Japan is considering plans to calm tensions with China by acknowledging that Beijing is claiming sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands while maintaining its position that no official territorial dispute exists, sources said Tuesday.
The nuanced plan would allow Japan, without changing its long-held position, to offer a small compromise to China, which has called on Tokyo to acknowledge the existence of the dispute.
It is uncertain whether China would respond positively to such an overture, according to the sources.
The source of the current rupture in relations is the Japanese government’s purchase of three of the islets from a Saitama man despite China’s strong calls to rescind the deal. The government says the move was aimed at maintaining the uninhabited islands in a stable manner.
In a meeting with a delegation of Japanese lawmakers and business leaders in Beijing late last month, Jia Qinglin, a senior Communist Party of China official, urged Japan to recognize the existence of the territorial dispute.
“Japan should realize the seriousness of the current situation, squarely face the disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and correct its mistake as soon as possible, so as to avoid further damaging China-Japan ties,” the No. 4 man in the party was quoted by China’s official Xinhua news agency as saying in the meeting.
Tokyo interpreted his remark as suggesting that the Chinese government has adopted the goal of making Japan acknowledge the existence of a territorial dispute, without altering its position that Japan must rescind its purchase of the islets, the sources said.
Such an interpretation has led Japan to begin considering what can be done to remove obstacles that have prevented easing the current tension.
Japan has kept in mind the 1972 Japan-China joint communique, in which China said Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory. Japan promised then that it “fully understands and respects” the Chinese stance, a move that allowed Japan not to express clearly its own position on the sovereign status of Taiwan.
In the case of the Senkaku Islands, Tokyo would only “acknowledge” Chinese claims to the islets given that if Japan makes clear that it “fully understands and respects” them, it might be construed by China as acknowledging the existence of a territorial dispute between the two countries.
The current clash flared up after the Japanese government purchased the three islets in mid-September to prevent nationalist Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from having the metropolitan government buy them.
China says the islets are an inherent part of its territory. They are also claimed by Taiwan.