In Box

The Island Lobbyist

The Island Lobbyist

Akira Chiba has an odd job: explaining to the U.S. Congress why Japan owns eight small, uninhabited rocks in the middle of the ocean. It might sound inconsequential, but these rocks — the Senkakus to the Japanese, the Diaoyus to the Chinese — are thought to sit atop huge energy reserves and are now a dangerous territorial flashpoint.

Chiba’s experience with China stretches back to the 1980s, when he studied Mandarin and worked in the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. He says he felt mistreated during his eight years there “not because I was a foreigner, but because everyone is mistreated in that country. So I have no hard feelings.”

While China argues that the Diaoyu Islands are an inseparable part of its territory and regularly sends ships to patrol the surrounding waters — a provocation that could lead to war — Chiba sees this claim as absurd. No one complains when you take a piece of bread at a dinner party, he says, sitting in his spacious embassy office in Washington. “But if a diamond ring falls out of the bread and my neighbor starts saying, ‘Mr. Chiba, that’s my bread because I saw it before you did!’ — it doesn’t work that way. You get the bread because you grab it. And that’s what Japan did in 1895, and no one complained.”

Here’s what Chiba carries to his meetings in his “not extremely durable” black satchel, which he says he got for about $15 at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill.