Account of pact to shelve Diaoyu dispute deals wild card to diplomats
Japanese elder statesman's blunt disavowal of Tokyo's line muddies waters in row over islands
The issue of whether or not there was an agreement in 1972 to shelve the Sino-Japanese territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands has split Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and is destined to complicate further the relationship between Beijing and Tokyo.
The issue flared up on Monday when Hiromu Nonaka, a former Japanese cabinet secretary and ex-secretary-general of the LDP, contradicted Tokyo's official stance during a visit of sitting and former lawmakers to Beijing.
He said when China and Japan normalised relations in 1972, leaders from both countries had agreed to end the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus.
"Just after the normalisation of relations, I was told clearly by then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka that a decision [had been] made on the normalisation by shelving the Senkaku issue," news agency Kyodo quoted Nonaka as saying after his meeting with Liu Yunshan , the fifth-ranked leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
"As a living witness, I would like to make clear [what I heard]," he said.
State-run Xinhua also quoted Nonaka as having recalled the consensus on the dispute during his talks with Liu.
Japan's official position is that there was no such agreement. Tokyo also contends that there is no territorial dispute over the islands in the East China Sea.
Japanese government officials reiterated that stance in Tokyo yesterday.
"There is no such fact when we look over our nation's diplomatic records," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said, according to the English-language website of the Asahi newspaper.
At a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: "There are no facts that point to an agreement for shelving the issue or maintaining the status quo. There is also no issue that has to be shelved."
Wang Xinsheng , a professor of Japanese studies at Peking University, said it was difficult to find evidence of such an agreement as it "was an oral understanding between leaders then without written records".
"But whether both governments can agree to shelve the dispute now will affect whether they can start to negotiate to normalise their relations," Wang said.
Nonaka also quoted Liu as telling the Japanese delegation that Tokyo was responsible for the present confrontation with Beijing.
Liu said he hoped to begin a dialogue between the two governments to find a solution.