Japan and China should “freeze” their differences over the Senkaku Islands and focus on economic matters to improve strained relations, former Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa said.
“Neither of us can compromise on those uninhabited islands even by 1 millimeter,” Niwa said in a speech in Tokyo on Friday, referring to the East China Sea islet chain administered by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls it Diaoyu.
“Do we have to resolve the issue in five years? No.” Niwa said. “Maybe 100 years later. So let us freeze the issue and do whatever we can on the economic front.”
Since Tokyo purchased three of the chain’s five main islets from a private Saitama owner in September 2012, China has sent patrol ships into their surrounding waters in an attempt to undermine Japan’s hold on the Senkakus.
Niwa said that separating politics from the economy and putting greater emphasis, for example, on promoting joint development of natural resources and increasing bilateral exchanges between young people and local authorities, is the only way for Japan and China to improve ties.
Niwa,who served as ambassador to China from June 2010 through December 2012, urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold talks when Xi hosts a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November.
“The leaders of the neighboring countries have never met in a year and half. It is an abnormal situation,” Niwa said. “The world is laughing, saying, ‘What are they thinking about?’ Some in the United States are even saying that a war may soon break out (between Japan and China).”
Abe and Xi have yet to hold official talks since Xi was appointed general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012 and Abe became prime minister the following month. Abe has expressed eagerness to hold talks with Xi during the APEC summit.
But Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-highest ranking member of the Communist Party, said May 9 it will be difficult for Tokyo and Beijing to improve ties unless Abe pledges not to visit war-related Yasukuni Shrine again and his government officially recognizes the existence of “a territorial dispute” over the Senkakus.