China-Japan: Clash at UN General Assembly, Japan cabinet reshuffle

Updated On: Oct 03, 2012

At the UN General Assembly meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi claimed that Japan “stole” the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, prompting a war of words between the two sides. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has reshuffled his cabinet ahead of expected general elections, with one selection being seen as an attempt to mend ties with China. Mr. Noda appointed Ms. Makiko Tanaka as Education Minister – the daughter of a former PM who established diplomatic ties with China in 1972.

China’s comments at the UN General Assembly

Tensions between China and Japan have been rising in recent weeks over Japan’s purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from a private Japanese owner in September. The islands are controlled by Japan, but claimed by China.

In addition, there have been anti-Japanese protests across more than 100 Chinese cities, and a curbing of formal diplomatic ties with China’s postponement of a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-Japan diplomatic ties.

At the recent United Nations General Assembly meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi accused Japan of stealing the disputed islands, saying it was duped into ceding the islands to Japan in a treaty signed in 1895. 

Addressing the General Assembly, he said: “The moves taken by Japan are totally illegal and invalid.  They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole the Diaoyu and its affiliated islands from China and the fact that China has territorial sovereignty over them”. 

The speech resulted in a war of words between China and Japan, with Japanese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Kazuo Kodama claiming that the Senkaku Islands were an inherent part of Japan’s territory.  In response, China’s UN envoy Li Baodong retorted that Japan’s nationalisation of the islands was based on “the logic of robbers” and Japan’s “obsolete colonial mindset”.

Report: Japan PM Warns China on Dispute [The Wall Street Journal, 25 Sep 2012]

Report: China postpones ceremony marking diplomatic ties with Japan [Channel NewsAsia, 23 Sep 2012]

Report: Japan “stole” our islands, Chinese minister tells UN [Channel NewsAsia, 28 Sep 2012]

Report: Japan and China trade barbs over islands at UN [BBC News Asia, 28 Sep 2012]

Japanese cabinet reshuffle

Following the UN General Assembly Meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda returned to Tokyo and reshuffled his cabinet for the third time this year, in what commentators have described as efforts to move beyond territorial disputes with China. 

The appointment of Ms. Makiko Tanaka (pictured with the new cabinet) as Education Minister has been hailed as a signal that Mr. Noda is keen to improve China-Japan ties. Ms. Tanaka is the daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka who formalised diplomatic ties with China in 1972.

According to Takehiko Yamamoto, a professor of international politics at Waseda University, Tanaka’s appointment was fully intended as a diplomatic balm to sooth current tensions. As Education Minister, Ms. Tanaka is expected to oversee cultural exchanges between Japan and China.

However, Mr. Noda has denied that Ms. Tanaka’s appointment was related to the territorial disputes.

Report: Japan PM adds China balm in cabinet reshuffle [Channel NewsAsia, 1 Oct 2012]

Japan’s LDP opposition elects Shinzo Abe as leader

Meanwhile, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been elected as the leader of Japan’s main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party.  The nationalist Abe has vowed to “protect Japan’s land and sea, and the lives of the Japanese people, no matter what”, signaling his strong stance on the territorial disputes involving China and South Korea.

Japan is expected to hold general elections soon, possibly as early as next month, though the date has not been finalised yet. In August, Mr. Noda promised to call for new elections soon, in return for backing of his controversial sales tax plan.

Report: Japanese nationalist tipped to be PM, raising fears of tensions with China [The Guardian, 26 Sep 2012]