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Tensions continue mounting over Senkaku ownership claims

Date Posted: 2010-10-04

Tokyo continues to insist the Senkaku Islands in southern Okinawa belong to Japan, Okinawa’s Prefectural Assembly agrees, but China maintains the group of islands 410 kilometers west of Okinawa Island and 170 kilometers northeast of Taiwan are theirs.

Okinawa Prefectural Assembly has adopted a pair of resolutions, one reaffirming the islands group in the East China Sea belong to Japan, but also a second urging China deal “carefully and evenly” with the issue. Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, is asking the central government for further explanations of the early September fishing trawler incident that spawned the challenges over the Senkaku Islands.

Nakaima wants Tokyo to take diplomatic action to protect fishermen and their fishing rights, while the prefecture is encouraging the national government to “maintain a firm stance” on the islands and protect Japanese fishing vessels. The head of the Yonaguni Fisheries Cooperative Association in Okinawa Prefecture says “I thought he should’ve been indicted,” referring to the Chinese fishing boat captain freed by Japan without charges filed after he crashed his boat into two Japan Coast Guard vessels while trying to evade being stopped and questioned about illegal fishing in the Senkaku Islands.

Katsuji Nakajima says “I feel betrayed by the government” for it letting Zhan Qixiong go free. He says “the government seemed to be taking a resolute stance toward the case, but now that they’ve shown leniency, I’m sure Chinese fishing boats will start flocking to the area soon.” Yoshihide Oroku, who heads the Miyakojima Fisheries Cooperative Association, adds “this decision might mean the Chinese will start seizing Japanese fishing boats near the Senkaku Islands.”

Ishigaki’s Mayor, who initially said “I had confidence in the government’s attitude as it seemed they were trying to protect our territory,” now has had a change of heart. Yoshitaka Nakayama says “the end result makes me feel like I’ve been betrayed,” and adds he’s thinking about sending a protest letter to Tokyo.

Japanese lawmakers have formed a nonpartisan group to address issues about the Senkaku Islands. A total of 33 lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and its alliance partner People’s New Party, as well as the largest opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, say they’ll study and scrutinize the government’s response to the incident. The former internal affairs and communications minister, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, is co-chairing the group, which plans to pursue a Diet resolution requiring the government to take firm action.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who had planned to try meeting with China’s Premier, has backed off the idea for the coming week as he’s attending the Asia-Europe Meeting in Belgium. Kan was thinking of meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the forum, but decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to do so while Beijing is freezing high-level talks with Tokyo.

A government official says Kan will continue plans to promote Japan’s strategy for economic growth, reform of the social security system, and means of improving the nation’s fiscal health, but adds Kan will not talk about the Senkaku issue for fear of irritating China’s Premier or further ruin Japan-China relations.

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