BEIJING – In a new ripple to Japan’s assertion of ownership of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, former chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said leaders from Japan and China had agreed to shelve the territory row when the two countries normalized relations in the early 1970s.
The remark by the former Liberal Democratic heavyweight, a disciple of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, who cut the normalization deal with Beijing in 1972, contradicts the government’s official stance that there was no such agreement at the time.
Nonaka, who is leading a delegation of current and former Diet members on a visit to China, told reporters Monday, “Just after the normalization of relations, I was told clearly by then-Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka that a decision was made on the normalization by shelving the Senkaku issue.
“As a living witness, I would like to make clear (what I heard),” Nonaka said after meeting in Beijing with Liu Yunshan, the fifth-ranked leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
Liu is said to have told the delegation that Japan is responsible for the current confrontation with China. Apparently aiming to have Japan acknowledge at least the existence of a bilateral territorial dispute, Liu also reportedly said he hopes to see a solution reached through dialogue between the two governments.
In Tokyo, top officials reiterated the government’s view that the Senkakus are not an issue Japan should put on the shelf since no territorial dispute exists.
“There is no truth (to the remark) that (Japan) agreed with China to shelve or maintain the status quo of the Senkaku Islands,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, reiterating Tokyo’s position that no territorial dispute exists.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also repeated the same line: “It is not the case that to this day, we have agreed to shelve (the dispute), nor has there been a territorial dispute that should be shelved in the first place.”
Kishida declined to directly comment on Nonaka’s remarks on the grounds that they were made in a private capacity.