BEIJING – Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama urged the government on Wednesday to acknowledge a territorial dispute exists with China over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
“The Japanese government says there are no territorial disputes (between the two countries). But if you look at history, there is a dispute,” Hatoyama told reporters after talks in Beijing with Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body.
“While acknowledging different views and the existence of a dispute with each other, it is important (for the two governments to) seek an answer” through dialogue, said Hatoyama, known as a pro-China figure who pursued a more Asia-centered foreign policy when he briefly led Japan between September 2009 and June 2010.
“If you keep saying, ‘There is no territorial dispute,’ you will never get an answer,” he said.
His remarks, which he made in separate meetings with both Jia and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, run counter to Japan’s official position that “there exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday, “it was very regrettable that the comment came from someone who has served as prime minister.”
China has pressed Japan to acknowledge the existence of a dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which Tokyo has administered for decades.
Hatoyama said besides Japan acknowledging a territorial dispute over the uninhabited islets, known as Diaoyu in China, the two countries should “return to the shelving” of issues related to the islets in an effort to repair soured ties. Hatoyama said Jia and Yang share his view.
Hatoyama advocated talks between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party who is set to replace Hu Jintao as the president in March, as well as talks between both sides’ foreign ministers, at an early date.
Hatoyama quoted Jia as telling him that Beijing wants Abe’s government to draw a solid answer to the Senkaku issue, and that China and Japan must address it through dialogue.
Jia also said the two countries should value their strategic relationship of mutual benefit and continue efforts to develop it.
Hatoyama, who did not run in the general election for the House of Representatives in December, is on a four-day visit to China through Friday in his private capacity at the invitation of a Chinese academic organization.
Hatoyama on Thurday visited a memorial hall in Nanjing dedicated to victims of the Nanjing Massacre, a mass killing of civilians by Imperial Japanese Army soldiers that occurred in 1937 during the war. He is the third former Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial, after Toshiki Kaifu and Tomiichi Murayama.