New islands spat unlikely to escalate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am

The latest flare-up between Beijing and Tokyo over the disputed islands in the East China Sea was unlikely to develop into a full-blown diplomatic crisis despite media hype, mainland scholars on China-Japan affairs say.

Sino-Japanese relations were thrown into fresh uncertainty on Saturday when Japanese ambassador to Beijing Uichiro Niwa was recalled to discuss a response to the new row over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

Niwa told Kyodo News Agency at Beijing airport yesterday when leaving the country that discussions would focus on recent developments over the disputed islands. 'I don't have a schedule yet, but I will come back to China right after I finish the consultations,' Niwa was quoted as saying by Kyodo.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported yesterday that Niwa would go back to China today.

Liu Jiangyong , a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the recall of ambassadors on territorial disputes was common. 'The temporary return of an ambassador isn't a big deal; it happens all the time. But media from both countries played up the tensions,' he said. 'China and Japan are sharing mutual interests on cultural and economical fields, so no matter what happens, they will find a way to resolve their political problems peacefully.'

Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, recalled Niwa on Saturday in Hanoi after three Chinese fishery patrol boats entered the disputed waters on Wednesday and Thursday. Gemba denied that the move was a protest against China and said the ambassador would be sent back to Beijing soon.

Japanese and Chinese media played up the latest flare-up. The Chinese version of the Global Times last week published an opinion piece by Luo Yuan , a retired PLA major general, suggesting Beijing use the waters for missile tests and live-fire exercises and name the nation's new aircraft carrier 'Diaoyu Islands'.The communist party's mouthpiece, People's Daily, also ran a combative commentary on Friday warning Japan not to 'play with fire'.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said the two countries may engage militarily if the dispute continued, but said it would be on a 'small scale'. Japan's right-wing Sankei Shimbun has asked the government to take serious action if China sends fishery patrol vessels into territorial waters again.

Although most analysts say war between the two Asian powers is unlikely, some are pessimistic on bilateral relations.

Wang Xinsheng, of Peking University, said: 'Nowadays it's getting more common to see tensions flare up between China and Japan, and it's nearly impossible for them to fix.'



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