Saturday, October 27, 2012

Okada’s Whatever about Senkaku? Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here

Michael Cucek kindly sent his friends the link to a South China Morning Post report entitled, “Japan's deputy PM admits Diaoyus dispute, opening path to China talks”. The lede, which I reproduce below, is no less incendiary (or conciliatory, depending, figuratively and/or literally, on where you’re coming from):

“The top deputy to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged that a dispute with China exists over the East China Sea - a key concession and potential olive branch to Beijing.

I had my doubts about that, since you would expect that Okada, a former MOFA minister and one-time bureaucrat, to know better. Since Michael subsequently posted on the matter, I decided to look a little further. Sankei, for instance, tells us that what Okada actually said was the following:

Translation: The Senkakus are not a territorial issue but it is true that there is a debate/dispute, and the current situation must be calmed down through dialogue.

Okada’s choice of words turns out to be in line with precedent. MOFA officials have always explicitly recognized that there has been an “issue of Senkaku” but has consistently denied that there is a “territorial (ed. usually translated as “sovereignty”) issue.” Unless you are willing and able, as I am not, to read some subtext into the replacement of “issue” with “debate/dispute,” there’s nothing to see here except the unilateral show of Japanese willingness to talk about Senkaku (but not about the sovereignty issue), a willingness that has been there for decades.

Has nothing changed, then? Well, if this report had appeared in the Chinese version of the People’s Daily instead of the English-language SCMP, it could have been read as a deliberate misinterpretation to prepare the Chinese public for a series of calm-the-waters, high-level meetings between Japanese and Chinese officials. As it is, it’s surely just a case of Teddy Ng, the writer, missing more than just a vowel. So move along, folks, nothing to see here.

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