BEIJING – A Chinese scholar affiliated with the military told a nonpartisan group Japanese lawmakers earlier this month that the group of islands at the center of their fierce bilateral dispute is a “core interest” of Beijing, sources said Monday.
The scholar from the China Institute for International Strategic Studies, headed by Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told the lawmakers in Beijing that the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan for more than 100 years in the East China Sea, are “within the range of its core interests,” sources close to the meeting said.
China has traditionally reserved the term “core interests” for critically important issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, such as Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Beijing is unwilling to compromise on core interests and attaches enough importance to them to resort to force, if necessary.
This is believed to be the first indication from a military-affiliated authority that the islands are viewed as part of China’s core interests.
The Chinese government began openly referring to the uninhabited islands as a core interest in April, but the reference — made at a news conference by a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman — was soon dropped from its official transcripts and Beijing has remained vague on the issue.