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Experts call for an end to dispute over islands

By Li Xiaokun in Tokyo (China Daily)

08:31, July 03, 2012

Former high-level military officers and prominent scholars from China and Japan have called on Beijing and Tokyo to stop the "endless" dispute over the Diaoyu Islands that is muddying relations between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

"Don't talk anymore about who owns the islands ... We should prevent military collisions at sea, set up hot lines and build mutual trust," former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba said at the sub-conference for security affairs at the eighth Beijing-Tokyo Forum on Monday.

The former minister also suggested the Japanese government send the Japanese Coast Guard, not the Japan Self-Defense Forces, to handle possible accidents in the disputed waters.

The meeting brought together some of the most famous former military officers and scholars on security affairs from both sides of China-Japan studies.

Fierce discussion on the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands dominated the four-hour meeting.

The conference room was packed with public and media.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo were tested in the autumn of 2010 when a Chinese trawler collided with patrol boats from the Japanese Coast Guard in waters near the Diaoyu Islands. China later froze bilateral high-level exchanges and some military ones.

The hostility was reignited again this year when the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, said in April that his city prefecture was negotiating with the "owner" of the islands in the hope of "buying them by the end of this year" and started raising money for the proposal.

An annual survey on China-Japan relations sponsored by China Daily and Japan's Genron NPO found last month that the confrontation over the Diaoyu Islands is among the top three reasons behind Chinese and Japanese people's negative feelings toward each other.

"Some international issues are being domesticated now," said Huang Xingyuan, secretary-general of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, referring to Ishihara actions.

"We should not allow some right-wing figures who tried to play up the issue to dominate and kidnap China-Japan relations," Huang said. He suggested the two nations skip over the sensitive issue while they have still not figured out a solution.

Li Wei, head of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the key problem was that Japan does not even admit the existence of the territorial dispute on the Diaoyu Islands.

"We should have dialogue on that, though I cannot predict the outcome. Still, I believe we have many solutions to try. Mr Deng Xiaoping (late Chinese leader) said 40 years ago that we should leave the problem to the next generation who will have greater wisdom. We should believe in our next generation that they will have the wisdom to settle the problem," said Kazuhiko Togo, director of the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University, said he was glad that none of the guests supported resorting to military power.

"It would be a disaster to both sides and should be ruled off the table," Yang said, adding he is worried about accidental conflicts in the disputed waters. He suggested both sides act to control the situation immediately if such an incident came to pass.

"China and Japan are two civilizations that have interacted with each other for several thousand years. Who can imagine France and Germany, which fought with each other 50 years ago, are now the two engines of the integration of Europe? It is possible that China and Japan will also be the two engines of an 'Asian Union' in another 50 years and by then there will be no need to identify the territory."

Noboru Yamaguchi, a professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan, said the Japanese government should strictly control its citizens stepping on the islands to avoid inflaming the situation.

Other methods the experts suggested to control risks ranged from establishing a buffer zone in the waters and joint patrols, to direct contact between maritime law enforcement agencies and dialogue between the two armed forces.

"And we should think about joint exploration of the region if possible. One day politicians of the two nations will have the courage to do that," said Wu Jinan, a senior researcher with the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

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