Tag Archives: Asahi Shimbun

Updated: Did the Chinese government really call Diaoyu/Senkaku a 'core interest'?

The Japanese news wire Kyodo News last week reported that the Chinese government called the Senkaku/Diaoyu island issue a ‘core interest.’

“The Diaoyu Islands are about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of course, it’s China’s core interest,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference, using China’s name for the Japanese-administered isles in the East China Sea. …

Hua made the comment after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NHK in Tokyo that Chinese officials repeatedly told him during his visit to Beijing earlier in the week that the Senkakus are “one of China’s core interests.”

This report has gained a fair amount of attention. My attempt to follow up on Dempsey’s remarks to NHK is currently coming up dry. Though Google returns a search result on the story, the link is broken, Google’s cache provides nothing, and a search for the full sentence reveals no copies.

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[UPDATE May 2 11:08 in Beijing—This Japanese-language NHK story includes video of Dempsey saying, “They did use the word “core interests” several times, and I know that’s really their phraseology for issues of sovereign importance.” It is left to the announcer and the written report to make the connection between “core interests” and the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue. My translation of the relevant passage of the print version: “During the interview, Chairman Dempsey said of his meetings with Chinese government officials on his recent trip to China, ‘In the meetings, the Chinese side, on the topic of the Senkaku Islands, used the word “core interests” many times.’ On the topic of Okinawa Prefecture’s Senkaku Islands, China repeatedly clarified that the islands are an non-negotiable ‘core interest.'” What did Dempsey really say in full? I can’t tell.]

Another Japanese source, Asahi Shimbun, has a different phrasing from the Foreign Ministry:

“It is an issue about China’s territory and sovereignty, and therefore a matter of ‘core interest,’ ” said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, at a regular news conference.

Meanwhile, the situation from the official Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website brings Hua’s quote into question. The MoFA reports [en] [zh]:

Q: In a recent interview with the Japanese media, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey said that during his visit to China, the Chinese side repeatedly stressed that territorial sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands is part of China’s core interests. Is this China’s official position?

A: China’s Peaceful Development, the white paper released by China’s State Council Information Office in September 2011, made it clear that China firmly safeguards its core national interests, including national sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity.

The Diaoyu Islands issue concerns China’s territorial sovereignty.

问:美军参谋长联席会议主席邓普西日前接受日本媒体采访时称,中方在其访华期间多次强调维护钓鱼岛领土主权是中国核心利益之一。这是中国官方立场吗?

答:中国国务院新闻办公室2011年9月发表的《中国的和平发展》白皮书明确表示,中国坚决维护国家核心利益,包括国家主权,国家安全,领土完整等。

钓鱼岛问题涉及中国领土主权。

A comment signed Iain Johnston (I’ve e-mailed to confirm it’s really him [UPDATE: confirmed.]) on the Japan Times version of the Kyodo story says in part:

… It is possible that the PRC spokesperson strayed a bit from the official position. The official record reflects official policy. This particular formulation — “touches on territorial sovereignty” – probably reflects a dilemma the PRC government faces. It cannot say the Diaoyudao/Senkaku are not a core interest. This would create domestic problems for the regime. But it cannot say explicitly that the islands are a core interest, because this could constrain any future space for negotiation. A critical piece of evidence will be whether or not the PRC drops the demand for negotiations with Japan over the islands. If it does, then this would be consistent with an official declaration that the islands are a core interest. If it continues to demand negotiations, this would be consistent with the official position of not (yet) directly stating the islands are a core interest.

[UPDATE: In comments below, Johnston provides a link to the relevant video of Hua Chunying’s statement, in which she says what the Japanese reports say she said.]

Chinese press seem relatively quiet on this statement, with the links I’m seeing in Weibo conversations leading to articles sourced from Japanese publications. For instance see this Sina News story (in Chinese).

Meanwhile at ChinaFile, Susan Shirk takes the statement as a strong, overt move by the Chinese government.

Last week the Chinese government and military officially declared that the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands constitute a “core interest” of the country. …

To make sure the message came through loud and clear, top military officials first informed General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff who was visiting China. On the next day, it was announced from the podium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Diaoyu Islands are about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of course, it’s China’s core interest,” said Hua Chunying, the ministry spokesperson.

You can be sure that the decision to call the Diaoyu Islands a “core interest” was thoroughly vetted by the key civilian decision-makers—Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, and the other five leaders in the CCP Politburo, as well as the People’s Liberation Army leaders. It’s a considered act by a highly insecure CCP leadership willing to engage in international brinksmanship to maintain domestic support.

Shirk argues that this is in contrast to the 2010 incident in which some Chinese representatives reportedly started referring to South China Sea claims as representing a “core interest.” Though top U.S. officials later said the most provocative supposed mention of the South China Sea as a “core interest” had never happened, Shirk views that event as a clear roll-back.

The South China Sea [in 2010] had not been the focus of much attention from the Chinese public; it wasn’t a hot button issue of nationalism like Taiwan or Japan. The impetus for China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region came from the bureaucratic interest groups operating with little effective restraint from the top and using the media to arouse popular excitement. Because the Chinese government had never made a public and authoritative declaration that the South China Sea was a “core interest,” it was able to climb back from the brink without paying any domestic price for formally saying that this claim wasn’t a “core interest.”

Shirk’s comment points above to probably the most useful piece on the “core interests” issue in recent years, from Michael Swaine at the China Leadership Monitor in 2011.

So, what’s going on here?

The official version of the Foreign Ministry statement, following Dempsey’s public statement that he had heard this language, would seem to either represent a careful escalation of rhetoric or, just as likely, an awkward negotiated middle ground after conflicting messages had already been sent. If indeed the messages were coordinated in talks with Dempsey and in the Foreign Ministry press conference, then it would seem reasonable to suspect this represents a well-coordinated, high-level decision. On the other hand, it’s always an open question just how well signals are coordinated between the Foreign Ministry and the military.

Even if it was clear how fully approved the statement is, it is unclear what this means. For now, there we are.

We May Get Better Access to Japan's Newspapers

Jun Okumura writes (last item):

Nikkei, Yomiuri and Asahi are collaborating on a joint website, joint distribution, and joint emergency production. Other newspapers are also welcome to join the party. At the same time, MSN has ditched Mainichi (or is it the other way around?) for Sankei. Whatever. Just give the world a deeper archive, so I won’t have to keep copying the articles to my hard disk.

That would certainly be a grand coalition, much larger than any U.S. joint operating agreement (JOA) such as those between the Denver newspapers and others—this list is old, but it gives an idea. I haven’t been able to find more information on this with a quick search, but these papers could definitely use a better online archive presence, as Jun suggests. Factiva isn’t exactly free to all.

UPDATE 2007/10/4 19:11: Here is Yomiuri’s announcement on the emerging JOA. For the record, Yomiuri and Asahi are the world’s largest newspapers by circulation, and Nikkei is fourth. Their combined circulation is more than 30 million.

Yasukuni in Context: Nationalism and History in Japan

Documents revealed in March that the Japanese government’s long-held position that it had nothing to do with the enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo wasn’t exactly, well, accurate. This week at Japan Focus, Akiko Takenaka has written a great update on these revelations. It’s published with an Asahi Shimbun editorial calling for the release of more documents and repeating its position that a secular memorial to war dead ought to be established—a position shared by an unlikely ally for the center-left daily, the center-right Yomiuri Shimbun. Japan Focus two years ago translated two editorials that represented an up-tick in momentum for that movement. It was significant to see the two largest newspapers in Japan (and in the world) agree for once on such a controversial issue.

I want to include an excerpt from Takenaka’s analysis, because it describes well why World War II reconciliation between Japan and its victims is so fraught. No single issue, not even Yasukuni, is the linchpin of tension over history.

Many, particularly international critics, have pointed out that the heart of the Yasukuni problem is the Japanese government’s glorification of its military past and reluctance to accept responsibility for its wartime deeds. State patronage of Yasukuni is intimately related to LDP efforts to revise the Constitution in order to strengthen Japan’s war-making powers. But simple removal of the physical structure of Yasukuni, or disenshrinement of the war criminals, will not resolve the Yasukuni problem. Let me explain. Many Japanese who are critical of the war and of Japanese war crimes, focus their criticisms on the shrine itself, including state involvement in the shrine, and the failure of the state to adequately provide apology and reparations to Asian victims of Japan’s wartime aggression and war crimes. In the process, like the new postwar generation of nationalists who currently lead the LDP, they fail to question the war responsibilities of the Japanese people, including their parents and grandparents – or, even themselves, for their reluctance to initiate a sincere dialogue on making amends. The ultimate solution to the problems associated with Yasukuni Shrine and crimes of war can only be resolved when both state and people accept responsibility and act to put the dark episodes of the war behind them through sincere apologies, reparations, and education of the next generations of Japanese.

The political hack in me wonders what kind of deal might be struck to satisfy some Japanese voters’ nationalist emotions while backing off of the rhetoric and actions that draw so much diplomatic criticism from China, South Korea, and other countries. If Japanese nationalists truly desire to make their nation a “normal country” in international affairs, perhaps they could lose some of the bravado displayed by implicit glorification of Japan’s aggressive past. Indeed, objectives such as gaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council might meet less opposition if, to paraphrase Chinese government statements in April 2005, Japan faced up to its history.

I’m not so naïve as to imagine such a compromise is a realistic possibility; nationalism in Japan, as anywhere, is not often so cold and calculated as to cede ground on issues of pride in favor of more concrete gains. And it’s not necessarily safe to assume China would stop opposing Japan in the UNSC example just because leaders shunned Yasukuni.

What emerges from this line of reasoning is the possibility that concrete political moves such as UNSC membership or Article 9 revision are fundamentally secondary to questions of national pride. Perhaps liberals in Japan could achieve some of their goals by wrapping pacifism in the flag. If only that could work in both Japan and the United States, we’d be in business.

Asahi: Stating the Obvious With a Little Attitude

The English version of the Asahi Shimbun article about the U.S. action against China in the WTO over intellectual property has a pretty obvious headline: “WTO complaints against China put Japan in a bind.” It addresses the fact that the U.S. government asked Japan to join the action (and they haven’t decided yet as far as I’ve seen), and how that’s kind of awkward when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is in Tokyo for a “thawing” visit.

But the final two paragraphs seem to make a point of sticking it to China more than the United States:

Honda Motor Co., for example, has won a suit against a Chinese company that made “Hongda” motorcycles. In the 10 years ending in January, Chinese authorities acted on about 2,000 cases of intellectual property rights violations involving Honda products and technology.

Meanwhile, Chinese vendors sell batteries labeled “Sqny” (not Sony Corp.) and pirated versions of Japanese anime DVDs.