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Japanese PM Vows No Compromise in Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda vowed never to compromise with China over the disputed Senkaku Islands on Wednesday in New York:

. . .they are an integral part of our territory in the light of history and of international law. . . . It is very clear and there are no territorial issues as such. Therefore there cannot be any compromise that could mean any setback from this basic position. I have to make that very clear.

Noda’s remarks inspired vehement rebuttals from Chinese officials and observers. In a written statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday:

China is strongly disappointed and sternly opposes the Japanese leader’s obstinacy regarding his wrong position on the Diaoyu Islands issue . . . China has sufficient historical evidence and legal basis to prove the Diaoyu Islands have been an inseparable part of Chinese territory since ancient times.

“If he [Noda] wants to provoke a war then he would have good company,” Victor Gao from the National Association of International Studies in Beijing told Al Jazeera.

Both sides, despite such inflammatory public remarks, appear to want to continue talking to each other and find way to settle this dispute. Shinzo Abe, newly crowned leader of Japan’s strongest opposition party, said, “Even if our [Japan and China’s] national interests clash, we should acknowledge that we need each other and control the situation while thinking about things strategically.”

Abe is seen as a nationalist, and his party, according to the polls, is well placed to win the national elections next year. The fact that he is pushing collaboration instead of conflict with China is a promising change from his past hawkish statements.

But trouble remains. The islands under dispute arouse powerful sentiments in both China and Japan, including bitter memories of World War II atrocities. National pride is at stake. So too is an important trade relationship. Officials in Beijing and Tokyo may be all for talking it out, but if things spin out of control and nationalist enthusiasm erupts like it did a few weeks ago in China, when Japanese businesses were vandalized, they might find themselves hard pressed to back down from a confrontation.

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