NEWS ANALYSIS

Outrage in Japan over ex-PM's call

Hatoyama had said in Beijing that Tokyo should recognise islands row

TOKYO - Former premier Yukio Hatoyama's call to Japan to recognise the existence of a dispute over the Senkaku islands has been greeted with outrage at home.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera even called him a "traitor".

"It is a big minus for Japan. China will use it to say there is a dispute and shape world opinion. For the first time in a long while, the word 'traitor' crossed my mind," Mr Onodera told a TV news show.

If China had indeed hoped to send a message of reconciliation to Tokyo through Mr Hatoyama, who was invited there by a Chinese academic organisation, it would appear to have failed.

The former premier is viewed by many of his countrymen with a mixture of incredulity and scorn.

Mr Hatoyama, who retired from politics last November, reportedly made his remarks earlier this week in Beijing in separate meetings with Mr Jia Qinglin, who heads China's top political advisory body, and with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Officially, Japan insists that no dispute exists over the sovereignty of the Senkakus, which the Chinese call the Diaoyus. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly reminded China that the islands are inherently Japanese territory and "non-negotiable".

Japan's nationalisation of the islands last year sparked anti-Japanese protests throughout China and chilled bilateral ties. The dispute has also hurt Japanese trade and investments with China.

In what appeared to be an attempt to mend ties, Mr Jia reportedly told Mr Hatoyama that both countries should value their strategic relations of mutual benefit and work to develop them. This was, however, not reported in the Japanese media, which gave scant attention to Mr Hatoyama's visit.

Curiously, the visit coincided almost exactly with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's tour of three Asean capitals this week to gather support for Japan's position on the Senkakus. Some observers believe the Chinese may have hoped that Mr Hatoyama's remarks would dampen Mr Abe's efforts to rally support among the Asean countries, which also have to deal with Chinese maritime ambitions.

China's real intentions with regard to healing ties with Japan may become clearer when its leaders meet the head of the Komeito, the junior member of Japan's ruling coalition, next week.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yama- guchi, whose party has strong ties with the Chinese Communist Party, is expected to have talks with President-elect Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, Mr Hatoyama's visit drew a great deal of flak online, including from Professor Shuya Nomura of Chuo University.

Writing on Twitter, the legal expert said: "Hatoyama may be trying to emulate former US president Carter who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts after stepping down. But there will be peace in this world if Hatoyama did nothing at all."

wengkin@sph.com.sg