Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang sharply criticized the ruse adopted by the mayor of a Japanese city to change the name of China's Diaoyu Islands, saying such a move will not change the fact that the islands have always been "an inherent part of Chinese territory".
Yoshitaka Nakayama, mayor of Ishigaki city in the southwestern island of Okinawa, submitted a proposal to the city's assembly on Monday to change the "Japanese name" of the islands from "Tonoshiro, Ishigaki City" to "Tonoshiro Senkaku, Ishigaki City", according to some Japanese media reports.
Geng's comments come at a time when the frozen political relations between China and Japan are showing signs of thawing.
On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, last month, President Xi Jinping met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who later held talks with Premier Li Keqiang in Manila.Upset by the increasing interactions between Chinese and Japanese leaders, some Japanese right-wingers might have decided to drive an extra wedge between Beijing and Tokyo to prevent the "reconciliation" process from proceeding any further.
In 2012 when Beijing and Tokyo were scheduled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic rapprochement, the right-wing elements announced the "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands. And Yoshihiko Noda, then Japan's prime minister, in a possible attempt to add some "legitimacy" to Japan's illegal occupation of the Diaoyu Islands, endorsed the plan to purchase the islands, thereby freezing the China-Japan relationship, whose chill is still being felt on both sides. Whether Japanese right-wing forces in Tokyo and elsewhere are up to the same trickery again should be watched closely.
It is also likely that the Ishigaki mayor wanted the name-changing proposal to arouse or encourage hatred toward China's lawful claims over the Diaoyu Islands. Coupled with reports distorting Chinese coast guard vessels patrolling the waters off the Diaoyu Islands as "trespassing Japanese territories", the right-wing narrative only adds to the historical grudge some Japanese people hold against China while diluting public attention on the islands' true ownership.
It is no secret that Japanese right-wing forces have been desperately trying to "legitimize" their control over the Diaoyu Islands that actually belong to China, in a bid to make them a Japanese territory for good. The name-changing ploy may be just a reminder that Japan today controls the islands, yet it is a worrying move because Japan wants to turn its effective control into sovereign "proof".
It is hoped that the discerning minds on both sides will work together to foil the latest rightist attempts, which could prevent the possible thawing of bilateral ties. Dwelling on trivial matters pertaining to the Diaoyu Islands risks missing the big picture - restraining Japanese right-wingers from making waves.
The author is a professor of Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University.