A group of prominent Japanese has issued a statement criticizing their government’s handling of territorial disputes and throwing support behind an East China Sea peace initiative broached by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
The group, led by Nobel Prize-winning author Oe Kenzaburo, urged the Japanese government to immediately stop the vicious cycle of territorial spats with neighboring countries, referring to Japan’s battle with Taiwan and China over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea and with South Korea over Takeshima Island in the Sea of Japan (known as the East Sea in Korea).
The statement, issued on Friday, said that Japan annexed Takeshima, known as Dokdo Island in Korea, and the Diaoyutais, known as the Senkakus in Japan, when South Korea and China were not strong enough to assert diplomatic claims.
For Korean people, the statement said, the annexation of Takeshima symbolized the start of Japan’s aggression and colonization of their country.
In the case of the Senkakus, the latest flare-ups of tensions with China began with Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s announcement of his intention to purchase three islets in the uninhabited island group the statement said.
Ishihara’s move eventually led to the Japanese government’s nationalization of the islets, which China saw as a provocation that broke a previous tacit bilateral understanding to shelve their conflicting claims to the archipelago, the statement said.
The Diaoyutais are located about 120 nautical miles (220km) northeast of Taipei.
The “East China Sea Peace Initiative” proposed by Ma on Aug. 5 called for claimants to the Dia-oyutais to put aside differences, refrain from escalating tensions, pursue dialogue, seek consensus and cooperate in formulating a code of conduct.
Noting that Ma’s initiative is rational and feasible, the statement said it is worth promoting and that the Japanese government should support it by dropping its unrealistic perception that there is no dispute over the Diaoyutais.
The statement added that waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands have been traditional fishing grounds for people in Taiwan and Okinawa Prefecture.
Fishermen in those areas would not like to see the waters become the focus of international territorial rows, a hope that all contesting parties should respect, the statement said.
Atsushi Okamoto, editor-in-chief of Sekai Magazine, who hosted a news conference in unveiling the statement, said the civic group, composed of more than 500 elite figures from various sectors, has collected endorsements from many ordinary Japanese over the past week.
The signature campaign will last until Oct. 17, Okamoto said, adding that the group is scheduled to present the signatures to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office on Oct. 18.
The Japanese statement came on the same day the top US diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, said the US would not play a mediating role in the dispute over the Diaoyutais.
His comments came after China and Japan traded angry accusations over the islands in a late-night exchange at the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
Campbell reminded the two countries, which have the world’s second and third-largest economies, to recognize the importance of their relationship and resolve their grievances through dialogue.
He said each government should set aside the territorial dispute from its other bilateral issues, acknowledging that it would be “extraordinarily difficult” to solve.