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Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012

Ex-ambassador to China calls for Senkakus talks


Former Japanese Ambassador to China Yuji Miyamoto has called on Tokyo and Beijing to open talks soon to lessen the soaring tensions over the Senkaku Islands sovereignty clash.

News photo
Talk it out: Yuji Miyamoto, former ambassador to China, is interviewed Tuesday in Tokyo. KYODO

In an interview, Miyamoto, who was ambassador to China from 2006 to 2010 and is being pushed by the government to succeed the late Shinichi Nishimiya, said he believes Japan's refusal to enter into dialogue with China over the disputed isles is "not a realistic response."

Nishimiya died from acute heart failure Sept. 16, just days after being appointed the new ambassador.

Japan, which has jurisdiction over the Senkakus, considers the East China Sea islets as an inherent part of its territory and claims there is no dispute over their sovereignty, even though they are claimed by both China and Taiwan.

The government does not need to alter its basic position, the 66-year-old Miyamoto said, but "in reality, a conflict does exist over the Senkaku isles."

"Unless the two countries accept this fact and launch talks, there will be no breakthrough," he warned. "But if the Japanese government starts dialogue (with China), it may face domestic criticism that it has backed down, so a political decision will need to be made" about the proposal.

The former ambassador said that if talks concerning the territorial rift begin, Japan will "need to win some" concessions from China in exchange for entering negotiations. For instance, Tokyo could urge Beijing to compromise over the planned joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea, he said.

Miyamoto said China believes the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda purchased and nationalized three of the islets to strengthen Japan's control of them, and added he is not convinced by its explanation that the move was necessary to prevent the Tokyo Metropolitan Government from buying them instead.

In April, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a hawk known for his vehement anti-China views, startled both countries by announcing that the metro government planned to purchase the three major islets of Uotsuri, Minamikojima and Kitakojima from a private Japanese landowner by the end of the year to protect the nation's territory.

"China is obsessed with the idea that the Japanese government and Ishihara colluded behind the scenes to promote the nationalization" of the Senkakus, Miyamoto explained. "Beijing has since been implementing countermeasures to warn Tokyo" against any further moves regarding the isles' status.

He said the recent incursion into Japanese territorial waters near the islet group by Chinese surveillance vessels is "based on China's clear intention" to deter such steps by Japan, and that the maritime incidents will likely continue, threatening Japan's effective control of the islands.

Miyamoto called for the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard to be deployed to bolster maritime defenses around the islets "as a way of effectively advancing diplomatic negotiations."

However, Japan should be careful not to trigger a regional arms race through such measures, he cautioned.

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