June 24, 2024

Ex-Envoy Says U.S. Stirs China-Japan Tensions

The retired diplomat, Chen Jian, who served as an under secretary general of the United Nations and as China’s ambassador to Japan, said the United States should restrain Tokyo and should focus its diplomatic efforts on bringing about negotiations between China and Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan.

In an unusually biting assessment of the United States, Mr. Chen said: “It is in the U.S. interest to quarrel with China, but not to fight with China.”

While Mr. Chen has retired from China’s diplomatic service, his remarks were particularly significant because they represent the most detailed public exposition of China’s views at a time when Chinese officials have been wary of making comments because of the approaching Communist Party Congress, which is scheduled to begin in Beijing on Nov. 8.

In the speech, which was organized by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was attended by half a dozen Chinese diplomats, Mr. Chen held out an olive branch by urging that discussions between Japan and China should start on ways to reduce the risk of clashes between Chinese and Japanese patrol vessels that have gotten perilously close off the islands in the last month.

But the thrust of his speech was more hard-hitting, particularly regarding the United States. Some in China and Japan see the issue of the islands “as a time bomb planted by the U.S. between China and Japan,” he said. “That time bomb is now exploding or about to explode.”

Mr. Chen accused the United States of encouraging the right wing in Japan, and fanning a rise of militarism.

“The U.S. is urging Japan to play a greater role in the region in security terms, not just in economic terms,” he said during his speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. That “suits the purpose of the right wing in Japan more than perfectly — their long-held dream is now possible to be realized.”

The United States has said that, in the event of conflict, the disputed islands are covered by its mutual defense treaty with Japan, a position that China has severely criticized since the latest dispute flared last month.

Mr. Chen described what he called the intervention of the United States in territorial disputes in the South China Sea — where China has been at odds with another American ally, the Philippines — as a way for the United States to expand its influence and restrain the influence of China.

“Will these countries misjudge and draw China and the United States into a confrontation?” Mr. Chen asked. “The danger is apparent, and China needs to be aware of that.”

Mr. Chen, who is now dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, offered a lengthy list of suggestions and assurances for how China hopes to resolve tensions with its neighbors.

“China does not seek to provoke incidents, and will not be the one to do so first,” he said. He said that China had only sent administrative vessels to the disputed islands, not warships from its navy.

Mr. Chen said major changes in Chinese foreign policy were unlikely to follow the selection of a new leadership team at the Party Congress. “I think it’s going to be a smooth change, and the main tenets of our foreign policy will remain very much the same,” he said.

By far the biggest threat to stability in the region are the islands where Japan and China are at odds. Little more than rocky outcrops in shark-infested waters, Japan won the islands as the spoils of war in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The United States took over administration of the islands at the end of World War II.

China expected that Japan as a defeated nation would have to give up the islands, and that they would be returned to China. But the islands were not returned, rankling China and Taiwan ever since — a rare issue on which those two agree.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the Allies in 1951 did not clearly establish sovereignty of the islands.

In 1972, the United States returned the disputed islands to Japan, and Japan has administered them since. When China and Japan restored diplomatic relations in 1972, the leaders of the two countries decided to shelve the question of sovereignty of the islands until a future date.

The Obama administration has stated that even though it would come to Japan’s side in the event of conflict over the islands, it takes no position on the sovereignty of the islands.

The issue burst into the open last month when the Japanese government announced it was purchasing several of the islands from a private family that has owned them for some years. China denounced the purchase as “nationalization” of the islands.

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda argued that it bought the islands to prevent them from falling into the hands of Shintaro Ishihara, a right-wing politician who last week announced he was leaving office as the governor of Tokyo.

Because the islands were transferred from one Japanese entity to another, Mr. Noda’s government says that the status quo has not changed, and that there is no need to open negotiations with China over the issue at this time.

Japan and China have both had patrol vessels near the islands and each other in recent days. The Japanese Coast Guard and the Chinese State Oceanic Administration each said in separate statements on Tuesday that their vessels had demanded that the other side’s ships should leave the area.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China and Mr. Noda are scheduled to attend a meeting in Laos next week. The Japanese news media reported Tuesday that there were no plans for the two men to hold a formal talks to resolve differences, although they might have an informal meeting on the sidelines.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/31/world/asia/in-speech-organized-by-beijing-ex-diplomat-calls-islands-dispute-with-japan-a-time-bomb.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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