Japan adopts tougher attitude on territorial disputes

Updated: 2013-10-27 00:28


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TOKYO - Japan is seemingly upping its gamesmanship regarding  territorial disputes with neighboring countries as its foreign ministry recently uploaded sovereignty- claiming videos on the internet and defense ministry also kicked off a muscle show to display its resolve on the issue.

Despite strained Japan-South Korea and Japan-China relations over territorial disputes, Japan said it will continue such video public relation (PR) campaign, saying the move is promoting a more correct understanding of Japan's surrounding situation, Japanese foreign ministry press secretary Kuni Sato said Wednesday.

The videos claim Japan's ownership over a pair of rocks in the Sea of Japan, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, as well as the islets in a row with China in the East China Sea. Local reports said Japan is working on another one that will claim sovereignty over the islands off Hokkaido seized by Russia at the end of the second world war.

"The current PR war Japan has waged involving the videos documenting Japan's sovereignty over disputed islands was a calculated move by Abe's Foreign Ministry to spark global dialogue on the issue and take the debate worldwide," political analyst and expert on territorial dispute Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman protested Wednesday against the uploaded video content and demanded that it be immediately removed, saying the clip was a "provocative act" that is preventing the frayed bilateral relations from improving, according to local media.

"It was understandable that certain countries had been irked by the PR move," Muramatsu said, "a PR conflict in any circumstance is preferable to a physical one -- which Japan is not gearing up for, but has the means to deal with."

However, Joseph Nye, a renowned U.S. professor at the Harvard University on international relations, said Friday during a national security symposium held at the Tokyo International University in Saitama prefecture that the video makes Tokyo lose its "soft power" in Seoul.

"What did Japan gain from this? It didn't gain the set of barren rocks, but it did lose public opinion in Seoul. So, do cost- benefit analysis before you do things -- what are you gaining and what are you losing?" quized Nye, adding using soft power would start by using a pragmatic approach and conducting rational cost- benefit analysis before issuing the video, among other things.

Besides the tricky PR war over the territorial disputes, Japan' s defense ministry, however, utilized a tougher way with maneuvers that appear to show Japan's readiness to engage in potential physical confrontations.

From November 1 to 18, Japan will flex its military muscle in a massive exercise involving all of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) units, according to defense ministry officials, with 34,000 troops taking part in the drills on and around the uninhabited islands of Okidaitojima, about 400 km southeast of the main Okinawa island.

Along with a huge contingent of military personnel, Japan will mobilize destroyers and jet fighters with the purpose of getting ready for the advent that one of its remote islands is attacked, the defense ministry said, adding that the drills were not aimed at any particular country or adversary.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reclaimed the post last December, Japan has increasingly voiced an "external threat" so as to pave the way for expanding its military capacity.

However, "Japan's true intentions cannot help but raise concern and alertness of the international community," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday.

"There's no denying that Japan is bolstering its hardware and personnel preparedness to defend its remote territorial islands," Muramatsu said, adding that this should not be taken lightly.

Ukeru Magosaki, former head of the Intelligence and Analysis Bureau under Japan's Foreign Ministry, called Thursday for paying attention to new steps adopted by Abe on territorial issues, although the prime minister said the door of dialogue remains open.

Abe, a well-known hawkish conservative politician, is seeking the balance between appeasing his nationalist supporters and avoiding further worsening Japan's external relations. But such bet-hedging risks closing the door that he said is always open, some pundits thought.

"Sometimes, politicians or political leaders, for their own purposes, may find that a negative nationalism is quite useful. You want to win support and if you don't have other things going for you, showing that you defend the in-group against the out- group is a cheap way to gain support," said Nye.