In response to Hashimoto Toru’s suggestion that Japan take China to the ICJ over the Senkaku Islands dispute, the Japanese government was negative, and it continued to insist there is no territorial dispute despite Hashimoto admonishment over the stance. No surprises so far.
However, two non-cabinet members of the DPJ, and probably the two most important voices on security issues within the party, have shown a hint of flexibility on the issue. Two days ago Nagashima Akihisa, the prime minister’s foreign and security policy aide, said on national television (日) that Japan would consider responding to a Chinese request to seek ICJ arbitration. Then this evening, on the same TBS station, Maehara Seiji, who will likely be back in the cabinet tomorrow, also said (日) the government would give consideration to any Chinese proposal to go to the ICJ. He did rule out however Japan being the one to make the initial move, saying that as Japan was the nation that actually administrated control over the islands then it would be unusual for Japan to be the one to lodge the dispute with the ICJ. That does make some sense – such a move may project doubt over the legitimacy of one’s own claim. Ultimately the government probably forced its own hand in this regard and it is possible that it may have regreted reacting to ROK President Lee’s provocation on Dokdo by lodging a complaint with the ICJ (which the ROK then rejected), given that a Japanese refusal to respond in kind on the Senkaku Islands would look contradictory. Of course, without an official government statement suggesting that it would consider responding to any ICJ case, then the contradiction will not be fully resolved. Nevertheless, this is more flexibility, and more sense, than many expected.
While I have no basis for assuming this, but it is always possible that the recent willingness of the US to (re)assert that the Senkakus were covered under Article 5 of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty was connected by the Obama administration to Japan perhaps showing a degree more flexibility on the issue and at the very least consider ICJ arbitration, thus putting the ball in China’s court. Will the CCP take the, quite significant risk, as detailed in Friday’s post, of taking this to the ICJ? Is this a bluff by the Japanese government? If so, will it be called?
It will be interesting to see if this gets any coverage in the Chinese media, or how, or if, the Chinese government reacts to the overture.