Departing envoy urges China to put economic ties over Senkaku dispute


Departing Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa urged Beijing to value its economic and business ties with Tokyo despite the heightened tensions over the Senkaku Islands, dismissing views in China that it no longer needs Japan’s help to develop its economy.

“If such views prevail (in China), it would be an extremely arrogant attitude,” Niwa told reporters at the embassy Monday, two days before he was due to depart for home. “Such a thing would not happen in a globalized economy.”

Citing rising economic interdependence between China and Japan, especially in trade and investment, Niwa said it will be difficult for China to promote its economy without exports, noting Beijing can still learn a lot from Japan economically, such as worker training and software development.

A former president of trading house Itochu Corp. with experience in international business, Niwa compared the views in China with slogans such as “Japan as No. 1” that prevailed in Japan in the 1980s in which some Japanese expressed confidence that the country could achieve economic growth without the United States.

After 28 months as the first Japanese ambassador to China from the private sector, Niwa will be replaced by Masato Kitera, a former assistant chief Cabinet secretary.

Niwa said the Japanese and Chinese governments must “squarely face the reality” that the two countries will never give up their basic positions about the Senkaku Islands and therefore consider what they can do to improve relations “in a forward-looking manner” through, for example, expansion of youth exchanges.

China claims the islets have been an inherent part of its territory since ancient times, while Japan, which took the islets under its control in 1895, maintains they are an integral part of its territory and refuses to acknowledge there is even a territorial dispute.

“Japan, as a country, will not compromise its basic position even an inch,” Niwa said. “But it is extremely important that the two sides deal with the issue calmly from broader perspectives, maintain and strengthen communications so as not to further aggravate relations and escalate the tension, and exercise restraint and take responsible measures.”

He said the two countries share responsibility for ensuring peace and stability in East Asia and the world as major powers, adding no one would benefit if tensions spin out of control.

Niwa expressed hope China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping will share such thinking and make efforts with Japan to manage bilateral relations from a broader perspective.

“Without closing the channel of communications, the two countries should patiently and calmly try to improve national sentiment and steadily continue exchanges,” he said. “I’m convinced that continuation — and expansion — of youth exchanges, for example, would create an opportunity for ice-breaking.

“But if each side keeps saying, ‘Japan is bad’ or ‘China is bad,’ nothing will happen. It will only hurt both countries,” he said.

Relations have sharply deteriorated since the Japanese government bought three of the Senkakus from their private owner in September, effectively nationalizing the chain. The action sparked a series of anti-Japan demonstrations across China.

The two governments have kept channels of communications open, but China has suspended economic, cultural and other exchanges with Japan and consistently sends patrol ships into waters around the islands.