Tokyo eyes prime island real
estate By Kosuke Takahashi
TOKYO - Although this year marks the 40th
anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic
relations between Japan and China, storm clouds
have gathered in the East China Sea.
Governor Shintaro Ishihara, 79, a long-time
hardline conservative who always calls China
"Shina", a derogatory Japanese term, has said the
Tokyo metropolitan government will buy three of
the disputed Senkaku Islands, irritating Beijing.
Ishihara is connected by marriage to former Japanese prime minister Junichiro
Koizumi, who paid frequent visits to the Yasukuni
shrine - which honors Japan's war dead, included
convicted war criminals - which were strongly
criticized by China
and South Korea.
Ishihara's surprising comments could
dampen improving relations with China, which hit
their lowest point in years in late 2010 in the
wake of the arrest and eventual release of a
Chinese fishing boat captain near the disputed
Senkaku Islands (known by China as the Diaoyu
While the Chinese government is
still showing restraint in its response to the
eccentric Japanese politician's behavior, current
Sino-Japanese political ties could be tested
further if Ishihara goes ahead with the planned
"Tokyo will protect the Senkaku
Islands, whatever other nations dislike," Ishihara
said on Monday during his visit to Washington at
the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US
think-tank. "Who dares to complain about Japanese
nationals trying to defend Japan's soil?"
The disputed Senkaku Islands are about 400
kilometers from both Okinawa's main island and
Fuzhou, capital of southeast China's Fujian
province. Going by Japan's administrative
boundary, the islands belong to Ishigaki city of
The island chain
consists of five uninhabited islands -
Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima, Minami-Kojima, Kubajima
and Taishojima - plus a scattering of rocks
nearby. Only Taishojima is owned by the Japanese
government, while the other four islands are owned
by Japanese citizens.
The Japanese central
government has rented Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima
and Minami-Kojima from their private owner since
2002 by paying 24.5 million yen (US$300,000) as an
annual rental fee in order to maintain and control
their stability. Kubajima and Taishojima were used
as firing ranges by US armed forces.
China and Taiwan started to claim sovereignty over
the Senkaku Islands in the 1970s, after the United
Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far
East issued a report in 1969 indicating the
possibility of abundant natural resources such as
oil and gas reserves on the seabed around the
islands. The area is a major fishing ground.
Ishihara said the Tokyo metropolitan
government had already reached a basic agreement
with landowners on buying the three islands of
Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima,
adding, ''If we leave them as they are, we don't
know what will happen to the islands.''
if motivated by Ishihara's move, Prime Minister
Yoshihiko Noda on Wednesday suggested that the
central government would not rule out the
possibility of buying the disputed Senkaku Islands
from their current private owners.
asked at a Diet (parliament) session about the
possibility of nationalizing the islands, Noda
said, "We want to consider every option while
fully ascertaining the intentions of the current
China has warned that Ishihara's
plan would not only harm Japan's ties with China,
but also its international standing.
do not wish such statements in Japan to encroach
on China's sovereignty and harm China-Japan ties,"
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a
regular news briefing. "A few politicians have
repeatedly made such statements. I believe they
not only damage the overall state of China-Japan
relations but also harm Japan's international
image." China is Japan's largest trading partner.
Unlike in the 2010 Senkaku boat collision incident, China still seems to avoid overacting because doing so could play into the hands of nationalistic Ishihara.
Ishihara also drew anger among Taiwanese,
with the island's Foreign Ministry issuing a
protest against Ishihara's intention to buy the
"The Tiaoyutais are the inherent
territory of the Republic of China and we have
sovereignty over them," Ministry of Foreign
Affairs spokesman James Chang said. In Taiwan, the
islands are called the Tiaoyutais.
Ishihara's comments also caused
bewilderment among political circles in Tokyo.
"Ishihara's plan has no reality," a
lawmaker who served as a deputy chief cabinet
secretary and a vice minister in recent
administrations told Asia Times Online on
condition of anonymity. "If diplomatic and
security problems occur in the wake of Tokyo's
purchase of those islands, what can Tokyo do
actually? I think he just floated a trial balloon to see the public reaction."
"Ishihara is really a
troublemaker," political analyst Minoru Morita
told Asia Times Online. "He wants to gain
popularity by stirring up anti-Chinese feeling
among Japanese people. This is just childish
"The Japanese media just
genuflect before Ishihara," Morita said. "Instead
of criticizing him, the media are stirring up
According to Morita,
Ishihara is now confronted with a hopeless
situation in bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympic
Games for Tokyo after the lavish and unsuccessful
campaigns by Ishihara regarding Tokyo's bid for
the 2016 Olympics.
"By fanning Beijing's
flames of ire, Ishihara aims to blame China for
his mistake on the Olympics," Morita said.
In the whirlwind of international
politics, domestic politics do matter. With the
popularity of the ruling the Democracy Party of
Japan declining in the run-up to general
elections, which must be held by the end of August
2013, Ishihara is reportedly willing to return to
national politics. He is widely believed to head a
new political party in the near future. Many
seasoned lawmakers seem ready to move to join that
He also has developed a personal
collaborative relationship with Osaka Mayor Toru
Hashimoto, who heads Osaka Ishin no Kai, or the
Osaka Restoration Association, the Japanese
version of the US Tea Party .
Magosaki, the former chief of the Japanese Foreign
Ministry's international intelligence bureau, also
criticized the Tokyo governor.
wrote in his book on Japanese territorial issues
that both Chinese and Japanese national leaders
such as Deng Xiaoping had shelved the territorial
dispute over the Senkaku Islands wisely.
"Japan currently controls and administers
the islands," Magosaki said. "There is no need for
Japan to rock the boat."
Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese
journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also
writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo
correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke
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