Oh, just peachy.
That's *exactly* what we need right now in that part of the world.
Sino-Japanese relations slip into deep freeze
By Mure Dickie and David Pilling
Published: May 25 2005 01:23 | Last updated: May 25 2005 01:23
Japan ChinaOn Monday, Chinese vice-premier Wu Yi was too busy with “important and urgent official business” to attend a meeting in Tokyo with Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister, that was billed as an opportunity to rebuild fractured ties between Asia's biggest economic powers.
Yesterday, however, Mme Wu had no difficulty finding time for an official visit to sparsely populated Mongolia, a steppe-land nation that has been enjoying relatively placid relations with China.
By then Beijing's willingness to sugarcoat its snub to Mr Koizumi had clearly waned. Foreign ministry spokesmen who had initially offered thanks for “the pains taken by the Japanese side to prepare” for Mme Wu's sudden departure switched to sharp criticism of “unhelpful comments” that had marred her visit.
Even when Chinese diplomats were still being relatively diplomatic, however, observers of Sino-Japanese ties were in no doubt about the real reason behind Mme Wu's truncated trip: a sharpening of differences over Mr Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates Japan's war dead.
Mr Koizumi's warning to other countries not to “interfere” in his decision to visit Yasukuni made just the day before Mme Wu's arrival last week has been seen as a direct rejection of Beijing's demand that he stay away for the sake of bilateralrelations.
“The rigid attitude taken by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi on the issue of visits to Yasukuni Shrine has poured a tub of cold water on an emerging opportunity to repair Sino-Japanese ties,” China's official Xinhua news agency said yesterday.
Mr Koizumi has expressed bafflement at opposition to his visits to Yasukuni from China and other Asian nations that suffered brutal invasion and occupation by Japanese troops in the 1930s and 1940s.
For many Chinese, the Japanese prime minister's apparent determination to continue his annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni where the souls of convicted war criminals are among those enshrined is seen as both an insult and a signal that Tokyo has not repented its wartime sins.
Beijing, in particular, has invested huge efforts in persuading Mr Koizumi to stop.
“The Yasukuni issue has almost become a prism for the whole relationship,” said Shi Yinhong of China's Renmin University.
“[This dispute] reflects the fact that China's absolute minimum demand is that Koizumi not go to the shrine again, at least this year,” Prof Shi said.
While Japanese cabinet ministers lined up to shake their head at Beijing's snub yesterday, there is growing frustration in Tokyo atwhat many regard as Mr Koizumi's stubbornness on Yasukuni.
The prime minister had noticeably toned down his comments on the shrine before his blunt comments to parliament on foreign interference last week.
Mr Koizumi compounded the effect of that remark by quoting a Chinese text in support of his view that it was not wrong to worship at a shrine where war criminals were honoured.
“As in the teachings of Confucius, it is the offence not the offenders that should be condemned,” he said.
Akihiko Tanaka, a China expert at Tokyo university, could hardly disguise his frustration at Mr Koizumi's rhetoric.
“I can't explain it. It may no longer be a matter of calculating national interest. It may now belong to the realm of psychology,” he said.
Mr Tanaka, who has sat on China-policy advisory committees, said the prime minister had revealed a pattern of stubbornness that made him resist more strongly the more pressure he came under to change.
He had done the same over his controversial plan to privatise the post office, Mr Tanaka said. “But privatisation is domestic. In this case, his opponents are in a foreign country.”
Yasuo Fukuda, former chief cabinet secretary and a candidate to replace Mr Koizumi as prime minister next year, has also suggested Mr Koizumi's stubbornness may have gone too far.
“Diplomatic policy must be in sync with the realities of the international community,” Mr Fukuda said.
“Isn't it necessary for [the prime minister] to make decisions based on the perspective of the broader national interest?”
Mr Fukuda, a close ally of Mr Koizumi until he quit the cabinet last year, is said to have urged him to stop visiting Yasukuni.
“It is absolutely necessary to improve ties with China and South Korea,” he said, raising an issue that could become vital in party elections to determine Mr Koizumi's successor. Until then, the consensus is that Sino-Japanese relations will remain frozen. And if Mr Koizumi follows up on his rhetoric and visits Yasukuni again, things could easily get worse.