Diaoyu Talks Set Amid “Propaganda War”

A senior member of China’s Foreign Ministry met with his counterpart in Tokyo on Thursday and the two sides have agreed to hold vice-ministerial talks to end the ongoing dispute over the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands, according to a weekend China Daily report:

In addition, US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will fly in to mediate the dispute with Tokyo and Beijing on his tour to Asia next week, a move experts said is aimed at collecting information and shaping future policies.

Even before the vice-ministerial talks, Luo Zhaohui, director of the Foreign Ministry’s department of Asian affairs, was invited to Tokyo on Thursday to meet his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The department chiefs’ talk was made to brace for the expected reconciliation on the Diaoyu Islands dispute between vice-foreign ministers from both sides,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters on Friday.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Friday confirmed the vice-ministerial talk plan and said both sides need to think calmly as communications continue, yet he added that “the important thing is that we cannot give over what we cannot give over”.

Among the options discussed, according to the Kyodo News in a report last week, is for Japan to acknowledge China’s claims to the islands without altering its long-held position that no official territorial dispute exists. The Guardian’s Peter Wynn Kirby commented on Sunday that China “would be wise to accept Japan’s olive branch” but may not be able to quell the flames of nationalism that it so loves to stoke. Meanwhile, the New York Times has more on Luo Zhaohui’s visit to Tokyo last week:

The talks appeared to signal a willingness by the nations to at least begin discussing their often highly emotional disagreement over control of the island group, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. According to the ministry’s statement, the diplomats “exchanged opinions” on the dispute and held preparatory talks for a higher-level meeting between the two nations to take place at an unspecified date.

While neither the Japanese nor the Chinese offered much additional detail, the meeting offered the first glimpse of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at cooling a heated territorial dispute that has set the two Asian powers increasingly at odds and has begun to damage their extensive economic ties. The fact that the meeting took place at all seemed to signal that the two nations wanted to pull back from a confrontation that has led to violent street protests in China and cat-and-mouse games between their patrol ships on the high seas.

Despite the Tokyo meeting, and the prospect of further dialogue, brinksmanship over the islands continues. The Associated Press reports that about 40 ships and 30 naval aircraft held an exercise to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Japanese navy in the waters south of Tokyo on Sunday, during which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke of the “severe” challenges facing Japan’s security without mentioning the islands directly. Xinhua News called out Japan’s role in the dispute as threatening the global economic recovery, citing several statements from foreign and domestic academics, and the China Daily recycled its latest version of the “Diaoyu Islands are part of China” piece.

Both sides have also now accused the other of waging a propaganda war, Japan in the Daily Yomiuri on Saturday and China in the Global Times on Monday. There, the state-run newspaper detailed a number of recent moves Japan has made to further its case abroad:

The Japanese Foreign Ministry plans to establish embassies in five more countries, including South Sudan and Bhutan, in fiscal 2013, a move partly aimed at better communicating Japan’s positions to the international community amid an island dispute with China, Kyodo News cited ministry officials as saying on Sunday.

The move came shortly after Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said that the country needs to “make our case to the international community by explaining our stance and opinions to foreign countries and overseas media on various occasions,” the Daily Yomiuri reported Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government will dispatch three high-level officials, including Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, to relevant countries to explain the issue. Gemba will visit Britain, France and Germany from Monday to Saturday, according to the newspaper.

Japanese media reported that the foreign ministry is rushing out brochures asserting its sovereignty over the islands, which will be translated into 10 languages for the convenience of diplomats to clarify Japan’s stance.

Another Global Times editorial on Monday chided Japan for its “diplomatic scurry” and urged Tokyo to “abandon the illusion that China would bend its position” on the Diaoyu issue.