Noda leaps in with hint of buying Senkakus

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The central government will consider buying the disputed Senkaku Islands, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Wednesday, adding fuel to a fire already lit by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

Noda’s statement came after Ishihara dropped his bombshell Monday in Washington by revealing that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is trying to buy the islands from its owner “to protect Japanese territory.”

The hawkish governor said he was prompted to make the move as he could no longer stand the central government’s “cowardice” for not taking any action against claims to the islands by China and Taiwan.

During a Lower House Budget Committee session on Wednesday morning, Noda stressed Japan’s control over the islands in the East China Sea. The prime minister also explained that the government has been in contact with an island owner.

“It is as clear as day that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan’s sovereign territory in light of international law and history, and Japan effectively controls them,” Noda said.

The government “will consider everything while confirming the owner’s true intentions over the recent developments.”

At the budget committee, opposition parties grilled the government’s handling of North Korea’s failed missile launch last week.

Questions centered on the government’s delay in announcing the missile launch. While the U.S. and South Korea were quick to confirm the launch, which took place at around 7:40 a.m., it took Tokyo about 40 minutes to make the announcement.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura has repeatedly explained that the lag occurred because the government was trying to double-check the information from the U.S. satellite early warning (SEW) system.

Noda backed Fujimura and said he followed procedures but added that the government needs to review its crisis management system. A special government task force was set up earlier this week to examine how the launch was handled.

“Crisis management must constantly be reviewed. And it is true especially in this case that there is room for improvement in how information should be provided to the public,” Noda said.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, on Wednesday submitted censure motions against transport minister Takeshi Maeda and Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka in the opposition-controlled Upper House. They were set to be adopted as early as Thursday.

Maeda has been the target of criticism for allegedly violating the law and signing documents to solicit a specific candidate in a local election while Tanaka has been blasted for his lack of expertise in military and security issues. Most recently he has been under fire for how he dealt with Pyongyang’s missile launch.

Both ministers have expressed their intention to continue in their posts and Noda has said he backs them.

“Unfortunately, I cannot deny that (Maeda’s action) was careless, but I would like him to fulfill his duties from now on with a sense of urgency,” Noda said.