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Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun Gave Briefing to Chinese and Foreign Journalists on the Diaoyu Dao Issue (Transcript)
2012/10/30

On 26 October 2012, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun gave a briefing to Chinese and foreign journalists on the Diaoyu Dao issue. The following is a transcript of the briefing:

Zhang Zhijun: In the recent period, many friends from the media have been following the Diaoyu Dao issue and asked to interview me. I am very happy to set aside some time to have this discussion with you on the Diaoyu Dao issue.

At the outset, let me briefly talk about the history of the issue. Simply put, Diaoyu Dao shouldn't have been an issue and there shouldn't be a dispute over its ownership. It became an issue and turned into a dispute only because of the illegal action taken by Japan back in 1895 to seize and occupy Diaoyu Dao. Diaoyu Dao has been China's inherent territory historically and legally. If you look at the history, it was the Chinese people who first discovered and named the Diaoyu Dao. In the five hundred years beginning with the Ming Dynasty to the modern times, China has exercised sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao. And if you look at international law, there are clear provisions in international legal documents such as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation that the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands be returned to China along with Taiwan. It was made very clear in the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation that Japan should restore to China all the territories it has stolen from China. Therefore from the legal perspective, Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands, together with Taiwan, should have been returned to China. In 1971 the United States, through a backroom deal, transferred to Japan the administrative rights over Diaoyu Dao which had been placed under illegal US trusteeship. At that time, the Chinese government issued a solemn statement pointing out that this action was illegal and could not change, not even in the slightest way, the People's Republic of China's territorial sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao and affiliated islands.

In 1972, when China and Japan restored diplomatic relations, the two sides reached understanding and consensus on "putting aside the issue of Diaoyu Dao to be resolved later". Recently, the Japanese government, in defiance of the firm opposition of China, announced the so-called "purchase" of Diaoyu Dao. This move grossly infringed upon China's territorial sovereignty, caused the most severe disruption to China-Japan relations since normalization of relations 40 years ago and triggered widespread concern of the international community.

Q: How does China view the Japanese government's "purchase" of Diaoyu Dao? Has China reacted somewhat excessively to the move?

A: I have, from multiple angles, explained why China has sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao. Japan has no right to engage in any form of buying or selling of Chinese territory. No bit of land, water and vegetation on Diaoyu Dao can be traded away. No matter how Japan implemented the "purchase" of the islands, it was always a serious infringement of China's territorial sovereignty.

The recent farce of "island purchase" was deliberately instigated by right-wing forces in Japan. It was intended to infringe upon China's territorial sovereignty and undermine China-Japan relations. Instead of stopping it, the Japanese government stepped forward to "purchase" the islands. What the right-wing forces had wanted to do and achieve was eventually taken care of by the Japanese government. According to the Japanese side, it is better for the government to "purchase" the islands than the right-wing forces. And Japan wants China to make a choice. This is like asking China to choose between two kinds of poison. China will never accept this absurd logic and will never accept any option that undermines China's territorial sovereignty. The only option available to China is to take strong measures to defend its territorial sovereignty.

Anticipating Japan's move to "purchase" the islands, China, from the outset, clearly expressed our attitude of firm opposition. In a conversation with Prime Minister Noda during the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, President Hu Jintao pointed out solemnly that China-Japan relations have come under great strain recently due to the Diaoyu Dao issue. China's position on the issue has been consistent and clear-cut. Any form of "island purchase" by Japan would be illegal and invalid, and would be firmly opposed by China. The Chinese government has an unshakable position on upholding territorial sovereignty. Japan must fully realize the severity of the situation and desist from making the wrong decision. The Japanese side should have appreciated how weighty these comments were.

I myself have, on multiple occasions, given warning to leading officials of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, pointing out that if Japan should implement the "island purchase", then the indignation of the Chinese people will erupt like a volcano. I especially pointed out, more than once, that should Japan "purchase" the islands, it would do no less damage to China-Japan relations than an atomic bomb. After Japan floated the idea of "island purchase", some political leaders and thoughtful individuals in Japan saw how severe the situation might be. I remember in June, the then Japanese ambassador to China, Mr. Niwa, in an interview with the Financial Times, said that the "island purchase" would create a major crisis in China-Japan relations. I do not doubt for a second that as Japanese ambassador to China, Mr. Niwa was a faithful representative of Japan's national interests. I believe he was merely telling the truth. But it turned out that he came under reproach in Japan for doing this.

You are all familiar with how the situation then transpired. The government of Japan paid no attention to the warnings from the Chinese side. It acted unscrupulously and took the seriously escalating step of violating China's territorial sovereignty. The move aroused the strong indignation of the over one billion sons and daughters of the Chinese nation on the mainland, in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as well as the overseas Chinese communities. In response to the Japanese move, the Chinese government adopted a series of strong and resolute countermeasures to uphold China's territorial sovereignty. We are fully justified in taking these actions. It is what every responsible government would do. There are some people in Japan who are saying that China has overreacted to the move. I would say this: if the actions taken by China exceeded Japan's expectation, it only shows that Japan has from the outset seriously misjudged the situation and underestimated the will and determination of the Chinese government and people to uphold the territorial sovereignty of our country.

Q: You've been conducting consultations with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials recently on this issue. What has been discussed in the consultations? What was the atmosphere like? And was any progress made in those consultations? Is it right that what China expects from Japan is to return to the negotiating table?

A: China and Japan have maintained contacts and consultations through various channels and in various forms on the Diaoyu Dao issue. On 25 September, the two sides launched in Beijing a vice foreign ministerial-level consultation on the Diaoyu Dao issue. I've been leading the discussion on the Chinese side and on the Japanese side, it is Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai who's been leading the discussion. Recently, the Director General for Asia of the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministries exchanged views on the Diaoyu Dao dispute in Tokyo to prepare the ground for the next round of vice foreign ministers' consultation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has released relevant information. In all levels of contacts and consultations with the Japanese side, the Chinese side pointed out in a solemn and comprehensive way China's solemn position on the Diaoyu Dao issue and the steely resolve of the Chinese government to uphold China's territorial sovereignty. We urged the Japanese side to admit the mistake, mend its ways and take concrete actions to properly handle the issue.

Since the consultations and contacts involve the two foreign ministries, the arrangements would have to be agreed between the two sides. I believe the important thing is not when or where the consultation will take place or what form it will take, rather it is that the Japanese side must size up the situation, give up any illusions, face up to the facts and correct its mistake through concrete actions. Only this will return the bilateral relationship to the normal track of development.

Q: Why doesn't China accept the so-called "islands purchase" by the Japanese government?

A: I know what you really want to ask. You want to know why we don't accept that if the "islands purchase" is implemented by the Japanese government, it would be less harmful than would be the case if the "purchase" is implemented by Ishihara. Let me draw an analogy for you. Let's say you have a son and a daughter. A robber comes to you and wants to take one of them away. And the robber asks you: Would you like to give up your son or your daughter? We all know that be it the son or the daughter, they are all dear to the heart of the mother and inseparable from the mother. There is a saying in Chinese – there might be one in English as well – which is "to choose the lesser of two evils". I think that was the calculation of Japan. It would like China to choose between two bad options. But Japan should know that China will never accept any damage to its territorial sovereignty, be it big or small. China will always be firmly opposed to such a move. So on this issue, the Japanese side thought that they were very smart and made some calculated moves. But let's watch and see whose interests their move would eventually damage.

Q: Japan refuses to recognize that it has reached consensus with China on the Diaoyu Dao issue. What is China's view?

A: In the negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations in 1972 and the negotiations to conclude a treaty of peace and friendship in 1978, the older generation of Chinese and Japanese leaders recognized that the two sides have a dispute over the Diaoyu Dao as they had very different positions on this issue. In order not to affect the bigger interests of normalization of relations and conclusion of the treaty due to the Diaoyu Dao issue, the two sides agreed not to touch the issue for the time being, and reached the understanding and consensus of "putting aside the Diaoyu Dao issue to be resolved later". This created favorable conditions for the subsequent reestablishment and development of China-Japan relations. These are historical facts and you can check them in the archives. Recently, some Japanese individuals who knew about this came forward to prove this. With hindsight, the understanding and consensus reached between the two sides on the Diaoyu Dao issue has played an important role in facilitating the phenomenal growth of China-Japan relations in the 40 years since.

In recent years, there has been a serious backtracking in Japan's position on the Diaoyu Dao issue. It has taken a series of unilateral moves to infringe upon China's rights and provoke matters, for example, the "naming" of some of the islands, the conducting of "surveys", the holding of a "fishing gathering" around the waters off Diaoyu Dao, "landing" on the main island and so on. Finally, the Japanese government stepped forward to "purchase" the islands, thereby reinforcing its so-called "actual control" of the islands. The illegal "island purchase" by Japan thoroughly undermined the consensus reached between the two sides and effected a fundamental change in the situation surrounding Diaoyu Dao. The Japanese side must fully realize this.

Q: Presuming that Japan is simply not going to pack up and leave the island or abandon its claims, what is China looking to secure from these talks? What could the Japanese side specifically do to bring down tensions between the two sides?

A: I noted just now that the illegal "island purchase" by the Japanese side undermined the understanding and consensus reached between the older generation of leaders of the two countries and brought about a fundamental change in the situation. As far as China is concerned, in the ongoing consultations and dialogue, we will continue to state China's solemn position and serious attitude on the Diaoyu Dao issue, and underscore to the Japanese side China's strong determination to uphold territorial sovereignty. On this issue, Japan must come to realize that is has done something wrong. It must reflect on this serious mistake and take concrete actions to correct it. Japan should not have any illusion that it can continue its occupation of Diaoyu Dao. Only this can help put the bilateral relations back on a normal track.

Q: Is China prepared for possible military conflict with Japan? Could you speak to that and also China's diplomatic stance on this one?

A: China is a peace-loving country. External aggression and expansion is not China's policy and not consistent with China's cultural tradition. China has always believed that international disputes should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and negotiation. China will not be out to provoke matters, but we are not afraid of provocations. China would like to have friendly relations with all countries including Japan, but we have our principles and our bottom line, and that is we will never give any ground on issues regarding territorial sovereignty. The first one of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence is "mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

When it comes to the Diaoyu Dao issue, we hope to appropriately handle it through negotiation and dialogue. We do not hope to see the situation get out of hand, but this cannot be decided by China alone.

Q: Does the Chinese government see the Diaoyu Dao issue as involving China's core interests? What has changed in China's policy and approach to this issue compared with the old days when China said it would like to "set aside the dispute"?

A: In September last year, the Information Office of the State Council of China issued a white paper entitled China's Peaceful Development. The white paper gave clear definition of China's core interests, which include the following: state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification; China's political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability; and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development.

Regarding the Diaoyu Dao issue, I would like to emphasize that Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands have, since ancient times, been an integral part of China's territory. The Chinese government and people have unshakable resolve and will to uphold the country's territorial sovereignty. One should never question this or try to test it. China's position on Diaoyu Dao has been consistent and clear-cut, that is: China has indisputable sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao. The issue came about because Japan stole the islands from China in 1895, and Japan is still sticking to its erroneous position regarding the ownership of Diaoyu Dao. On the Diaoyu Dao issue, China has its position and Japan has a position which is different from China's, hence the dispute. The two sides may have contacts and consultations, but such consultations must be based on a clear recognition of this basic fact.

Q: Japan has recently played up the acts of violence by some Chinese individuals in protests against Japan. What is your comment?

A: On the Diaoyu Dao issue, Japan has grossly violated China's territorial sovereignty and infuriated the entire Chinese nation, whether in China or overseas. Many have spontaneously participated in large-scale demonstrations protesting against Japan's illegal move of "island purchase". This is something unprecedented in the 40 years of normalized relations between China and Japan. Japan should not focus on the very small number of illegal actions that have occurred under very special circumstances. Rather, it should think hard about why it infuriated the Chinese people and draw some lessons from it. It should reflect seriously on this matter and give a responsible answer to the Chinese people.

As regards the very small number of illegal actions that occurred under very special circumstances, the Chinese government has properly and promptly dealt with them and the wrongdoers according to law. China will continue to faithfully implement relevant international law and Chinese laws, and ensure the safety of foreign institutions and personnel in China. In the meantime, we have seen successive acts of violence and terrorism against Chinese diplomatic and consular missions, institutions and personnel in Japan. Some people have mailed bullets to the Chinese embassy, and others have thrown burning objects to China's diplomatic and consular missions. We ask Japan to take concrete actions to assure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel.

Q: There is news about the Japanese-American trainings in relevant waters. What's your view on this?

A: We are watching very closely what action Japan might take in the waters surrounding Diaoyu Dao, and we will decide what we'll do accordingly. If Japan should continue down the current wrongful path and take more erroneous actions, if Japan should create more incidents regarding Diaoyu Dao to challenge China, then China will definitely take resolute and strong countermeasures. There is no lack of countermeasures that China might take in response. It must be pointed out that the Asia of today is not the Asia of 117 years ago. The China of today is not the China of 1895, or the China during the "18 September Incident" in 1931 or during the "7 July Incident" in 1937. The Chinese government has unshakable resolve and will to uphold China's territorial sovereignty. We have the confidence and the ability to uphold the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. No amount of foreign threats or pressure will shake, in the slightest, the resolve of the Chinese government and people.

Q: The instigator of the "island purchase" Shintaro Ishihara has announced his intention to resign his post of the Governor of Tokyo and said he would form a new party. What impact do you think this move will have on the efforts of China and Japan to handle the Diaoyu Dao issue? And judging from the incident he provoked, what tendency has been revealed about Japanese politics?

A: The right-wing forces in Japan instigated the farce of the "island purchase". The Japanese government did not act to stop this. Instead, it deliberately pandered to it and used it. The broader context of this is the increasing tilt to the right in Japanese politics. You may take a look at what has been said and done in Japan in recent years: denial of the Nanjing Massacre, denial of the so-called "comfort women", disavowal of the Murayama statement [1] and the Kono statement [2], the visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni war shrine, advocacy of military buildup and preparation for war and abandonment of Japan's pacifist constitution. How does the Japanese government react to these dangerous political trends? Will it stop them, or will it pander to them? Countries across Asia and the entire international community, not just China, are watching. In the past, this kind of dangerous trend had created enormous catastrophe for the rest of Asia. So if the current trend is not stopped – or worse, if it is used, pandered to and condoned out of domestic political needs – then the arrogance of these people will be further inflated and Japan will move further down the dangerous path. One day, it is not unlikely that the tragedies of history will be repeated, Asia and even the world will be dragged into catastrophe, and harm will eventually be brought onto Japan itself.

In recent days, senior Japanese officials visited Germany and this prompted me to think about the deep-seated causes of the above-mentioned dangerous trends. Maybe we can compare the attitude of Japan towards its war crimes with that of Germany. The German fascists had waged a war of aggression that created untold suffering for Europe. After the war, the process of reconciliation between Germany and other countries was, at one point, also very difficult. Yet Germany reflected hard on the crimes committed by its fascists and Germany has done some things to undo the damage. One of the things that Germany did was very important: in 1970, Chancellor Willy Brandt, during a visit to Poland, knelt down in front of a memorial to the Jews killed in the war and expressed remorse for the suffering German fascists unleashed on the people of Poland and other European countries. I think it was a sincere and deep act of remorse. Chancellor Brandt knelt down, but I think since then the German nation has stood up and won the forgiveness of many of the victimized people in Europe, paving the way for reconciliation between Germany and other countries. A couple of years ago, Germany even built, in the heart of Berlin, a holocaust memorial to remind people not to forget that difficult part of history. In today's Germany and across Europe, comments, actions and signs that advocate fascism are not allowed. Such things will meet with universal condemnation and even be prosecuted by law.

Contrast Germany's actions with those of Japan's, and you'll see that there has only been a vague recognition in Japan of the nature of the war of aggression it launched. Even to this day, some political figures still visit the Yasukuni shrine, where 14 Class-A war criminals whose hands were stained with the blood of Asian people are still honored. When they visit the war shrine, they are swollen with arrogance and shorn of any sense of guilt or shame or any regard to the feelings of the victimized people in Asia. Given this, how can Japan win the forgiveness of its Asian neighbors? How can it put the mind of its neighbors at ease? If Japan cannot face up to history, do some soul-searching and make determined efforts to correct past mistakes, then even if it may become developed economically, it will never stand up morally and psychologically.

Recently, I came across an article written by Mr. Fumio Matsuo, a former senior correspondent with Kyodo News. The article was published in Japan's Chuokoron Monthly (Central Review) and its title is "Only by Paying the Debt of History Can Japan Have a Future". Mr. Matsuo wrote in the article that entering 2011, Japan is experiencing instability in its relations with China, Russia and the Korean Peninsula and even in its diplomacy with the United States. Japan has run into all kinds of diplomatic problems with its neighbors, because it has not been smart enough to bring the chapter of WWII to a close. Rather it has reveled in the fact that it has become a major economic power. And countries, not just China and Russia, but also the ROK and the DPRK are all asking Japan to pay the debt of history. Although we're talking about things that happened over 60 years ago, people have not forgotten that Japan has not fully come to terms with that episode in history. Japan should have a clear understanding of this. Now it's time for Japan to repay the debt. It should do some serious soul-searching and, on that basis, seek breakthroughs and improvements in its diplomatic relations with others.

I have never met this Mr. Matsuo, but I think he has made some very good points. Talking about paying the debt of history, I think the most basic that Japan can do is to return the territories it has illegally grabbed in its wars of aggression and expansion to their original owners. Japan should not incur any new debt without paying the old debt in the first place. It is high time that Japan did some soul-searching and truly reflected on its own past.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun concluded the briefing by emphasizing that China is committed to an independent foreign policy of peace, a strategy of forging friendship and partnership with its neighbors and the path of peaceful development. China has contributed tremendously to peace, stability and development of the region and will play a bigger and more active role in safeguarding peace and development of Asia and the world at large. However, should anyone try to challenge China's bottom line on issues of sovereignty, China will have no alternative but to respond forcefully so as to remove disturbances and obstacles and move steadily on the path of peaceful development.

Notes:

[1] The Murayama statement: On 15 August 1995, the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat in WWII, the then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued formal remarks on the issue of history, in which he expressed deep remorse and apology to Asian countries and the international community for Japanese colonial rule and invasion during WWII. The Murayama statement has since been adopted as the official position of the Japanese government on the issue of history and been followed by successive cabinets.

[2] The Kono statement: On 4 August 1993, the then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued remarks on the issue of "comfort women", in which he admitted Japan's conscription of "comfort women" during WWII and expressed remorse and apology for it.

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