06/01/2005, 00.00
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Diplomatic tug-of-war continues between Tokyo and Beijing

by Pino Cazzaniga

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Events in the last two months have shown how much relations between China and Japan have deteriorated that one is tempted to believe the two Asian giants are openly engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war, and any war, be it diplomatic or military, tends to have dire consequences . . . and crucial moments. In this case, such moments are April 3, April 23 and May 23.

On April 9, crowds of angry, young Chinese harassed Japanese citizens in Beijing, attacked Japanese-owned businesses and restaurants and pelted the Japanese Embassy with rocks under the complacent eye of the police. Although the Chinese government later told its citizens to respect diplomatic conventions, it turned a deaf ear to Japan's demand that it take responsibility for what happened and pay compensation.

On April 23, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Jakarta (Indonesia). Their tête-à-tête did not produce any joint statement, but it did have some positive results—both parties agreed that their bilateral relationship was of great importance and committed themselves to improving it.

The Japanese side probably played the greater diplomatic role in trying to lessen tensions—the Japanese Premier made an eloquent apology for his country's wartime crimes before a gathering of one hundred or so African and Asian leaders that included Mr Hu. Hopes for closer ties were raised.

However, the sudden and unfriendly decision by Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi to cancel her May 23 meeting with Mr Koizumi nipped those hopes in the bud. Ostensibly, Ms Wu' s work demands were given as the reason, but the following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan said that Mr Koizumi's frequent visit to Yasukuni Shinto shrine was the real reason.

During Ms Wu's visit to Japan, where she was well treated, leaders from the two parties that make up Japan's current coalition government—Liberal Democratic Party secretary Tsutomu Takebe and New Clean Government Party (Komeito) secretary Tetsuo Fukushiba were in China for meetings with representatives of the Chinese Communist Party and government.

They two met President Hu Jintao on May 22 and as expected, the Chinese leader reiterated China's concern over visits to the Yasukuni shrine by Japanese political leaders, Japan's controversial textbooks belittling its wartime crimes, and Japan's pro-Taiwan stance.

"We have built relations between China and Japan step by step like a mason building a house brick by brick. But a building can be destroyed in an instant," Hu warned.

Although he, too, stressed the great importance attached to bilateral relations, and thanked the Japanese government for the warm welcome given to Vice-Premier Wu Yi, a few hours later though, Ms Wu was told to cancel her meeting with Koizumi.

As a result of this snub, public opinion in Japan riled against China's behaviour. A public opinion poll released by Asahi Shimbun showed that about 50 per cent of the people were opposed to Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, but at least 51 per cent found China's attitude incomprehensible.

Sino-Japanese tensions are also worrisome to world public opinion. A diplomatic tug-of-war between China and Japan has negative repercussions that go far beyond the two countries and can affect peace and prosperity in the whole of East Asia. It could, for instance, have an impact on the North Korean question in which both China and Japan involved—the former as a mediator.

China's stated reasons are not the likely cause for its abnormal diplomacy. For Asahi analyst Hidehito Fujiwara, domestic politics are behind the diplomatic snub.

When Japan and China normalised relations in 1972, the Chinese government took pains to placate public sentiment that was still strongly anti-Japanese. But in a relatively more open China, keeping the lid on anti-Japanese feelings is especially difficult. Therefore, for Chinese leaders, international criticism was a smaller political price to pay than domestic popular resentment.

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