Tokyo erred on islands row: Japan's ex-envoy to China
AP and AFPTOKYO--Japan's former envoy to China says his country erred in choosing to buy islands claimed by both Japan and China last fall, infuriating Beijing, and now both sides have no choice but to allow the issue to cool.
January 29, 2013, 12:38 am TWN
Uichiro Niwa, a former trading house executive who served as ambassador to Beijing from mid-2010 until late last year, told reporters on Monday that the purchase of the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea by Japan's central government was poorly timed and seemed driven by factors he could not explain.
“They may have had access to information that I didn't know,” Niwa said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. “But from my personal point of view the timing was bad.”
Niwa, the first private sector figure to be chosen as ambassador to China, found himself at odds with the Japanese government, especially after then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pushed ahead with a plan to buy several of the islands from their private owner. The islands are known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkakus in Japan.
“The Japanese government should have taken into account the possibility that this may have been a point of contention,” Niwa said.
“The government of Japan transferred ownership from an individual to the state based on its domestic law, but once an issue involves crossing waters, it becomes a diplomatic issue,” Niwa told reporters.
At the very least, he said, Japan needed to provide “a better explanation to China and to the international community.”
Niwa, whose former company Itochu Corp. has extensive interests in China, faced criticism from some in Japan for not being tough enough toward China regarding the disputed islands.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama arrived in China on Monday in the latest effort to use diplomatic backchannels to improve ties. Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also recently visited. Both senior leaders are considered friendly to China.
Niwa said he believed the Chinese side viewed Tokyo's actions as a violation of an unstated agreement to avoid raising the dispute.
“There was a feeling on the Chinese side that Japan violated a relationship of trust,” he said. Coming shortly after a meeting between Noda and Chinese President Hu Jintao, it was viewed in Beijing as an “insult.”
“It is unfortunate the Japanese side misread the situation,” he said.
Commenting on the dispute, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday emphasized the need for the sides to “overcome the prominent difficulty and work toward the strategic mutually beneficial relations between China and Japan.”
However, Hong also expressed concern about a report that Japan was boosting defense spending, in part to deal with increased Chinese activity around the islands.
“We hope Japan can take the path of peaceful growth, respect the concerns of other countries in the region, learn from history and focus their efforts more on regional peace and stability,” Hong said at a regularly scheduled press briefing.