The Japanese diplomats digging up documents to claim territory, what the Vatican and Italy agree to disagree on and Australia’s expansion in Latin America.
In Masaki Ichikawa’s mind, the world will one day agree that the Northern Territories, Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands lie within Japan’s borders. This is something that Ichikawa, who heads the Japanese government’s Office of Policy Planning and Coordination on Territory and Sovereignty, doesn’t expect to happen soon. It will probably involve years of hunting for and sifting through documents, maps and photographs that strengthen Japan’s case.
What Japan calls the Northern Territories has been known as Russia’s Kuril Islands since the end of the Second World War. Takeshima has been South Korea’s island chain of Dokdo since 1952. Even Japan’s ownership of the Senkaku Islands has been contested: China and Taiwan also claim the islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese.
This is the prize that Ichikawa has his team of 10 – diplomats, coastguard officials and bureaucrats – working towards. It’s a priority: Shinzo Abe created the office soon after he became prime minister in late 2012. He felt the foreign ministry wasn’t being aggressive enough about territorial issues so he assigned it to a Cabinet-level portfolio.
Japan wants to project the image that it respects the rule of law and isn’t about to repeat its forceful land-grab of the early 20th century. “By objectively asserting Japan’s position backed with documents we can get people at home and abroad to understand our views,” says territories minister Jun Matsumoto (pictured). Even if Japan were to convince Russia and South Korea to hand over the islands, Japanese officials haven’t made any plans to repopulate the territories.
This is an experimental new phase for Japanese diplomacy. At its core is a reassessment of how Tokyo should be communicating with the rest of the world. The emphasis is more on strategic PR and propaganda than on formal government-level exchanges.
For Ichikawa’s office, information-gathering is the main task. His staff have released 400 relevant documents and photographs online in Japanese and English from a cache discovered by scholars in museum and university archives around Japan. There are land-use permits, taxation notices and licences to hunt sea lions. Lying on a nearby table is the sort of artefact that Ichikawa wants to find more of: a 1920 letter from the Chinese Consul in Nagasaki thanking Japan for rescuing 31 fishermen near the Senkaku Islands. “The Consul clearly refers to the islands as Japanese territory.”
But there’s only so much Ichikawa can do with an annual budget of ¥200m (€1.7m). “We don’t have the resources,” he says. So how does he gauge his office’s impact? He fetches a printout from the website of China’s state-run People’s Daily: it’s a detailed report about the need to counter with their own research. “China is aware of what we’re doing.”
The three trickiest disputes:
Senkaku: claimed by China and Taiwan
Northern Territories: claimed by Russia
Takeshima: claimed by South Korea
Australia is set to open its first-ever embassy in Colombia, the latest addition to its expanding presence in Latin America. The Bogotá embassy is the sixth that the country has opened in the region.
“There’s a recognition in Australia of the opportunities present across Latin America and a resolve to become more engaged in the region,” says John M L Woods, former Australian ambassador to Peru and now vice-chair at the Australia Latin America Business Council.
Australia is also an observer state to the Pacific Alliance, a trading bloc comprising Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile. Woods says that the free-trade alliance is seen as a key way to enhance ties.
Relations between Italy and the Holy See are complex. At this year’s annual summit celebrating the 1929 Lateran Accords, when Mussolini and Pope Pius XI formalised the peculiar arrangements between the two states, internal Italian issues proved thorny. Last year saw the legalisation of same-sex marriage, while the Vatican also took a dim view of the end-of-life legislation going through parliament.