China’s minister of foreign affairs yesterday said his country will vigorously defend its sovereignty, declaring there was “no room for compromise” with Japan over territory or history.
“We will never bully smaller countries, yet we will never accept unreasonable demands from smaller countries,” Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) told reporters.
“On issues of territory and sovereignty, China’s position is firm and clear: We will not take anything that isn’t ours, but we will defend every inch of territory that belongs to us,” Wang added.
China is embroiled in disputes with several countries in Asia including the Philippines and Japan, with tensions centered on rival claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
The dispute with Tokyo is particularly tense given historical animosities between the two countries over Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s.
Beijing and Tokyo both claim a small uninhabited archipelago in the East China Sea, administered by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, which Taiwan also claims and calls the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
Chinese officials and state media have this year demanded that Japan reflect on its historical aggression and atrocities, in much the same manner as postwar Germany has with its Nazi past.
“On the two issues of principle, history and territory, there is no room for compromise,” Wang told reporters on the sidelines of China’s National People’s Congress.
“If some people in Japan insist on overturning the verdict on its past aggression, I don’t believe the international community and all peace loving people in the world will ever tolerate or condone that,” he said.
Tensions between the two have risen markedly since 2012 when Tokyo purchased islands in the chain it did not already own from their private Japanese owners.
Beijing has taken an increasingly hard line on the issue ever since.
Ships and aircraft from both countries regularly patrol waters around the contested territory and have on occasion come perilously close to armed clashes.
Some, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have mentioned the dispute within the context of World War I, when European powers Germany and Britain went to war.
Wang discounted such a comparison at the press conference.
“I wish to emphasis that 2014 is not 1914, still less 1894,” he said.
The latter year marks the start of the First Sino-Japanese War, which ended in victory by Japan in 1895, marking the country’s rise as a regional power after more than two centuries of isolation.
The US, China and Japan are the world’s three biggest economies, while Tokyo has a security pact with Washington, which is treaty-bound to come to the aid of its defense in the event of an attack.