NAGATO, YAMAGUCHI PREF. – Incoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided Saturday not to station officials on the Senkaku Islands to avoid further aggravating ties with China, at least for the time being.
The head of the Liberal Democratic Party, which scored a landslide victory in last week’s general election, said during campaigning that the party would consider permanently posting officials on the uninhabited Senkakus to strengthen Japan’s control over the island chain, which is also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Despite the flip-flop, however, Abe told reporters that “there is no change in our thinking” about stationing officials on the East China Sea islets.
Abe pledged to take a tough stance over the dispute but has been toning down his hawkish rhetoric since winning the Lower House election. LDP sources said Friday the party will also postpone a state-sponsored event in February intended to promote Japan’s claim to the Takeshima Islands controlled by South Korea, which calls them Dokdo, in the Sea of Japan.
The territorial flare-ups have been major sources of friction with Beijing and Seoul in recent months.
Chinese vessels have been moving in and out of Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands since the government purchased a major portion of them in mid-September from a private owner. Meanwhile, outgoing South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s unprecedented visit to the Takeshima isles in August chilled bilateral relations with Seoul.
“The bilateral relationship with China is one of Japan’s most crucial” diplomatic policies, Abe said. “We want to make efforts to reset ties and start developing a mutually reciprocal relationship (with Beijing).”
Abe is intending to send LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura — head of the Diet Members League for Friendship of Japan and China — as a special envoy to Beijing, given his ties with Chinese officials, according to sources familiar with the matter.