Prime Minister Noda will now face considerable pressures within Japan
on the management of Japan's disputed territories. If South Korea and
Japan cannot agree to disagree on Takeshima/Dokdo, then their
differences ought to be argued in international court. Negotiations with
Russia over the Northern Territories also seem to have failed. Russia's
political leaders have chosen to ignore decades of effort to create a
cooperative solution, and have visited the islands. Moreover, they have
increased military deployments and invited foreign dignitaries to
legitimize their control over these disputed islands. Chinese and
Japanese activism on the Senkakus is increasing, and could potentially
derail one of the region's most important bilateral relationships.
This new wave of territorial nationalism in East Asia will be
difficult to manage. It is entirely conceivable that Japan's political
leaders will respond to President Lee's visit with activism of their
own. Governor Ishihara will undoubtedly use this as an opportunity to
push his plan for purchasing the Senkaku Islands, and is likely to try
to visit himself. Japan's national leaders--from Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi to Prime Minister Noda today--have sought to maintain a low-key
approach to managing the Senkakus, but those who seek a more assertive
nationalist response could make that difficult.
Prime Minister Noda could succumb to these pressures, or he can
continue to demonstrate a calm and consistent approach to managing these
islands. However, he will need to respond to the intrusion into
Japanese waters of the Hong Kong vessel, and any further actions taken
by either activists or government officials from Hong Kong. Already this
summer the Taiwanese Coast Guard has been acting as an escort to
fishing vessels that intentionally enter into Senkaku waters. Should
Chinese activists join in the fray, this could easily escalate into a
major confrontation with emotions on all sides of the East China Sea
Leaders of all Northeast Asia nations must recognize the costs to the
entire region of the nationalisms of the 20th century. Chinese, Korean,
and Japanese peoples have all paid the tremendous cost of war. Yet they
have rebuilt dynamic and prosperous societies, and while the wounds of
last century's wars are still raw, reactive nationalism is not the salve
that will heal them. Blame and retribution will only create conflict,
and if unchecked, could lead yet again to war.
Territorial disputes today can be adjudicated under international
law, and scientific evidence and legal argument should be the armaments
in that battle. Reflection on the costs of war should be part of every
nation's conversation on days of memorial. But the leaders of each
nation must find the courage to remind their nations to look forward
while working to create the path to reconciliation with those who were
once enemies. There are too many opportunities to demonstrate the value
of cooperation among the countries of Northeast Asia for anyone to
persuade me that the hurts of the past cannot be overcome.
It is a difficult task, but for Japan, South Korea, and China, it is perhaps the most pressing one.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.