Ever-controversial Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara turns 80 this month; if "This is Your Life" were to have a Japanese incarnation, soon-to-be-octogenarian Ishihara's episode would be something worth DVRing onto its own hard drive and preserving in a sealed glass case to keep it through the ages.
Although Ishihara won't be making the leap from analog to digital before his circuits fail, he's already led such a full life that anyone could be jealous. Being a member of Japan's upper house for four years and its lower house for 23 years, governor of Tokyo for 13 uninterrupted years, and novelist, you might imagine Ishihara isn't exactly the unmotivated type.
Ishihara's move toward the Senkakus (Diaoyu to the Chinese) is perhaps his biggest gambit yet; having amassed almost 1.45 billion yen worth of private donations, he has been looking to take the disputed Senkakus and present them to the national government on a silver platter, completely free of charge. In a conversation with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Ishihara offered to hand the islands over for free to Kasumigaseki for administration, although he’s said he would like certain structures developed on the islands. Last weekend, more than two dozen Tokyo officials circled the islands for “survey purposes,” although the man himself behind the plan was conspicuously absent.
However, Ishihara’s purchase offer has already been trumped by a Japanese national government counteroffer of 2.05 billion yen for three of the islands to its owner, a private citizen living in Saitama, but the big question is “does all this actually matter?” China, long-time claimant of the Diaoyu/Senkakus, denies that Japan’s continuing administration and patrol of the islands establishes any legitimacy over Tokyo’s claim to the islands, and by extension any Japanese citizen.
Given that these islands were said to be worth billions by a U.N. report in the late 1960s due to rich natural resources, China will not particularly care how fancy the bill of sale looks between any Japanese citizen and the Japanese government; from the outside, it may as well be a shill bid. The only tangible effect to this circus is the growing tension between Japan and its larger, toothy neighbor to the southwest.
National pride aside, these islands represent one of the most contentious issues between the two countries; when resources are at stake, the gloves come off. Ishihara’s posturing, most evident in a survey mission that wasn’t even able to land on the islands due to the national government denying them permission (good call fellas), is his attempt to force either Tokyo or Beijing’s hand and shape the politics of the East China Sea. Neither nation is willing to commit to a proper conflict; Japan and China have just established stronger financial ties, cutting out the U.S. dollar as a currency for direct trades between the two nations.
Speaking of the U.S., continued presence by its military will keep a lid on open conflict; being a true artist at provoking people of all kinds, Ishihara knows this gives him a wide berth when trying to dictate foreign policy from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. The offer to turn over the islands to the Japanese government for free hints further that he’s not looking for an investment in anything tangible aside from his own political clout.
The final question is “who moves first?” Cooler heads in the national government do not want to sour relations with China any more than it already has. China doesn’t want to risk conflict. Ishihara wants a legacy, and the Senkakus may be his last big hurrah if Tokyo's 2020 Olympic bid falls through. But then, hosting dignitaries and athletes from every corner of the world is nothing compared to starting a small cold war with your biggest, angriest neighbor.© Japan Today