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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wen the Premier Speaks...

Over two weeks after trouble first flared up between China and Japan, the situation has developed such that calls for the release of the fisherman being held in Japanese custody have now started to come from the very heart of China's government.  After protests from the Foreign Ministry have proved fruitless in softening Tokyo's stance on the Diaoyu Islands issue, Wen Jiabao (China's Premier) took the opportunity on Tuesday while at the centre of internal diplomacy (the United Nations in New York) to once again demand the release of the Chinese captain.  According to Xinhua, Wen made a personal plea to Japan to put an end to the affair, while at the same time warning of the harsh measures to come should Beijing's demands not be met.

There is no doubt in the mind of the Chinese government over who is responsible for the mounting tension- Wen laid the blame firmly and exclusively at Japan's door, and it is clear that the PRC is still looking for Japan to end the crisis itself rather than force China's hand.  If the former does occur, this will be an indirect acknowledgement that Tokyo bares the brunt of the blame for causing the controversy, making such an occurence seem unlikely at the moment.  The Premier's decision to raise the issue while at a United Nations conference also reflects the desire of both sides to gain international recognition for their respective standpoints.  In an environment swarming with diplomats, Wen's words won't have fallen deaf ears, though it does not seem that international opinion has entirely succumbed to this latest Chinese publicity move.

What should be of more concern to other nations is the rapid breakdown in the Sino-Japanese dialogue that has happened in the last few days.  With China refusing to meet the Japanese delegation at the United Nations, and with exchanges at a ministerial and provincial also temporarily suspended, the number of avenues in which Chinese and Japanese negotiators can interact is diminishing.  As a result, Beijing has been confined to repeatedly protesting its sovereignty over the Diaoyu area and issuing call after call for the release of the captain, and a possible Japanese desire to come to the negotiating table has been unable to express itself in any meaningful way.  No doubt, as long as China is not prepared to risk a direct move and as long as Japan sticks to its guns, the remainder of this week will see more of the same.

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