Last Hurrah for Japan's Aging China-Basher

By Todd Crowell
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Whatever the purpose of the remark, it is undeniable that Ishihara almost single-handedly created the current crisis over the disputed Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu, when he proposed that the city of Tokyo buy the islands and made a call for private donations to accomplish this.

He essentially sand-bagged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose government was quietly seeking to buy the islands, which at the time were actually owned by a private individual. That forced Noda to have the national government openly buy the islands with taxpayer money. 

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Noda apparently hoped that Beijing would understand that it was far better to have the islands in the hands of the national government than "wild man," China-bashing Ishihara. The Tokyo governor would have used ownership to build a small port or erect a lighthouse in contradiction to government policy.

Tokyo has resisted numerous attempts by Japan’s super nationalists to erect permanent fixtures on the Senkaku as a sign of ownership. If they were in Ishihara’s hands this would have been harder. Beijing, however, does not see things that way, and the dispute over the island’s sovereignty continues to percolate.

The official Restoration Party stance on the disputed islands, however, is more moderate. The platform says that the party will urge China to bring the Senkaku dispute to the International Court of Justice for a ruling on which country has sovereign jurisdiction over the islands.

Ishihara was a teenager in the final days of World War II and the difficult years immediately after the surrender, which helps to understand his views today. In many ways he is stuck in that era. For example, he still refers to China as "Shina," the name that was often associated with Japan’s invasion and occupation.

He insists that Shina is not a derogatory word, and that the current word for China, "Chugoku," meaning center country or middle kingdom, is overly fawning of the continental neighbor and subject to some confusion as the same word also refers to the Japanese region centered on Hiroshima in the far western part of Honshu.

While it is clear what Hashimoto gets out of this unwieldy alliance of convenience, one has to wonder what Ishihara gets from it. Perhaps he was bored after 13 years as governor of Tokyo. Perhaps he simply wants one more season in the sun or a platform where he can pontificate on his views. Or, to take him at his word, perhaps he believes he is the man to save Japan.

If the Restoration Party enters a coalition with the LDP after the election, which is one widely assumed scenario, Ishihara will probably have to leave the saving to others. Though he is certain to win a seat in parliament at the head of the Tokyo proportional representation list, he says he will not accept a ministerial post.

"I’m too old," he says.

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Todd Crowell is the author of Farewell, My Colony: Last Years in the Life of British Hong Kong. He is compiling a Dictionary of the Modern Asian Language and comments on Asian affairs at Asia Cable (www.asiacable.blogspot.com).
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