Three experts on Japan-China relations, who have held talks with Chinese intellectuals on various occasions, discussed on Oct. 3 the background to bilateral relations that have soured in the face of the Senkaku Islands issue and ways of resolving the problem.
The three agreed that Japan and China still have a long way to go before they can settle the Senkaku issue and now need to work out an agreement to avoid a military clash. They also said that while reasonable and cool-headed attitudes are indispensable for a peaceful solution, not only governmental but also private-sector dialogues between the two countries are necessary.
Yasushi Kudo, representative of Genron NPO (editor-in-chief, chairman of the editorial board of Discuss Japan–Japan Foreign Policy Forum)
Yuji Miyamoto, chairman of the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research and former ambassador of Japan to China.
Miyamoto joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after graduating from Kyoto University. He held such ministry posts as director of the China Division in the Asian Affairs Bureau, director general for arms control and scientific affairs (ambassadorial level) and ambassador to Myanmar before assuming the post of ambassador to China in 2006. He has held his current post since 2011.
Akio Takahara, professor at the Graduate Schools for Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo.
After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Takahara received his doctorate from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in Britain, and became a visiting scholar at the Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong. He took his current post after serving as assistant professor at J. F. Oberlin University and professor at Rikkyo University.
Masahiro Akiyama, president of the Tokyo Foundation.
Akiyama joined the Ministry of Finance after graduating from the University of Tokyo. He moved to the Defense Agency in 1991 and assumed various posts, among them deputy director general. He has held his current post since 2012.
Kudo: Relations between Japan and China have deteriorated since the Japanese government’s purchase of the Senkakus on Sept. 11 and protests against the Japanese government are spreading in China. How do you evaluate the government’s move?
Miyamoto: First of all, I feel there is a lack of smooth communication between the Japanese and Chinese governments in various areas. China’s understanding of the word “nationalization” seems a bit strange to me, and it appears that China does not properly understand Japan’s intention. China therefore has shown a stronger reaction than expected by Japan.
China feels outraged because Japan has resorted to “nationalization” despite repeated warnings against it. As Japan-China relations have become more difficult in terms of quality than the soured relations they have experienced in the past, the two governments need to address the problem in a very careful manner.
Kudo: The Japanese government used to lease the islands from a private owner but has purchased them due in part to the owner’s situation. The government thinks the transaction is no more than a change in ownership in Japan. But the deal has led to such a serious confrontation. Why?
Miyamoto: It may be inappropriate simply to conclude that the situation is one of the “differences in the state of affairs” in the two countries. But the two countries are in very different situations.
Under Japan’s legal system, it is possible to change ownership of land from a private citizen to the state. Japanese people therefore do not consider it unusual, knowing well that it is an absolutely different issue from the question of sovereignty. But in China where the concept of land ownership is different, people in general see the Japanese government’s move as a major new step with regard to the question of sovereignty in the form of a territorial claim.
Although “nationalization” is written with the same kanji characters in Japan and China, the issue has been reported with their respective nuances. I think such a gap in perception is one reason for the problem and should be promptly and mutually corrected.
Takahara: In China, there are people who understand Japan’s situation very well. But when they become leaders, they probably wonder if they can explain it to the public even though they understand it in their own minds. As the Chinese government has not explained the situation in detail to the public, it can hardly offer easily understood explanations.
When nationalism is growing stronger, a powerful government may be able to have the public understand the situation, but China’s current weak government in a period of power transition cannot persuade the public. Watching the series of actions China has taken, I really feel the fragility of the current Chinese government.
Akiyama: I must say the Senkaku Islands problem has taken an unfortunate course. I would like to mention two points concerning the so-called conversion of the islets into national property.
First, I think the word “nationalization” should not have been emphasized in this case, as in many other cases, because changes in ownership, like purchases of privately owned land by the state, often occur in Japan. But as we can imagine that the word “nationalization” sounds quite significant in China, I would like to say that mutual misunderstanding of the word has resulted in this extremely unfortunate outcome.
The second point is that the Japanese government bought the privately owned land as it wants the status quo “to remain intact” as much as possible. The act of nationalization was aimed at avoiding big changes. As the Tokyo metropolitan government, led by Governor Shintaro Ishihara, planned to buy the islands, there was no other choice but to nationalize them. It is highly regrettable that a wide gap in perception has been created between Japan and China despite the situation the Japanese government faced.
Kudo: The Japanese government was somewhat troubled as it had to keep Ishihara’s provocative remarks in check. It thus decided to buy the islands. But the decision is meaningless unless China understands it. Should the problem be blamed on the gap in communication or is it impossible in essence to win understanding from China?
Miyamoto: In connection with that question, the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization, has taken up the question of the South China Sea in its policy report, pointing out that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become a policy-implementation, rather than policymaking, organ and that law enforcement agencies are competing with each other to achieve results.
In other words, internal coordination is not working in China, resulting in a complication of the South China Sea case. Many such problems may dovetail with the Senkaku Islands issue, I think. We wonder, therefore, how far Japan’s explanations have reached the top echelon in China and if the unclear mechanism of transmitting information within China’s system may be a big problem at the working level.
Kudo: Don’t you think the Japanese government’s channels for presenting explanations to Chinese leaders are greatly weakening?
Miyamoto: Indeed. Former Japanese leaders, such as prime ministers Noboru Takeshita and Ryutaro Hashimoto, were able to hold high-level communication with China. In this respect, the channels are weakening.
Kudo: I feel not only the problem of communication but also a gap in understanding about “shelving” of the Senkaku Islands problem. To shelve the problem was a kind of wisdom exercised by Japanese and Chinese leaders in order to normalize diplomatic ties between Japan and China. Although the two countries differ on whether there was a diplomatic agreement on this approach, such wisdom has practically permitted Japan to continue effective control of the Senkakus.
Paying heed to this development, the Japanese government needs to explain its move carefully. Even today, however, there are people in Japan who say there was no agreement on shelving the problem. If so, it is questionable whether the maintenance of the status quo between the two countries is justifiable.
Takahara: The question is what was shelved. I may be getting into minor details but Japan has consistently maintained since 1972 that there is no territorial issue. It seems that China has misunderstood and believes the government of the Democratic Party of Japan has changed such a stance.
In the past, Japan did not need to mention it because Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping took the view that the problem “should not be referred to or mentioned” so that China in practice respected and tolerated Japan’s effective control while exercising restraint. Japan, therefore, did not need to mention the territorial issue and its territorial claim.
But the situation has changed since the 1990s. First of all, China wrote the Diaoyu Islands, its name for the Senkakus, into the territorial water law it enacted in 1992. Recently, it has frequently sent ships to the waters around the Senkakus.
I think these are the fundamental points of the problems in 2010 and 2012.
Kudo: At a meeting with Mr. Miyamoto hosted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper after the Tokyo-Beijing Forum in July this year, Zhao Qizheng, director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said the words of Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese people in the past “are still accepted and cannot be treated lightly.”
Do you think that such past agreements are already invalid among Chinese leaders or that the shelving is still adhered to?
Miyamoto: There is a new view emerging now that “unless Japan recognizes such a premise, everything should be written off.” It is absolutely unknown how much this view may lead to shaping China’s new official foreign policy. But as China has made no new decision yet and still adheres to its past policy, what Mr. Zhao said is correct. Arguments against it are emerging, though.
While there are also lots of arguments about the shelving and pledges, the current situation testifies that the issue had been undeniably shelved. As Mr. Takahara pointed out, China respected Japan’s effective control to some extent and intended not to greatly change the status quo. Therefore, China strongly believes that “Japan is the one that took action and changed the status quo” during the past month.
But the current problem is merely that the Japanese government had to purchase privately owned land under its effective control. I think China is the one that is definitely seeking to change the status quo nowadays.
China is challenging in various forms Japan’s effective control, or executive jurisdiction if seen in the light of international law. Japan should have explained to the international community in a timely manner that China is making various attempts to change the status quo.
Takahara: For example, two Chinese ships were cruising in Japan’s territorial waters for nine hours in December 2008. That incident was a clear testimony that China has changed its policy of “doing nothing” and begun seeking to change the status quo. Japan lodged strong protests.
China has become powerful along with its economic growth and increased budget appropriations to agencies for maritime law enforcement. The number of surveillance ships has naturally increased as well. In 2006, a maritime law enforcement agency institutionalized patrols in the East China Sea. Changes in actual conditions as a result of China’s rise in power are behind the current problem.
Kudo: The state purchased the land against such a backdrop while failing to win sufficient understanding from China. May I construe that these two elements have led to the current confrontation?
Miyamoto: Exactly. So many people in Japan support the Japanese government’s action and are feeling resentment at the countermeasures by China.
This is in part traceable to strong discontent among Japanese people who feel that Japan has been persistently pushed around by China and that the Japanese government has failed to take necessary countermeasures. China, meanwhile, is increasing pressure on Japan through a series of actions, such as demonstrations in size and content unseen in the past, on the grounds that Japan has changed the status quo this time and broken the promises maintained between the two countries.
As I have repeatedly emphasized, there is a lack of understanding between Japan and China. But what we should keep in mind is the question of whether there is absolutely no one in China who wants to take advantage of the current situation for their own self-interest. I don’t think we can draw such a conclusion, and this likelihood within China is also related to the current conflict.
Kudo: We conducted a questionnaire of 500 intellectuals in Japan before today’s discussion. About 200 of them responded and the largest ratio of 36.8% said they “don’t appreciate” the Japanese government’s purchase of the Senkaku Islands for nationalization. While 22.6% replied that they do “appreciate” the purchase, 27.1% said they “don’t appreciate” the government’s move but regarded it as “unavoidable.” Including this “unavoidable” as passive appreciation, almost half of the intellectuals support the Japanese government’s action.
Let’s move on to a new question, namely how to resolve the situation. In the questionnaire, we asked the intellectuals whether they think the Senkaku problem can be resolved through negotiations between Japan and China. Only 34.2% or one-third of them replied it is “possible” while 59.4% said it is “impossible.”
Japanese intellectuals in general consider it extremely difficult to reach a final solution to the Senkaku issue. When the respondents who consider a bilateral solution possible were asked how, nearly 39.3% said the issue can be settled through “shelving.” Many respondents said the two countries should return to “shelving” in the end.
How do you think Japan and China can resolve the Senkaku problem through governmental negotiations?
Miyamoto: There is no other way but to address the issue through dialogue. I think there are many ways of dealing with it such as avoiding direct reference to the territorial issue.
The two countries should not seek to resolve the problem as a territorial issue but ease their confrontation or create a situation or mechanism to avoid a recurrence of the problem by any means. The creation of such an outcome is the solution to the question, I think.
There are various ways of reaching a solution. But the starting point is a peaceful solution and there have been lots of promises made for it under the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty. The two countries should first confirm the basics and then begin the process of settling the question. What the two governments should promptly do is avoid irritating each other anymore. After reaching an agreement to this effect, they enter into dialogue. As popular sentiment in both countries is somewhat overheated, there is no atmosphere for quiet negotiations. The situation should be cooled down first of all, as substantial dialogue is impossible under current circumstances.
Crisis management should be given top priority in the meantime. The two countries should have already established a mechanism for crisis management. As anything could happen in the absence of such a mechanism, the two countries should first discuss it.
Kudo: I agree with what Mr. Miyamoto just said. I mean there are things the two countries should agree on before resolving the Senkaku issue.
My proposal is that Japan and China should first work on the following: the two countries agree on crisis management, such as establishing a working-level hotline to prevent the current confrontation from leading to an armed clash by provoking public sentiment in each country or an accidental clash from developing into the worst case scenario. In other words, Japan and China should firmly agree again to resolve problems peacefully without resorting to the use of armed force, as mentioned in Article 1 in the bilateral peace and friendship treaty.
Takahara: I absolutely agree. In such a case, we need to consider what “armed force” means. Needless to say, the Self-Defense Forces and the (Chinese) navy are armed forces. It is important to confirm that the two countries will never use them.
Lots of ships similar to the patrol boats of the Japan Coast Guard are sailing out from China. Do they constitute a kind of armed force? I think they can be taken as such.
Japan should urge China to consider what should be done “if an accident occurs” and to stop letting ships sail out in the first place. Japan needs to sternly tell China that dialogue cannot begin unless such “provocative acts” are first stopped.
I think the Japanese may be too gentle in this respect.
Kudo: The Japanese and Chinese governments have held various talks including those to establish a working-level hotline. But they have not progressed.
Akiyama: There are many things Japan and China should do for the sake of crisis management such as establishing a hotline to prevent maritime accidents between them and achieve crisis management between their military sectors.
The need is not limited to the Senkakus, but if it is going to be limited to them, there are things the two countries should think of.
First of all, they should avoid discussions on military issues. In Japan, there has long been an argument that talks on military issues are dangerous in themselves. Although I have constantly criticized this argument, I now think that talks on military issues are extremely dangerous as far as the Senkakus are concerned because certain interests in China are expecting a military clash between the two countries. This is an extremely fearful scenario and Japan should be careful to avoid being drawn into it.
As Mr. Takahara and I said earlier, Japan should say more clearly, “Which (of the two countries) is attempting to change the status quo?” Even fisheries policy and maritime supervision in some sense represent the power and force of a nation. Ships entering Japan’s territorial waters and staying there must be strongly criticized.
Miyamoto: The reason why I said earlier that the situation must be cooled down is because an atmosphere in favor of talks on such matters is hardly felt at the working level.
It is China’s temperament that when the state maps out a bold direction, steps toward different ways are daringly taken. Thus I wonder if people on the ground are thinking and taking the position of actively promoting dialogue with Japan in order to steer the situation in an amicable direction. China should be prompted to take this point into consideration, along with the question, mentioned earlier by Mr. Takahara, of sending official ships to Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus.
China needs to take a restrained stance by understanding the state of affairs in Japan, while Japan needs to be careful not to provoke public opinion in China.
Kudo: Are there no opportunities to discuss such an issue between the two governments at present?
Miyamoto: The situation must be cooled down because, otherwise, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot move. Cooling thus must come first.
Takahara: How to subdue nationalistic feelings and emotions in China is a difficult question. But there are evidently things that must not be done for the sake of cooling down the situation. All-out efforts should be made to prevent anyone in Japan from making careless statements and acts that will rile China. This is very clear.
Akiyama: The establishment of a hotline and the conclusion of an agreement to prevent maritime accidents have yet to be completed. The relationship between Japan and China is not mature yet in this respect. But this must be done immediately. China is starting to recognize it but is moving toward it extremely slowly.
While this problem is somewhat different, it is practically difficult for Japan and China to launch bilateral negotiations to settle the Senkaku issue. Although the two countries will have to discuss it in the end, Japan maintains there is no territorial dispute between the two countries. For now, let’s leave it as it is. Then it will be possible to work to improve the relationship in the form of Track 1.5 diplomacy or at the private level.
Kudo: If governmental consultation is difficult, the situation will become irretrievably malignant unless dialogues, combined with 1.5 or private-level talks, are carried forward. Don’t you think so, Mr. Miyamoto?
Miyamoto: Despite such a situation, the channels between Japan and China are not completely clogged. But as they are not open as widely as we think, efforts for governmental dialogue should continue while private-level talks should be moved forward.
I have kept talking about the meaning of “mature democracy” and this is related to the raison d’être of the Genron NPO, a Japanese non-governmental organization which I belong to. Well, the public monitoring of government deeds has grown so strong that a civil society, if I put it the other way round, must take responsibility for government decisions. When a country develops into a civil society where those who have power to keep watch must assume commensurate responsibility, it can engage in mature diplomacy with broad perspectives. If Japan keeps sending messages from such a civil society, they can lead to a cooling of the situation and make Japan appear justified to the international community.
If civil society shows mature responses in a somewhat detached manner, instead of working on a variety of trifling things and demonstrating it to the international community, Japan can gain international understanding of its capabilities. I think this is an important role for the Genron NPO.
Kudo: Thank you for your suggestion for the Genron NPO which I also belong to. We should launch cool-headed deliberations with an eye toward the future and send messages to the world. That is what will continue to be needed, instead of simple, nationalistic remarks, is it not?
Miyamoto: Arguments of such a kind from Japan will help to cool down the situation.
Kudo: Let me return to the questionnaire. About 60% of the respondents, the largest ratio, consider it impossible to resolve the issue through bilateral negotiations. When they were asked what should be done, the biggest ratio of 45% said that Japan “should explain its position to the international community and win support from it.” In addition, 32% said Japan should “strive to improve its relations with China by laying more weight on common interests with China,” while 30% stressed the need to “reach an agreement to avoid military clashes and pursue peaceful solutions.”
I think the arguments you have so far mentioned here match the views of the intellectuals in the questionnaire.
I think the views are strong suggestions of what Japan and China should do first while it remains difficult to settle the Senkaku issue. What do you think, Professor Takahara?
Takahara: I forgot to say a while ago that talks at the political level and joint studies or talks should be separated to lower the temperature of nationalism.
In China now, unreasonable or extremely wrong arguments are emerging due to an excessive sense of urgency to justify their position. For example, there is an argument that Okinawa and the Senkakus belong to China because Japan owns only Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu due to its acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. Some even say Japan is destroying the postwar order, an argument that can be by no means accepted internationally.
Therefore, arguments from the two countries should be sorted out in the academic world. I think the establishment of opportunities for dialogues involving not only Japan and China but also overseas researchers would be effective.
Kudo: Now I would like to discuss whether the Senkaku issue can be resolved in a definitive fashion through bilateral negotiations. If not, there are issues to address, such as multilateral negotiations or taking the case to the International Court of Justice. What do you think?
Miyamoto: The Senkaku issue cannot be settled at all if the parties concerned take it up squarely and stress that the islands are “ours.” But it is possible to set the problem aside temporarily in a separate form and keep it in the freezer by such means as creating a mechanism that will prevent a serious impact on both Japan and China. We must rack our brains to generate such an effect.
The two governments each have a basic stance they have maintained. In practical terms, it is extremely difficult for either government to change at once a basic stance it has long maintained and adopt a new approach. But I think diplomatic negotiations can figure out escape routes or exits while taking the form of adhering to respective positions. As the time will come when political decisions must occasionally be made with the consent of the leaders of the two countries, the final stitches can be added after the leaders have made such decisions.
But it is now too early to say this, as all the materials have yet to be put on the table. When all the materials are on the table, they can be mixed to make products that are consistent domestically as well. Given the process of this work, it is extremely difficult to say what the final outcome will be without accurately knowing how many materials are involved. Nevertheless, diplomatic negotiations can produce a certain agreement through such procedures.
Takahara: China is striving to win international support for its stance through a variety of arguments, including some that invite derision, as I said earlier. In other words, China feels greatly pressed and thus is working hard. In China, the Central Propaganda Department is tasked with such a work. Officials in the department are fired up now and wanting to demonstrate their power.
Of course, Japan needs to make its rebuttals. But China may well take the case to the International Court of Justice if it is so confident in its arguments.
Kudo: Do you think China can go to the court?
Takahara: I think China should do so if it can. With regard to the Takeshima islets, Japan unilaterally submitted the case to the court. Japan may not be able to go as far as to clearly say to China that if it really believes it is right, “Go ahead and do it, we won’t run away.” But I think this is one possibility.
Kudo: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly the other day that Japan will seek to resolve conflicts peacefully based on international law. What did he mean?
Miyamoto: I think he was speaking in general terms. As far as the International Court of Justice is concerned, a territorial issue cannot be submitted to the court unless the presence of the problem is recognized. As Japan does not admit the existence of the Senkaku territory problem, I think the situation is that the court has not made any further studies. Therefore, I don’t think Prime Minister Noda made the statement with this particular point in mind.
Takahara: It is commonly understood that the prime minister was not thinking of it to such an extent. When he mentioned resolving conflicts by law, he meant in general terms that conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means based on rules.
Akiyama: He did not have the International Court of Justice in mind when he made the remark. In short, he meant that arguments on such issues as the Senkaku problem should be resolved based on the idea of international law and that China’s assertions are unacceptable on this basis.
Aside from the question of whether Japan and China can resolve it through bilateral negotiations, I think the problem cannot be resolved by any means as long as the Chinese government tries to justify itself through nationalism, anti-Japan sentiment and the territorial problem. But I think it is possible if China’s governing party can find the wisdom to use the International Court of Justice.
Takahara: China is not in a position to say a territorial issue exists, either. A statement by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, if you read it carefully, says, “There is no dispute over the Senkaku Islands and they are ours.” It then says, “It is shameful that Japan does not admit to the existence of the dispute.” The statement is contradictory. Neither country says there is a territorial dispute.
Kudo: Do you mean that Chinese people don’t know that Japan effectively controls the Senkaku Islands?
Akiyama: Many of them don’t know the islands are under Japan’s effective control.
Takahara: Many Chinese people also believe that Japan illegally controls them. The view is based on the argument that “there exists no territorial dispute over the islands which belong to China.”
Kudo: Explanations to the public are so twisted. How should they get straightened out?
Miyamoto: There will be no solution as long as they remain twisted. The two countries therefore must move forward at some stage. It is interesting that with regard to the Paracel Islands, as opposed to the Spratly Islands, China says, “There is no territorial problem but a diplomatic issue” which, therefore, will be settled peacefully.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba also says, “There is no territorial problem but a diplomatic issue exists.”
Nevertheless, dialogue is difficult at a time when emotions are at boiling point in both societies.
Kudo: The last question is about relations between Japan and China. The Senkaku problem is drawing attention as a noticeable obstacle to Japan-China relations. But the two countries are closely tied economically and share many interests. They cannot ignore each other. Japan-China relations are so important that changes in them will even determine the future of Asia, I think. In thinking about the future of Japan-China relations, I wonder if they will be unable to move forward unless the Senkaku problem is resolved.
Takahara: Japan-China relations do not consist of the Senkaku problem alone. The strategic mutually beneficial relationship, as Mr. Miyamoto often says, is a mutually beneficial relationship based on strategic common interests and large common interests.
The Senkaku problem has existed for the past 40 years. Japan naturally thinks that the important part of the bilateral relationship should not be ruined by highlighting and expanding the problem. Under the growth of nationalism at present, many people in Chinese society have become emotional and so rational views of such a kind can hardly penetrate. The Chinese government is in a difficult situation of having to listen to unreasonable opinions.
But cool-headed and reasonable people exist in China, though they cannot voice their views now and so they remain patient. It is important for us to continue making appeals to them in a rational and composed manner and deepen mutual understanding with them.
Miyamoto: Undeniably, there are many such people in China. As Mr. Takahara pointed out, they now find it difficult to express their views. As I have said on various occasions, China is a society of atmosphere, where a certain atmosphere is created and then people cannot say things against it. I occasionally read opinions voiced on the Internet and find that they are not always those criticizing Japan as outrageous or calling for crucifying Japan. There are even views questioning whether China is allowed to “do such things” or noting that there are other things China should be addressing.
China is surely moving in this direction and we should continue striving to focus attention on larger interests.
Kudo: In Japan, there are people who make bold remarks about Japan-China relations but a large number of people are rational. Our questionnaire of intellectuals found very rational responses.
The questionnaire included this question: “Do you think there will be military clashes between Japan and China, triggered by the Senkaku problem?” “No, I don’t think so” was the answer picked by 57.4% of the respondents. The number of people who do not expect military clashes between the two countries has increased since the previous survey was conducted in May.
Even though the bilateral confrontation has intensified so much, the majority of people do not expect armed clashes.
The latest questionnaire found 30% of respondents expected the Senkaku problem to trigger military clashes. But when asked how to avoid them, 26.4%, or the largest portion, of respondents said “consultations between the two governments,” followed by 18.9% who referred to “multilateral consultations.” In addition, 15.1% called for “Track 2 private-level dialogues”. “Multilateral governmental consultations” was also among the answers, while 13.2% stressed the need for a solid “working-level hotline.” How do you assess the trend seen in these answers?
Akiyama: The findings of the questionnaire match my sentiment and are pretty commonsensical. If the same questionnaire was conducted in China, I think quite a lot of respondents would say there will be armed clashes between Japan and China.
I find it interesting that a pretty large number of people mentioned “multilateral governmental consultations” as a step to prevent military clashes between Japan and China. This is probably because they might have the South China Sea problem, among others, in mind.
The Senkaku problem involves Japan, the United States and Taiwan as well. Bilateral negotiations are important, of course. Practically, however, multilateral negotiations through Track 2 and other private-level talks were suggested as a commonsensical option.
Miyamoto: This latest case is a test case to measure China’s future foreign policies. How China will end it will set a course for its stance on various issues including the South China Sea problem. China now stands at a crossroads of whether it will execute foreign policy based on the strength it has gained or more reasonably by taking greater interests into account. The case will serve as a good example for finding out which course China will take.
Takahara: I agree. That’s why Japan should not buckle, for the sake of the world as well as China. It will be extremely dangerous if an atmosphere in favor of or belief in use of overwhelming force in relation to other countries prevails in China.
The Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty includes various principles the two countries agreed upon, such as anti-hegemonism and peaceful solutions of problems without using military force. Japan should announce to China as well as the world that it will faithfully respect these principles.
Kudo: Through our discussions, we have reconfirmed the need for various accords between Japan and China to prevent military clashes and the role of private-sector dialogues. We also pointed out Japan’s lack of explanations and communication channels. The points mentioned in our discussions matched the findings of our questionnaire of intellectuals and reaffirmed that wisdom must be exercised for a peaceful solution to this issue.
A rational and cool-headed stance is indispensable for these discussions and we know there are many such intellectuals in China. To break the impasse in government-level talks between Japan and China, we think rational private-level dialogues between the two countries need to start now.
Translated from “Genron Studio: Senkaku Issue and Future of Japan-China Relations” (Genron NPO) in October 2012.