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Rumored China-Russia tieup testing DPJ’s ability

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo News

BEIJING — As a fresh diplomatic tiff brews with Russia over President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the disputed islands off Hokkaido, Beijing appears to continue playing hardball with Tokyo over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“Japan is unable to afford having tensions with China and Russia at the same time,” Liu Junhong, a researcher at the Institute of Japanese Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, was quoted as saying Tuesday in the Global Times, a sister publication of the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily.

“It’s time for Japanese politicians to reflect on their diplomatic policy and sort out a solution,” Liu was quoted as saying, a remark seen as suggesting Tokyo should compromise on the Senkaku Islands.

Calling the Japan-Russia row a “bilateral issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists Tuesday that Beijing hopes the two countries will deal appropriately with the dispute over the Russian-held islands claimed by Japan “through a friendly dialogue.”

But some analysts suspect China and Russia may have built a “tacit tieup” against Japan to take advantage of the Democratic Party of Japan’s diplomatic inexperience and deterioration in Japan-U.S. ties over the relocation of the Futenma air base in Okinawa.

Behind such speculation was a meeting between President Hu Jintao and Medvedev in Beijing on Sept. 27 during which they signed a joint statement calling for “mutual support for each other’s core interests, including national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.”

Japan-China relations were already under strain over Tokyo’s arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain following maritime collisions Sept. 7 near the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu. Japan eventually freed the captain and relations don’t appear to have worsened since.

Medvedev said Sept. 29 that he would “soon” visit the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, sparking warnings from Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and other Japanese officials.

Besides Monday’s stop on Kunashiri Island, which drew strong protests from Tokyo, Medvedev plans to visit more of the islands, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying Tuesday by the Interfax news agency.

Sources familiar with Japan-China relations say that while Beijing recognizes it would be difficult to take control of the Senkaku Islands, its initial goal is to shift Tokyo’s stance that the islands are an integral part of Japan and that no territorial dispute exists.

“Tokyo should not slam the door on ‘common development’ (in and around the islands). Instead, it should acknowledge the existing dispute, respect historical facts and seek bilateral dialogue with China,” Liu Jiangyong, a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, said in a one-page special on the dispute Oct. 27 in the China Daily that also presented views of four other experts.

One of them, Hu Feiyue, special guest commentator for the paper, said, “Since Japan has been continually strengthening its control over the Diaoyu Islands, it is not enough for China to only send patrol boats to the islands. Instead, China should continue to modernize its navy.

“Considering Japan’s actions and the effect of China’s countermeasures, Beijing should think of employing another strategy,” Hu said without elaborating.