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Japan-China : Burning Issues Left Unquenched

Wednesday, May 4, 2005 Posted: 09:38 PM JST

The Japan-China summit meeting held in Jakarta that barely patched up the deeply wounded bilateral relations still appears to have served the purpose of having such a meeting at all. If the meeting had failed to materialize, the two countries' relations, said to be the worst since the 1972 diplomatic normalization, might have plunged into abysmal difficulty, as Nihon Keizai Shimbun suggested in its April 24 editorial.

That Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and China's President Hu Jintao at least share the notion that the two countries cannot afford to let their relations deteriorate any more can be said to have saved them from falling further. The two leaders met in Jakarta on April 23 on a sideline of the Asian-African Summit marking the 50th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference held in 1955 in Bandung. But the sigh of relief breathed on their agreement to work on "development of friendly relations" was only a short one, since it was understood to have simply put a lid on the fire. The Asahi Shimbun in its April 24 editorial described it as like "merely putting an adhesive plaster on a wound to stop the bleeding for the moment, with no treatment of the wound itself."

As Hu would not offer apology or compensation for the damage done to Japanese diplomatic and other facilities by violent anti-Japanese demonstrations, the summit meeting left the Japanese media in deep suspicion that the anti-Japanese demonstrations and sentiment that have raged in the Chinese capital and other cities could erupt again any time in the future, contingent on the Chinese authorities' intent and will. "The latest round of anti-Japanese demonstrations once again has raised the question of whether China is a country we can rely on," commented the Sankei Shimbun, in an April 24 editorial on the summit. The Yomiuri Shimbun asserted in its April 24 editorial, also in connection with the summit, that "China has admitted to being a country that would not acknowledge a clear violation of international law offer or offer an apology for it." The Mainichi Shimbun in its April 24 editorial pointed out, "the summit meeting can be valued as it put the brakes on the worsening re!
lations. But President Hu referred to the issue of history, including the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, and did not change his stance of showing understanding toward anti-Japan demonstrations. This is regrettable against the background of the social moves of the international community."

A majority of Japanese felt Koizumi got it wrong by not officially pressing for apology and compensation from Hu at the summit meeting. An Asahi Shimbun opinion survey made in the wake of the summit meeting showed that 56% of the respondents held such a view. Many news commentaries held that Japan lost to the Chinese by not standing firm on demanding an apology. A well-known China expert, Tomoyuki Kojima of Keio University, was quoted by a few newspapers as saying that "Japan has conceded too much to the Chinese in this respect." What he meant was that the Chinese now may regard Japan as a country that can be intimidated by violent anti-Japanese demonstrations that the Chinese authorities can virtually orchestrate as they like. The Japanese concerned appear to be bracing for possible more waves of anti-Japanese demonstrations on several important commemorative dates in this year of the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's victory over the Japanese occupation force!
s, the next immediate one being May 4 which is associated with anti-Japanese campaigns in the 1919 revolution that toppled the Ching Dynasty.

In contrast with what is perceived to be an overly conciliatory stance shown by Prime Minister Koizumi, who the media described as too hasty about temporarily mending the relations with China, China was viewed as too demanding by a majority of average Japanese. 71% of the respondents in the Asahi Shimbun poll rebuffed Chinese President Hu's demand to Koizumi that Japan needs to back up its reflection on history (of Japanese wartime conduct against the Chinese) and its apology with action.

The sentiment reflects the Japanese feeling of being fed up with repeated demands for apology, as borne out by Koizumi's speech before the Asian-African Summit 2005 that expressed "deep remorse" over the pain Japan inflicted on its neighbors in Asia, which was a repeat of the 1989 statement by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. The Yomiuri Shimbun's April 24 summed up the sentiment: "The Chinese and Korean allegation that Japan does not reflect on its past is their imputation and distortion of a clear historical fact. Since Japan's pronouncement in the 1972 joint Japan-China declaration of its deep feeling of remorse and reflection on the fact that it caused profound damage to Chinese people in the war, the country has officially expressed remorse and apology on more than 20 occasions at summit talks or in documents."

Nevertheless, as regards Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which has grown into such an acute symbol of the Chinese dispute with Japan, 48% of the respondents in the Asahi Shimbun poll thought he should stop it, compared with 36% in favor. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun editorial on April 24 wrote: "Without doubt the Prime Minister's visit to the shrine for the past four straight years has provoked feeling among neighboring peoples. Without resolving this issue, the Prime Minister's repeated apology will not bring about any real breakthrough." The Mainichi Shimbun also referred to the shrine visit: "It is certain that Prime Minister Koizumi's continued visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are honored among millions of the war dead, is an issue behind President Hu's demand for action to back up the Japanese apology." The Asahi Shimbun, in its April 24 editorial, pressed Koizumi to make a "more serious explanation about the historical issues in !
response to neighboring peoples' stern eyes on his shrine visit." The Yomiuri Shimbun in its April 24 editorial said, "President Hu said that he wanted the "sense of remorse to be actually put into action." If that is so, China should also stop its patriotic, anti-Japanese education by "action." The U.S. and the European countries are beginning to point out that the teaching of history in China is distorting facts to fit the Communist Party's convenience."

It seems after all that a sincere follow-through of the summit meeting is the key to the improvement of the two countries' deeply troubled relations. The Mainichi Shimbun editorial pointed out that "President Hu mentioned the Taiwan issue and made a request not to support Taiwan's independence. He showed wariness over the fact that at the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (2+2 Meeting) the issue of the Taiwan Strait was positioned as a "strategic target" common to both Japan and the U.S., which he perceived as a turning point of Japanese hard-line policy toward China" and argued that the summit only revealed the wide gulf that separates the two countries, saying that "for stabilization of the relations, there is no other way but to engage in dialogue at all levels, of which the summit talks are the first step." That means for the top leaders of the two countries to try their best not to succumb to inflammable nationalism, as Japan's former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was quoted as saying in the Yomiuri Shimbun on April 19.

Published by the Foreign Press Center Japan.

Keywords: national_news

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