By Nozomi Matsui
Sept. 11 marked the fifth anniversary of the Japanese government’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa. Democratic Party House of Representatives member Yoshihiko Noda, who was prime minister at that time, revealed to Asahi Shimbun in an interview that two days before the cabinet made the decision to allocate funds for the purchase of the islands, he was aggressively confronted by then Chinese President Hu Jintao, who told him: “Nationalization is absolutely unacceptable!” Looking back, Noda said that having secret negotiations among a small number of officials “was not the best scenario, but we had to make a decision.”
On Sept. 9, 2012, when Hu entered the room where the APEC leaders were having a luncheon meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Noda approached him to offer support and words of sympathy for the earthquake in Yunnan Province that had occurred two days prior. Hu ignored his offer and immediately criticized the nationalization of the Senkakus. Noda recalled, “He did not even make eye contact and his face was expressionless. I simply told him that the Senkakus are Japanese territory and this was just a handover of ownership to the national government.”
According to Noda, the nationalization of the Senkakus had been a matter carried over from one chief cabinet secretary to the next since the Koizumi administration. What caused an abrupt change in the situation was the sudden announcement in April 2012 by then Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara that the Tokyo government was going to purchase the islands.
In May, Noda instructed Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Akihisa Nagashima and other officials to consider nationalization.
He invited Ishihara to the Kantei on Aug. 19 for a meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes. Ishihara talked about stationing government officials permanently on the Senkakus and even discussed how to deal with a military conflict with China. Noda said: “I became convinced that Tokyo’s purchase of the islands would change the situation and that nationalization was absolutely necessary.”
Noda informed China of this decision through diplomatic channels and he had the impression that “given only two choices, China accepted that nationalization could not be helped.” Noda reckoned that Hu’s strong reaction was rather due to the power struggle back in China.
To the question whether he was worried about a deterioration of relations with China, Noda said: “If I did not make the decision, there might have been serious trouble. I had no choice but to go for the lesser of two evils.” (Abridged)