Cards not stacked in Japan’s favor

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Cards not stacked in Japan’s favor

Japan has raised the stakes in terms of its territorial disputes over the Dokdo islets and Diaoyu islands with its neighbors Korea and China, respectively, to dangerous levels. Tokyo ran print advertisements in 70 Japanese newspapers renewing its claims over Korea’s easternmost volcanic islets by declaring that “Takeshima [their name in Japan] is historically and by international law a part of Japanese territory.”

Tokyo’s provocative move comes after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda shook hands with President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, over the weekend and proposed working on more healthy and future-oriented bilateral ties. However, all the while his office had been preparing the advertising campaign. Noda’s diplomatic comments have subsequently lost all credibility.

At the same time, Japan has inflamed tensions with China by turning the waters around the Diaoyu islands, known in Japan as Senkaku, in the East China Sea into a conflict zone after Tokyo decided to nationalize the inhabited islands by purchasing them from so-called private owners. Beijing immediately proclaimed Diaoyu as part of its territorial waters and sent patrol ships to conduct a routine monitoring of the islands and their adjacent waters. Even though China did not include them in its territorial claims in 1996, it is now threatening the use of military force to protect them. The two nations may become involved in deadly skirmishes in the contentious waters or wage a trade war in a bid to contain one another.

Japan is obviously exploiting sensitive territorial issues to stoke nationalism ahead of its parliamentary elections in November. The liberal government is desperate not to lose power by winning favors from right-leaning and conservative voters. But Japan has misread geopolitical changes in Northeast Asia. Trying to use its diplomatic and trade clout to intimidating effect will no longer work. Korea is no longer just a weak country dependent on regional exports, while China, which now ranks as the second-most powerful country in the world, appears willing to use force if provoked.

Japan has nothing to gain but everything to lose by mixing politics with historical and territorial issues. It will further isolate itself from its neighbors. Japan must come back to its senses and not jeopardize peace and stability in the region by giving way to extreme nationalism. It must end its dangerous gamble at once.
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