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Wall Street Journal wades into dispute

Updated: 2013-11-05 00:23
By ZHANG YUNBI ( China Daily)

The Wall Street Journal has stirred public opinion in China and Japan with an article making a "rare, direct call" on Washington to take a position in the standoff over China's Diaoyu Islands.

But before making a judgment on whether Washington will give up its overt neutrality over the issue, it is necessary for those supporting the article to have a closer look at Washington's overall considerations, observers said.

The opinion article, in the Journal's Asia edition on Thursday, said "the more explicit" the Obama administration is that the islands are Japanese, "the likelier Beijing is to back down".

A sentence set out in bold letters in the center of the article read: "Japan and the region awaken to the threat of Chinese bullying."

But the office of the US secretary of defense told Chinese media in a written reply on Friday that Washington's position encouraging a peaceful resolution of the disputes is "longstanding" and has not changed.

"We don't take a position on the underlying question of the ultimate sovereignty of the islands", Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman of the US State Department, said in Washington late last month.

Gui Yongtao, assistant president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, said some conservative politicians in the United States believe that a rising China — rather than spreading right-wing forces in Japan — should be viewed as "the top concern for Washington".

"Washington definitely harvests considerable benefits from the looming territorial row," he said.

Japan seized China's Diaoyu Islands in 1895, and the US took over jurisdiction of the islands after the Second World War. In 1971, the US made backroom deals with Japan, giving Japan so-called jurisdiction.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in October that "since they are under Japan's administrative control, they fall under United States treaty obligations to Japan".

"We strongly oppose any unilateral coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control. We will continue to consult especially closely on this issue," Hagel said in Tokyo after the meeting of top diplomatic and defense officials from the US and Japan.

However, it is also obvious that Washington "has refused to be dragged into a potential conflict", said Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japanese studies and the deputy dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.

Japan is being pragmatic by utilizing the US strategy of rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific, and is trying to lure the US into doing what Japan wants, prompting displeasure from Washington, Liu said.

"Washington will not allow itself to be manipulated by Tokyo on the China-Japan islands dispute," Liu said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was frustrated after meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington in February when a White House press release did not make any reference to the dispute.

On Friday, the Pentagon also dismissed a previous report by Japanese leading newspaper Nikkei Business Daily that Japan and the US had drawn up a plan to jointly recapture the Diaoyu Islands if seized by China, Xinhua news agency reported.

Beijing on Monday urged Washington to keep its promise of not taking sides, saying China hopes relevant US media can "play a constructive role in easing the situation and resolving disputes instead of the contrary", said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Washington has found it inappropriate to directly mediate between China and Japan when it comes to a territorial dispute.

"Japan has focused on the competing side of the US-China relationship but ignored the cooperative side," Zhou said.

Harf said "no" when a reporter asked if China is challenging US interests in Asia.