On November 1, the Wall Street Journal carried an article urging President Barack Obama to acknowledge, on behalf of the US government, that the “Senkaku islands” (Diaoyu Islands) are Japanese territories. Responding to the article, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on November 4, “the US is not a party concerned in the Diaoyu Islands dispute and it should stay neutral in the dispute.” “We have noticed that the US government has repeatedly reiterated that it will not take sides on the sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands,” he added.
This writer also noticed that the US government has since reaffirmed that “the US’ stance on the Diaoyu islands dispute has not changed” in apparent reference to the WSJ article.
The WSJ article is a reminder of its publication on July 27, 2012 of an ad run by Japanese extreme right-winger Shintaro Ishihara touting for “purchase of the Senkakus”. One cannot help asking WSJ what it is up to, who it wants to encourage and who it wants to cause trouble for?
Japanese fall into three categories in terms of their attitudes towards Diaoyu Islands. The first group consists of Ishihara and his likes, who preach a war with China “at all costs”. The second group includes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his followers, who in their hearts dare not fight a war with China but assume a hard-line posture in an attempt to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and promote military buildup. The third is a group of politicians and retired officials who are rational, of clear intellect and with ideals. They are working enthusiastically for a peaceful settlement of the islands dispute.
The WSJ article is undoubtedly a connivance to the first group, an encouragement to the second and a damper on the third.
Ishihara is the initiator of the islands dispute. In May 2010, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told a gathering of the country’s local governors that “the problem of the Senkaku’s ownership has to be discussed with China.” His remarks infuriated Ishihara, who was then governor of Tokyo. He called Hatoyama an “unprecedentedly impudent prime minister”. He then launched a campaign on the Internet to depose what he called “a traitor prime minister.” The abusive clamor was strong enough to silence all those who admit that “there is a territorial problem” with China. “Territorial dispute” has become a taboo for Japanese politicians.
In April 2012, Ishihara made a speech in Washington announcing that Tokyo would “purchase” the Diaoyu Islands. He said that “China’s opposition to the purchase is almost a declaration of war against Japan.” In November 2012, a Japanese scholar published a book revealing that Ishihara attempted to provoke China and the United States into a war so that the Great Japanese Empire could be reincarnated. However, both China and the US are clear-minded. They wouldn’t fall into the snare to allow the “empire” an opportunity to rise again. That’s why China has exercised “tactical restraint” and the US has repeatedly stated that it “does not take sides” on the sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.
Abe is an ambitious politician. He is so eager to rebuild a powerful Japan that he pushes for a larger budget for military expenditure even though the country is mired in severe debt crisis. He used the so-called China threat to coax voters into agreeing to his arms expansion plans. But as the head of Japan’s government, Abe is fully aware of the consequences of a war with China. Whatever the outcome in the battlefield, the Japanese society will be plunged into great panic and his own political career will be ruined. What’s more, the current state of cold relationship with China both politically and economically is detrimental to his efforts to push “Abeconomics” and strive for a betterment of the Japanese economy. Turning back the wheel of history on the issue of Japan’s aggressive past has not only harmed the country’s relations with China and the Republic of Korea but also caused alertness on the part of the United States, for the memory of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II is still fresh in the minds of American people.
Abe’s China diplomacy has a dual nature. On the one hand, it contains a stubborn hostility; on the other, it shows some flexibility with an attempt to mend ties with China. The above-mentioned article of WSJ only serves as a boost to the hostility. Ishihara will use the article to contend that the US has taken side and thus encourage Abe to go further on the road of military venture.
Different from Ishihara and Abe’s pseudo patriotism, people with rationality, intellect and insight are genuinely concerned about the nation’s safety. They abound in official, political, financial and academic circles, including those who are close to Abe. They know clearly that once Japan and China go to war, the conflict would spiral out of control to become a war with no winner. Japan produces only 4 percent of energy and 27 percent of grains it needs. A war with its neighbor will easily cut off its overseas supply. Whatever marine route the supply fleets will follow, the “last nautical mile” is in the country’s coastal waters.
Feng Zhaokui is honorary academician of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.