Kenneth Lieberthal is talking in riddles. Some say he is quoted out of context by the Chinese media. Others thought that he was speaking with a conscience. Or was this a Freudian slip?
China's economic and military leverage has certainly strengthened in recent years.
Unlike most who sided with Japan recently, Lieberthal ought to know the history well. Japan's acquisition of the islands was a gift on the silver platter from American troops at a time when China was weak and rebuilding the country, unable to resist losing its territories to aggressors.
Japan and its supporters cannot change the facts that the islands were under Chinese jurisdiction during the Ming dynasty with documented evidence and the recognition accorded by the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration.
If Japan indeed believes that it has a strong case, it would not need to posture, nationalise or buy up the Diaoyutai islands. Whether by historical or territorial boundaries, Japan lacks ammunition to stake claims, except with its loud complaining voice and encouragement of its military ally. It is orchestrated with the Philippines and Vietnam to exert pressure on China when it's vulnerable during leadership change.
Japan broke consensus with China on Diaoyu Islands
Updated: 2012 -09 -21
WASHINGTON- The Japanese government' s bid to" nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands had broken its consensus with China to shelve the territorial dispute, a US expert said Thursday.
" First of all, I think that Japan' s actions have been key in explaining what China has done," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who had been the senior director for Asia at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.
Speaking at a symposium at the Washington-based think tank, he also admitted it was a" huge mistake" when US government officials made comments that suggested Washington did have a position on the dispute.
" I think that does us no good. And occasionally, some comments like that have come out," Lieberthal said. " I think that they are regrettable."
Nevertheless, China should not, has not and would not throw away what its hard won respect and gains built up over the years through diplomacy. As we write, both countries are holding consultations. Clearly escalation would neither benefit China nor Japan.
The onus is really on Japan to resolve the crisis fairly. This is unlikely with a right-wing domination of the Japanese government bent on militarising bilateral issues at the expense of economic benefits and regional stability. However, China unlike the US does not partake in regime change around the world.