Tue, Mar 05, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Glimmer of hope over island spat

By John Lim 林泉忠

On the other hand, if Japan’s retracting the nationalization of the islands could convince China not to send ships and fighters within 12 nautical miles of the Diaoyutais, this could be a technically viable option for Japan to redeem the situation.

It could transfer ownership rights from the national level to a prefectural level, under the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa Prefecture.

There is also the option of returning the ownership rights to private hands — obviously not to the Kurihara family, from whom the government bought three of the islands last year — but to a private body or institution.

However, this is not likely to happen once the two sides return to the negotiating table: The Japanese are unlikely to want to be seen dancing to China’s tune and “remedying their errors,” and are more likely to want to talk around the “nationalization” issue for a time.

On the eve of Yamaguchi’s visit to Beijing, he suggested that neither party send fighters into the air space around the Diaoyutais.

The Chinese have yet to respond, while Abe said that “whether Japan sends fighters to the Senkakus is Japan’s business alone.”

Since Abe has left the possibility open, deciding not to send fighters to that area is one relatively simple way for the two parties to reach a compromise in the interest of dissipating the crisis.

The trouble is that, regardless of which side first brings this concrete suggestion to the negotiating table, and even if it leads to a compromise that both sides find acceptable — conjuring up the illusion that there is no sovereignty crisis — it will be very difficult for them to translate this into an official written consensus, and it would most likely be nothing more than another tacit mutual understanding.

It goes without saying that without documentation to back it up, any agreement is precarious at best, although history is replete with examples of effective agreements on foreign relations based on little more than mutual trust.

In 1972 then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and then-Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka agreed to put the Diaoyutai sovereignty issue on the back burner.

Four decades later Japan is still keeping to what I term the “three noes principle” — no military deployment on the islands, no development of land resources on the islands and no development of resources in the surrounding waters — based on this original understanding.

If the two sides can come to an agreement on principles governing air space, they can move on to secure a similar agreement on ocean-going vessels in the area.

China and Japan need to come up with a new understanding to help resolve the crisis and deal with the many challenges ahead. They need to rebuild some degree of mutual trust.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) said the Diaoyutais issue should be left to later, wiser generations to find a solution to the problem.

Now the time is upon the new generation of leaders in China and Japan — and to an extent those in Taiwan, too: It is a test of their wisdom. Beijing concedes that the islands are part of the island group that includes Taiwan, but Taiwan has been relegated to playing a bit part in the drama.

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