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Japan & China: a couple that can’t get divorced, says former Ambassador


Jan 28, 2013

“The Sino-Japanese relation is not a married couple having an argument.”  

Former Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa, January 28th, 2013

 For thousands of years, China and Japan have been neighboring countries. Former Japanese ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, at a press conference held today in Tokyo, explained it is not possible for nations to simply move away from one another.  “A married couple might be able to choose the path of divorce and decide to live far away from each other, but Japan and China have no choice but to move to a friendly way towards the future. Despite all the disagreement and disorder, they must work very hard to maintain a friendly relationship to go forward with regard to sovereignty or territorial issues.”  Worldwide, there are currently some 370 territorial disputes existing, he explained. Except for a few cases, there have been almost no examples of a nation ceding territorial right on its own volition.

Former Japanese ambassador to China says that Japan and China are like a couple that got married. (Presumably, a Catholic wedding.)
Former Japanese ambassador to China says that Japan and China are like a couple that got married. (Presumably, a Catholic wedding.)

All this said, Japan and China have a long history of territorial disputes over the so-called Senkaku islands (in Japanese) and Diaoyu islands (in Chinese.) And it is not as simple as explaining the recent social movements exploding in both nations as being a burst of nationalism or fascism.

Of course, Japan has its nationalist fanatics as well.There are politicians such as Shintaro Ishihara, the former governor of Tokyo, who openly accuses Beijing of being “robbers”  and said that “China has announced its intent to rob someone’s house by force,” at a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo on May 29, last year.

“As it has caused similar diplomatic troubles in the past, we must prepare to lock up our door tighter,” he said, according to the Asahi Shinbun‘s “Asia and Japan Watch”.

In Japan, even the chairman of the Japan Communist Party (JCP) executive committee reiterated its 2010 statement on Japan’s legitimate possession of the Senkaku Islands, based on history and international law.

In 2010, the JCP stated, “Japan declared on January 14, 1895 that it incorporated the Senkaku Islands into Japanese territory. This act was totally justified as ‘occupation’ of terra nullius, whose legitimacy was recognized under international law.”

 Although China claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, the biggest problem with its argument is the fact that for 75 years, from 1895 to 1970, China never raised any objections or made protest in regard to Japan’s territorial rights over the islands.

China also argues that the disputed islands are part of China’s territory as islands belonging to Taiwan and unjustly taken over by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War. The Senkaku Islands were however not included among the territories that Japan took from China.

China puts the Senkaku Islands territorial issue in the same category as the cession of Taiwan.

 Japan’s Nationalization of the un-habited islands: “I did not know everything”

The former Japanese ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa was the only government member to actively warn his country over Shintaro Ihshara’s plan to purchase the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. He said at a press conference at the FCCJ this Monday, that with regard to the recent “heat up” provoked by the Noda government after its decision to nationalize the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands instead of purchasing them, the decision taken by the Japanese government at that time made him reflect on the problem.

“What exactly was the information held by the Japanese government, and in which environment it found itself at the time?” As ambassador, he of course had access to information, he added however that, “Based on the information that I had, I could not understand why the Japanese government rushed making that decision in one or two days, and why at that moment in time. It could be that the Prime Minister’s office had access to knowledge that I did not have. And I have not asked the Japanese government.” Stressing that to his personal point of view, it was not an adequate decision to make at that moment, he explained that the ownership rights were “transferred accordingly to Japanese domestic law from personal possession to national government possession.” The Japanese government took the same kind of approach in taking the land of inhabitants and farmers on which the current international airport of Narita is built, back in the 1970s. After Japan decided to nationalize the uninhabited island instead, the Sino-Japanese relations have been to their lowest point in years.

 “By the time of the cherry blossoms flower, the weather will be warmer and the ice will melt”

 Other relations, such as economic development between Japan and China have entered a very difficult phase. Japan is China’s most important trading partner. The Former Japanese ambassador to China, and also former Chairman of the major trading house, Itochu Corp., emphasized the importance of the joint declaration and normalization of the two nations issued in 1972 and recommended similar steps forward. “Forty years ago, we had only ten thousand people going back and forth between Japan and China, the number rose to 5.4 million after the joint normalization of 1972. The amount of trade between our two nations has jumped from about one billion yen at that time, to 340 billion yen, and the number of Japanese companies operating in China is up to twenty thousand currently.”

Mr. Niwa said that based on his long experience with China and based on the information and knowledge he has on the situation between the two nations today, “People get tired after fighting for such a long time not knowing how can this situation, where no one is willing to bow their heads.” Comparing China and Japan to a married couple, he suggested the leaders from both countries become wiser and learn from history and told journalists, intriguingly, that “there are movements underneath the surface of things”, which is why he foresees improvement “around the cherry blossom season.” He suggested the two nations “take a break.”

 A “big political crime”

Mr. Niwa explained that it would be a “political crime,” if the intent of the leaders of Japan and China in their efforts in looking at a future ends up destroying or damaging the relations between the two nations, applying the comment to both parties. Mr. Niwa said it was a hard job to be the Ambassador to China from Japan. He did not compare himself to a marriage counselor. However, just to give you an idea of how tough the job is, last September, Mr. Uichiro Niwa’s successor Shin’ichi Nishimiya (60) collapsed near his domicile in Tokyo and had to undergo surgery. He died the same month.

This Monday, Japanese and US officials also met in Tokyo to dissuade North Korea to conduct a third nuclear test after Pyongyang’s declaration last week that it will carry a nuclear test of “higher level”, but did not announce when it would conduct it, Kyodo News reported.

Before coming to Japan, the visiting US special envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies visited his counter parts in South Korea and China in the six-way talks, which has been stalled since 2008 to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Kyodo News also reported that it is unclear what a nuclear test of “higher level” means, “some observers say it may mean the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead that could be delivered on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in October 2006 and May 2009.


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