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Monday, Oct. 25, 2010

Eda urges stronger ties with China to handle disputes

Staff writer

Fresh from a four-day trip to China that ended Thursday, Satsuki Eda, former president of the House of Councilors, said the Democratic Party of Japan needs to work harder to create stronger lines of communication with China to avoid future diplomatic spats with the neighboring giant.

News photo
Open channel: Democratic Party of Japan Councilor Satsuki Eda speaks to The Japan Times at his office across from the Diet on Friday. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

The visit by Eda, who headed a delegation of 808 Japanese, including 500 high school students, came after a diplomatic row over a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japan Coast Guard vessels last month.

Ties may become strained again, but the key is to learn how to deal with such conflicts, Eda said in an interview with The Japan Times on Friday.

"We need to master how to handle such conflicts," he said. "In order to do so, we need to diversify and deepen ties among people."

Looking back on the collision incident, Eda concluded that the DPJ's lack of experience as the ruling party, as well as inadequate links between the DPJ administration and China, resulted in the escalation of the diplomatic spat.

"In the current administration, there aren't many people who have connections with China when such incidents take place," Eda said.

Opposition parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party, which was in power for most of the past 55 years, did not offer to lend a hand, while top DPJ politicians were too proud to ask for help, he said.

"I feel that Japan was not able to utilize the connections it has," Eda said. "I had the impression that China was also not sure who they should contact at the time."

Eda's visit drew attention because he is close to Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

A visit by a similar delegation scheduled to visit the Shanghai World Expo last month was canceled due to the row. China, however, reversed course after the Chinese skipper was released by Japan and the visit will take place later this week.

Before leaving for China, Eda assumed that a breakfast meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was scheduled so they could have a "chat like old friends," not about politically sensitive issues.

But Eda was apparently wrong.

"Mr. Yang got right down to business, taking up the Senkaku issue from the beginning," Eda said.

Yang told him that China's position remains unchanged and that the Senkaku Islands belong to China. Eda shot back that the disputed islands belong to and are controlled by Japan.

Prior to Eda's visit, the Oct. 2 edition of South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based daily, reported that Beijing has designated the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, as a "core national interest" — the same category as Tibet and Taiwan.

It is unclear whether Beijing actually made such a decision, but Eda said he got the impression China hasn't yet classified the islands as a core interest.

During the meeting, the two sides agreed that they need to maintain a friendly relationship, described as a strategic, mutually beneficial partnership, despite the occasional "ripples" that take place, Eda said.

"If they perceive the Senkakus as their 'core national interest,' they wouldn't call it a ripple, would they?" said Eda. "I interpreted that as a sign that Beijing has not classified the Senkaku Islands in that category."

The main message Eda got during the visit, he said, is that Beijing believes Tokyo is harming relations, as some voices coming from the DPJ seem to contradict the bilateral goal of developing a strategic, mutually beneficial partnership.

"China wants to develop the strategic, mutually beneficial partnership with Japan," Eda said. "But they are confused by the difference messages coming from Japan."

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara branded China's response to the collision as "hysterical." Yukio Edano, the DPJ's deputy secretary general, referred to China earlier this month as a "bad neighbor."

In the meeting with Eda, Yang said it is important for the two nations to meet in a bilateral summit on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Hanoi later this month, and at next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Yokohama.

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The Japan Times

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