Several thoughtful academics in communication and in conversation insist that giving up Japanese claims to the economically and militarily near-useless islands would be (to use the words of one of them) “a foreign policy coup” for Japan. One of them even believes that it would improve Japan’s position vis-à-vis the other two territorial issues with South Korea and China. Actually, I agree with another party to that particular exchange in that it “would be exploited by the South Koreans as a victory over a weakened Japan, while the Russians and the Chinese would be emboldened.” Specifically, the South Koreans would see it as confirmation of their stand on all “history” issues and dig in deeper concerning their demands for a “heartfelt” apology from the Emperor, acceptance of the South Korean take on the “comfort women” issue, renaming the Japan Sea, etc., etc., while the takeaway for the Russians and the Chinese will be that Japan is a pushover when it comes to sovereignty issues. In other words, a foreign policy “debacle,” not “coup.”
Do I have a good answer though? Not really, nothing except the wings-for-pigs/wheels-for-aunts kind. And I’m not really the prescribing kind. But for what it’s worth, I did tell a gentleman from a Chinese think tank last week that I’d like to see the Japanese government issue a statement to the effect that Japan a) is willing to take all three territorial disputes, including the Senkaku Islands to the Hague under the condition that China, Russia, and South Korea all agree to submit to adjudication, and until such time as they do b) engage in the maintenance and upkeep of the disputed territory in its possession. The Japanese Government would admit that there is a territorial issue regarding the Senkaku Islands in the hopes that this would render a measure of sanity to the Chinese public’s response (and hence the government’s) when the Japanese government got rid of the goats and took stock of the indigenous wildlife. This is a minimalist position in that it essentially recognizes the physical status quo without prejudice to the legal claims of each party. It’s essentially a unilateral quarantine that is aimed at keeping the noise down to a minimum while the de facto occupants of all three sets of disputed territory go about minding their business there in the hopes that there will be enough subsequent benign history behind us so that we can settle matters once and for all in the manner that, say, the United States and Canada settled theirs, a bid for provisional peace during my lifetime and, heaven forbid, my children’s.