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Monday, Oct. 8, 2012


Island issue strands Ishihara

"Xi Jinping was right when he said noisy events over the Senkaku Islands in and after April were a farce," said an influential Liberal Democratic Party politician who served as foreign minister.

He was referring to remarks by the man certain to succeed Hu Jintao as Chinese president on the Japanese government's purchase of three of the islands during Xi's meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sept. 19.

The LDP politician was not siding with China in the territorial dispute over the islands in the East China Sea. He was simply saying that a series of events leading to the "nationalization" of the three islands proved to be nothing but a farce triggered by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

The politician lamented that Ishihara's move eventually incited violent demonstrations in China that caused much damage to Japanese businesses and unnecessarily led to deterioration of bilateral relations. What happened cannot be brushed off just as a "poorly performed play," he added.

A member of a nationalist organization said, "No patriotic organizations can praise Ishihara once they look at his plan to purchase the islands and what the plan brought about. By playing with patriotism, he has destabilized the situation surrounding the Senkaku Islands."

The Senkakus have been part of Japan. This fact is firm and would not have changed regardless of Ishihara's plan under which his Tokyo Metropolitan Government would have purchased three of the islands from the private landowner. Although he justified his plan by saying that the central government is not doing enough to maintain sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, nothing had happened to jeopardize Japan's control of the islands.

Speaking of a 2010 incident in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japan Coast Guard patrol ships in waters near the Senkakus, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said Japan's treatment of the captain of the fishing boat reconfirmed the fact that the islands are under Japanese police powers and are part of Japanese territory.

The official said the important thing is that the Senkakus would have remained under the control of Japan's judicial and law enforcement powers regardless of whether the metropolitan government or a Chinese enterprise had purchased the three islands.

Ishihara's plan to purchase the islands has had the uncalled-for effect of creating a false impression in the international community that a territorial dispute exists over the Senkakus, the official said. Japan takes the position that no territorial dispute exists over the Senkakus.

A political reporter for a major newspaper said the move by Ishihara alerted Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and that the latter saw the need to settle the matter quickly by nationalizing the three islands. If the Ishihara scheme had progressed, there would have been hurdles to clear, including obtaining budgetary appropriation from the Metropolitan Assembly, which in turn would have wrongly signaled to the world that an internal dispute was taking place inside Japan over the Senkakus. Noda thought the scheme would damage national interests, so he pushed up the plan to nationalize the three islands, the reporter said.

The government agreed to pay the landowner ¥2.05 billion for the three islands. This high price should be considered the result of Ishihara's accepting monetary contributions from the public for acquisition of the islands, which in turn encouraged the landowner to raise the ante, according to an insider.

The reporter speculated that Ishihara's interest in acquiring the islands was used by the landowner as a way of increasing the purchase price. Furthermore, it appeared to the reporter that Ishihara, unable to sort out his feelings about the news of the central government's purchase, suffered a complete loss of face.

The member of the aforementioned nationalist organization wondered: If Ishihara thinks he is a patriot, why does he not dare land in the Northern Territories — the four islands off Hokkaido under Russian occupation since the end of World War II — or on Takeshima in the Sea of Japan, which is claimed and controlled by South Korea? "Perhaps, Ishihara chose the Senkaku issue because it was the easiest means of making an appeal," he says.

The aforementioned Foreign Ministry official said that although those who call themselves patriots often criticize the Foreign Ministry's "China school" bureaucrats, it is impossible to find Foreign Ministry officials who want to hand the Senkaku Islands over to China.

The official was angered by Ishihara's suggestion that government officials who sought to settle the Senkaku issue without provoking Beijing were acting like traitors to Japan. "If not for [Ishihara's] move, the government would not have had to waste ¥2 billion," the official said. "Nor would Japanese businesses in China have been attacked (by violent demonstrators)."

It is also clear that if Ishihara had not made that unnecessary move, major events to mark the 40th anniversary of the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Japan and China would have been carried out without a hitch.

The aforementioned political reporter said that Ishihara used the Senkaku issue merely as a means of prolonging his political life. It is well known that Ishihara announced the island-purchase plan shortly after his scheme to create a new political party collapsed.

During the election campaign for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in September, Ishihara distributed a questionnaire to all candidates, asking for their views on the Senkaku issue. The aforementioned LDP politician said this was nothing but an attempt to garner support for his son, Nobuteru, the LDP secretary general at the time and an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency.

According to the political reporter, Ishihara's interest in the Senkaku issue had been known since the 1970s. The reporter said, in a sense, it's as if Ishihara's political career started, and has ended, with the Senkaku issue. When he was an LDP member of the Lower House, Ishihara belonged to a hawkish intraparty group formed in 1973. The group, which he named Seiran-kai (meaning "fresh summer breezes through verdure"), sent students to one of the Senkaku Islands in 1978 to construct a simple lighthouse. Now the Senkakus have turned out to be his political stumbling block.

The aforementioned LDP politician said, "With this, the expiration date of Ishihara, who has survived in the political world due to his special sense and 'art of swimming,' would likely to pass soon." It is about time for this trickster who calls himself a patriot to step down from the stage.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the October issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes."

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