister, speaks at the political session of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum on Saturday. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily

(China Daily 10/27/2013 page2)