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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Okada urges less heat in Senkaku row


Staff writer

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada cautioned both Japan and China not to resort to extreme nationalism following the recent bilateral spat in connection with the Senkaku Islands.

News photo
Point man: Katsuya Okada, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, speaks during an interview at the Diet on Tuesday. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Recent days have seen a series of large-scale demonstrations staged in China essentially in protest of Japan's control of the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by both China and Taiwan.

Japanese protesters have also rallied in front of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo over China's retaliatory moves after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain following the Sept. 7 collisions between his vessel and Japan Coast Guard patrol boats trying to board it near the Senkakus.

Speaking to The Japan Times during an interview Tuesday, Okada, who was foreign minister at the time the incident took place, said it was important that Tokyo urge Beijing to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and their properties in China.

"I believe what's important is for both sides to be careful not to turn to extreme nationalism" over the diplomatic spat, he said.

On Monday, the DPJ-led government decided to allow video footage of the collisions to be shown to a Diet panel, although Okada declined comment on specifics regarding when and how exactly the footage would be released. He only said "nothing has been decided officially" at this point.

"How the (footage) should be handled is a matter that should be decided by the Diet," he said.

Okada, who took over the ruling party's No. 2 post after Prime Minister Naoto Kan was re-elected party leader in last month's DPJ presidential race, said during a Sept. 14 news conference at the Foreign Ministry that it was "obvious" after watching the video footage that it was the Chinese trawler that rammed the coast guard vessels, not the other way around.

But a recent article in the weekly magazine AERA reported that a "secret pact" had been forged between Tokyo and Beijing. Under the alleged pact, Japan would try to prevent landings of Chinese nationals on the Senkaku Islands and refrain from detaining them unless the case evolved into a major incident. China would also try to bloc protesters' boats from reaching the uninhabited islets.

One case that illustrated the existence of the pact, the magazine said, was in 2004, when Japan immediately deported seven Chinese activists who landed on one of the islands.

The magazine claimed the latest case turned into a major diplomatic row because the alleged agreement was not observed after the DPJ took power from the Liberal Democratic Party last year.

Okada declined comment on the article or whether he was aware of such a pact during his time as foreign minister, only saying he supported his government's handling of the incident, and "no other options could have been thought of."

The opposition has criticized the administration, saying prosecutors in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, exceeded their authority by releasing the skipper and claiming it was done in consideration of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The government has also been criticized for bowing to Chinese pressure to release the captain.

But Okada dismissed this.

"I have no intention of debating the government's decisions," he said.

Okada, serving his third stint as DPJ secretary general — he has been in the post twice before when the DPJ was still in the opposition, in 2002 and in 2009 — faces his first major task as the ruling party's No. 2 man this weekend, when a by-election will be held in Hokkaido pitting the DPJ's Shigeyuki Nakamae against LDP veteran Nobutaka Machimura, among other candidates.

While reports indicate Machimura is the front-runner, Okada said he intends to back Nakamae all the way.

"We have a good candidate, but unfortunately his name isn't widely known," he said.

"We are in our final week, but I'd like to work hard so (his name) will penetrate further."



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