Beijing unlikely to compromise on territorial spat with Japan despite revival of security hotline, analysts say
The leaders of Japan and China have agreed in talks to move ahead with discussions on the creation of a hotline to prevent minor clashes at sea or in the air over the East China Sea from escalating – but analysts in Japan say there is no indication of compromise on territorial disputes in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations in Hangzhou, the first time the two leaders had held direct talks since April 2015.
And while the two leaders agreed to work together to contribute to the global economy, “manage difficult issues” in order to build better relations and resurrect talks on the security hotline, the meeting was perfunctory, Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of politics at Tokyo’s International Christian University, said.
“The Chinese side allocated 30 minutes to the meeting, of which a good portion was taken up by the translators, which tells us how much importance Beijing places on the enormity of Sino-Japanese relations.”
Any agreement on a hotline to avoid accidental clashes close to the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan controls and knows as the Senkakus, will be “carefully worded”, Nagy said, to make sure that neither side reduces its claim to the territory. And that is likely to limit the effectiveness of any agreement.
Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, agrees.
“I would suggest that the two sides are trying to achieve the gradual easing of political tensions, but beyond that I really don’t see anything that would come close to a resolution of the territorial issue,” he said.
That sentiment mirrors the opinion of Chinese experts who spoke to the Post on Monday. They said the meeting will relieve the current tension – but how much it will aid the relationship is questionable.
China will continue to send deputised fishing boats into waters around the island and Japan will push ahead with its military build-up on surrounding islands and in the air and on the sea, Okumura said.
“I suppose if there is anything positive to read into this it is that the Chinese side clearly does want to keep the matter under control and not have a minor incident spill over,” he said.
But Nagy has no doubts about where the blame for a lack of progress in the bilateral relationship should be laid.
“Abe has shown a willingness to find compromise in the way in which he has dealt with other difficult issues, such as the ‘comfort women’ matter in South Korea and by inviting Vladimir Putin to his home town during his planned visit in December,” he said.
“But China is showing no signs of wanting to compromise on issues with Japan,” he said. “The fact that just 30 minutes was set aside for these talks shows just how little Beijing is willing to compromise.”
As a consequence, Nagy says he is “very pessimistic” that rapid progress can be made on the hotline proposal, as well as in proposed talks on joint development of natural gas in disputed waters between the two nations.