The dispute between Japan and China over the sovereignty issue involving the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea has caused bilateral ties to plummet. China is repeatedly violating Japanese territorial waters and airspace around the islands. Japan needs to enhance its ability to protect its territorial waters and airspace in the area. More importantly, the Abe administration must make strenuous diplomatic efforts to find opportunities to talk quietly with China in an effort to put bilateral relations back on a normal path.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe included in his Cabinet political allies who have expressed a hawkish stance on territorial issues. This, combined with Mr. Abe’s call for revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and exercising the right to collective self-defense, has raised concerns among Chinese officials.
But after his Liberal Democratic Party’s overwhelming victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, Mr. Abe said that since the Japan-China relations are extremely important, he would like to make efforts to return bilateral ties to the “initial point of mutually beneficial strategic relations.”
It is hoped that the prime minister will take concrete steps in this direction. In the election campaign, the LDP proposed stationing public servants on the Senkaku Islands. Fortunately, the Abe administration has put off implementing this reckless election promise, which would further damage bilateral ties.
It must be remembered that “mutually beneficial strategic relations” are the concept that Japan and China adopted when Mr. Abe visited Beijing in the fall of 2006 immediately after starting his first tenure as prime minister. Bilateral ties had frozen due to his predecessor Mr. Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of the Japanese war dead and Class-A war criminals are enshrined.
China seems to hope that Mr. Abe will again make moves aimed at thawing chilly ties. Following the prime minister’s remarks after the election, a press spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry called for efforts on the part of Japan to return to a policy line of overcoming the difficulties in bilateral ties and developing ties in a normal manner. Mr. Abe should strive to deepen dialogue with China and make efforts to forge strong personal ties with Chinese leader Mr. Xi Jinping.
At the same time, Japan should strive to counter voices in the international community that are attempting to undermine the legitimacy of Japan’s possession of the Senkaku Islands.
Japan’s ultimate goal should be to turn the seas around the islands into an area that produces mutual benefits for both Japan and China through fishing and the exploitation of underground natural resources. To this end, Japan should pay serious attention to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s call for talks among China, Taiwan and Japan for joint development of the seas around the Senkaku Islands and for shelving the sovereignty issue.