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Monday, Sep. 24, 2012

Hashimoto takes on isle spats in debate with Diet members

Staff writer

OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said Sunday that Japan should continue to use diplomacy, political precedent and international law to settle its various territorial battles with China, South Korea and Russia.

During a public debate with Diet members about the policy platform of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), the outspoken mayor's new national political group, Hashimoto said he does not favor calls by some conservatives to station Self-Defense Forces personnel on the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

"I'm opposed to stationing the SDF on the Senkakus," Hashimoto said in response to a question by noted journalist Soichiro Tahara, who served as the unofficial moderator for the event.

"If you look at the situation in the Senkaku islet group, the dominant facts are that China is there and Chinese fishing boats have begun surveys within Japan's exclusive economic zone" around the isles, he said. "If, as the Liberal Democratic Party says, it was necessary to nationalize the Senkakus, they should have done it before," during their five decades in power.

Hashimoto also expressed the view that Japan and South Korea should jointly control the South Korean-held islets situated roughly halfway between them, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

"You cannot change the fact that (the isles) are effectively dominated by South Korean armed forces. We should steer a path toward bringing them under joint management," he said.

Hashimoto is using an ongoing series of public discussions between members of Nippon Ishin no Kai, which he heads, and Diet lawmakers who have expressed an interest in joining the party to determine whether they agree with its basic policies. Sunday's debate was the second to be held.

Two members of the House of Representatives, Takashi Tanihata from the opposition-leading LDP and Masato Imai from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, took part in the event, which focused on diplomacy and security issues. A total of nine Diet lawmakers, including Tanihata and Imai, have so far expressed an interest in defecting to Nippon Ishin no Kai.

The new party's platform generally favors a robust, independent defense founded upon the U.S.-Japan security treaty. While noting the need to beef up Japan's defense of its territory and the importance of reducing the number and size of U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, it offers few specifics about how to actually achieve these goals.

Most of Sunday's participants said two major factors behind the various sovereignty disputes that Japan is engaged in is a lack of public education, and a lack of expert advice from U.S.-style foreign policy think tanks, which could help Diet members formulate appropriate policies.

Tokyo is at loggerheads with Beijing over the Senkaku islets, with Seoul over Dokdo/Takeshima, and with Moscow about three islands and an islet group off northern Hokkaido seized by Soviet troops at the end of the war.

While all three territorial disputes have rumbled on for decades, the first two have flared alarmingly in recent weeks.

Hashimoto noted that because Japanese children, unlike their Chinese and South Korean counterparts, do not learn about these issues in school, they are unable to articulate their views and argue their position effectively. Diet members present at the debate also noted that there are no opportunities at present to tap the kind of expert advice that lawmakers in the U.S. Congress receive from outside analysts.

"The creation of foreign policy think tanks like the (Washington-based) Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies is vital," said Lower House member Kenta Matsunami, who quit the LDP to join Hashimoto's national party. Nippon Ishin no Kai plans to continue the public debates in the weeks ahead, focusing on different themes each time. The Osaka-based party has also announced it will open a Tokyo branch office Tuesday near the Diet building.

But how effective the party will prove in dealing with the central government and Tokyo-based media groups remains to be seen, as all major policy decisions will continue to be made by Hashimoto, Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, who doubles as Osaka's governor, and its Osaka-based executive.

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The Japan Times

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