China Power

Kan: What Territorial Dispute?

Naoto Kan wraps up the APEC summit with some tough words for China, and slightly less tough ones for Russia.

Well, economic growth and the 'Yokohama Vision' might have been the key official themes of APEC, but as it was bilateral issues that dominated much of the media's interest, it's probably fitting I wrap-up my APEC coverage with mention of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's closing press conference, which I've just come back from.

Kan covered at some length the key points that APEC leaders had agreed on before skipping quickly through a list of his bilateral meetings with Barack Obama, Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, among others. Inevitably, however, questioners brought him back to the issue that has to some extent overshadowed the summit, namely the territorial disputes with China and Russia.

According to Kan, there is in fact no territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and he reaffirmed categorically that the islands are Japanese territory. Asked about the issue of China's apparent restrictions on rare earth metals to Japan, and whether his government would consider filing a complaint with the WTO, Kan said that the Chinese had assured Japan that they didn't intend to use rare earths as a 'ploy'.

On Russia, Kan said that Japan had 'stated clearly our protest' over Medvedev's visit to Kunashiri island, part of what the Russians refer to as the Southern Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories. But he went on to suggest that there are opportunities for the two countries to co-operate as 'Russia is, if anything, shifting in searching for new possibilities in the east of the country.'

Domestically, Kan also responded to a question on whether he might be raising unrealistic expectations among other APEC members over whether Japan can follow through with reforms to help bring about a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) closer, including through the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The questioner noted the significant opposition among farmers, to which Kan responded by noting an important fact – the average age of Japanese farmers is 65.8.

'I don't think it's because young people don't like agriculture,' he said, arguing that restrictions that have meant it's not possible to buy farmland unless you're already engaged in agriculture have meant that the industry has been unable to attract fresh blood. 'If you want to be a carpenter or a barber you don't face this kind of restriction,' he added.

Whether young Japanese salarymen from Tokyo are going to be persuaded to abandon their desks in favour of a life of rural toil, even with such restrictions on land purchases lifted, is of course quite another matter.