Negotiation best resolution to Diaoyu islands row

Updated: 2012-10-15 21:50


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BEIJING - More than a month after Japan started a bitter territorial row with China over the Diaoyu Islands, Japan has let out signals that it is willing to sit down and talk things through negotiation, after all, is the best way to solve disputes in a modern world.

Last week, senior diplomats of the two countries exchanged visits and agreed to hold a new round of bilateral vice ministerial-level talks to seek a breakthrough regarding the Diaoyu dispute, which had already damaged economic relations between Asia's two largest economies.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said an agreement was reached at a meeting in Tokyo between Shinsuke Sugiyama, head of the Japanese ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Luo Zhaohui, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday that China and Japan had launched vice ministerial-level talks over the Diaoyu Islands on September 25, during which China reiterated its stance on the territory and demanded that Japan admit its mistakes.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Japan should sincerely correct its mistakes and take concrete action while contributing to upcoming talks.

The prospect of new vice ministerial-level talks, about the highest level of diplomatic exchange that could take place to resolve territorial disputes, brings hope to the current quagmire dragging the two countries down in the disheartening global economic outlook.

Fanned by the Diaoyu dispute, huge anti-Japan protests and voluntary boycotts of Japanese products caused trade between China and Japan in the January-September period to fall by 1.8 percent from a year earlier.

Widely canceled trips by Chinese tourists to Japan also dimmed its tourism industry, particularly during the just-concluded "Golden Week" national holiday that encompassed National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival.

Given the prospective economic losses to the two countries and the world at large, negotiating a pact that can protect each other's territorial dignity and be acceptable to both sides would indeed be a "win-win solution."

In fact, people still remember the guideline put up by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and described as "laying aside differences and engaging in joint exploitation."

After all, under this guideline, the Diaoyu Islands had been well taken care of for decades and the two countries had been at peace.

Besides superficial satisfaction, nominal ownership of the uninhabited islands could do no real good to Japan, as China claims sovereignty over the waters and sends ships to patrol them.

The two sides now need to perform a sidestep to ease tensions. It is also important for the United States, a long-time ally of Japan, to honor its commitment of "not taking sides" on the Diaoyu issue.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is visiting Tokyo and meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba before starting a two-day visit to China on Tuesday.

In a meeting with Burns on Monday, Gemba sought US understanding of Japan's position on disputed islands in the East China Sea, according to Japanese media reports. Burns is also scheduled to meet with Chinese officials to "exchange views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common concern," spokesman Hong Lei said.

After an extravagant navy showcase on Sunday, Tokyo seems set to proceed in November with a joint drill with the United States that will simulate a "retaking of a remote island from foreign forces."

With the pending outcome of the US presidential election next month, Japan should realize that its over-dependence on the United States risks pushing itself to the edge of isolation from Asian neighbors.

Japanese politicians should be working to mend the holes they have created in bilateral relations with China rather than taking aggression one step further.

For Japan, healthy relations with its neighboring countries are just as important as one with the United States, both economically and strategically.