~The majority of Japanese citizens are justifiably concerned about Chinese behavior.~
Japan’s official response to provocative public statements made by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi concerning the Senkaku Islands during his recent two-day trip to Tokyo amounted to little more than a “sheepish grin.”
During a joint press conference with Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on November 25 at the conclusion of the trip, Wang went unchallenged when he unabashedly asserted that the Senkaku Islands are China’s sovereign territory and that Japanese fishing vessels should stay clear of the area.
Can such conduct of foreign policy towards China be considered adequate when Japan has promised to work with the United States, Australia and India to guarantee a “free and open Indo-Pacific region?”
Although Motegi repeatedly characterized the contents of his meetings with Wangーthat among other things, yielded agreement on reciprocal resumption of trips by business travelersーas “frank and substantive,” they certainly are no cause for joy.
Prime Minister Yoshide Suga and Foreign Minister Motegi should have clearly conveyed the outrage and concern of Japan and the international community concerning various forms of questionable Chinese behavior. They neglected the opportunity to get China to reflect upon and reconsider its behavior.
Instead, they chose to stand aside speechlessly as Wang ranted and raved. The joint communique issued at the press conference stated that Japan and China had mutually embraced a determination not to become a threat to the other side. Yet today’s China does not show the least inclination to abide by that spirit.
Beijing continues to send public vessels into the waters around the Senkakus with an eye to claiming them as its own, while repeatedly challenging Self-Defense Force aircraft and ships in the East China Sea and other areas.
Wang said China would “protect our country’s sovereignty” and demanded that Japan “avoid behavior that will complicate the situation in these sensitive waters.” That is akin to an arsonist yelling “Fire!” and blocking the bucket brigade.
In regards to the waters around the Senkaku Islands, Motegi said that he had explained the position of the Japanese side and strongly requested that the Chinese side act in a helpful manner. What he did not doーbut should have doneーwas demand that the Chinese government ships immediately leave the area.
During his meetings with Wang, Motegi did bring up Japan’s concerns about a number of issues, such as stripping the rights to hold office of members of the democracy camp in Hong Kong, and asked China to abide by its promises under the “one country, two systems” formula.
He also asked China to shed light on the human rights situation in the Uyghur Autonomous Region in China’s far northwest province of Xinjiang.
That effort was commendable, but Japan needs to show more openness both at home and abroad about the contents of the talks on these issues.
Prime Minister Suga emphasized to Wang the importance of bilateral relations. However, he too brought up Japan’s concerns about the repeated forays by Chinese government ships into the waters around the Senkakus and the situation in Hong Kong.
Following the talks, Wang said that he did not want to see the Senkakus issue influence the development of bilateral ties.
However, as long as China continues its interference in the Senkakus, that amounts to nothing more than self-serving excuse-making on the part of Beijing. We must beware of the siren song of Chinese sweet talk and the dangers of pursuing “harmonious relations” on Chinese terms.
The simple fact is that Japan and China will not be able to forge truly friendly relations absent progress in solving issues related to the Senkakus and South China Sea, as well as human rights concerns such as the imprisonment of Hong Kong democracy advocates.
The majority of Japanese citizens are justifiably concerned about Chinese behavior. Unless such concerns are addressed, a visit to Japan by China’s President Xi Jinping will also remain unacceptable.
(Read the editorial here, in its original Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun