Re-selling disputed isles won't help mend ties

Re-selling disputed isles won't help mend ties

I disagree with Professor Kishore Mahbubani's comment ("'Sell' those islands and buy better relations"; MyPaper, Dec 30) that Japan will be able to mend ties with China by re-selling the disputed islands.

Firstly, the Chinese government had made it very clear via its spokesman when Mr Yoshihiko Noda's government bought the disputed islands in 2012 that Chinese land and sovereignty are not for other people to buy or sell. Re-selling the islands - whether to a private Japanese foundation or environmental group - would further raise tension because it will be perceived by the Chinese as another provocative act by the hawkish Abe government, especially after Mr Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine.

Secondly, China and Japan would never go back to the past status quo where China quietly accepted Japanese patrols in the area. Joint control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands by both the Chinese and the Japanese is the new status quo now. Strategically, it's a win for the Chinese as Chinese Coast Guard ships are also patrolling that area now.

The sooner the Japanese government recognises the new status quo, the quicker both countries may reach a reconciliation.

Thirdly, Prof Mahbubani's suggestion to take the issue to the International Court of Justice, as offered to the Korean government, is definitely not an option. The mentality of the Japanese government on the Diaoyu/Senkaku row is as simple as this: I am not going to bring it up for arbitration because I am already controlling the islands - though this so-called "control" is shared with the Chinese patrol vessels.

A favourable verdict for the Japanese is not guaranteed, should both governments proceed with arbitration.

Many people may not realise that the Japanese government doesn't actually own the sovereign rights to those islands. The basis of the Japanese government's claims is the San Francisco Treaty signed in 1951, which was never recognised by either the Nationalist or the communist Chinese government at that time.

Fourthly, the relationship between China and the Abe government will still be chilly, if not freezing. China had made its message clear to Mr Abe at a daily news briefing on Monday that "the Chinese people don't welcome such a Japanese leader and the Chinese leadership will not meet him at any occasion".

The year 2014 may hold extra-bitter memories for the Chinese as it is the 120th anniversary of the "Jia Wu Sea War" - also called the 1895 Sino-Japanese War.

Many Chinese historical and strategy scholars hold the view that Japan had deterred China's rejuvenation twice in history - the 1895 war and Japan's 1937 invasion of China - and they believe Japan is playing the same trick again.

The Sino-Japanese relationship will not be rosy any time soon. However, one should be aware that rows between China and Japan show China's counter-balance to United States President Barack Obama's pivot to Asia.

Like a chess game, the real players are China and the US. Hence, the US plays a key role in the future relationship between China and Japan.

Gao Dasong

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