China Cuts Short Mission to Japan
Delivering a sharp diplomatic rebuke to Japan, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi cut short a fence-mending visit here Monday, a day early and just a few hours before she was to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Wu was the most senior Chinese official to visit Japan in two years; her trip had been described as an attempt to improve the strained atmosphere between Asia’s two biggest powers.
But Monday morning, she told her hosts that she was returning to Beijing early. On Tuesday morning, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan blamed the abbreviated visit on Koizumi’s continued insistence on visiting Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where Japan’s war dead -- including World War II criminals -- are commemorated.
“To our regret, during Vice Premier Wu Yi’s stay in Japan, Japanese leaders repeatedly made remarks on visiting Yasukuni Shrine that go against the efforts to improve Sino-Japanese relations,” Kong said. “China is extremely unsatisfied with it.”
Even more boldly, Wu did not leave Tokyo immediately after informing the Japanese of her plans. Instead, she delivered a scheduled speech to a Japanese business group, saying “the relationship between the two countries is not satisfactory or benign.” She then had lunch with business leaders, many of whom have been alarmed by anti-Japanese sentiment in China.
Some senior Japanese executives have warned Koizumi of the urgent need to repair ties with China. That goal would most easily be achieved, they have said, if the prime minister ended his visits to the shrine.
Before the Chinese explanation, Koizumi expressed surprise over Wu’s early departure. “It was their request to hold a meeting and I thought it would have been a good opportunity. I don’t understand why they are canceling it now,” he told reporters Monday. “If they don’t want to meet, there is no need to.”
Wu is regarded as a skilled negotiator whose meeting with Koizumi was supposed to be the first step toward easing tensions. Anti-Japanese riots rocked several Chinese cities last month, ostensibly in response to reports that new history textbooks in Japan had sanitized accounts of atrocities committed by its troops during World War II.
But there are other feuds between the countries, including territorial disputes over undersea energy deposits and Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, which he says are opportunities to pray for peace. Koizumi last visited the shrine in January 2004, incurring the wrath of Japan’s neighbors for what they described as the prime minister’s insensitivity to the painful legacy of his country’s past aggression. Last week, even as Wu was in Japan to visit the World Exposition in Nagoya, Koizumi reaffirmed his intention to visit Yasukuni again this year.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told two visiting Japanese lawmakers during a testy meeting Sunday that the precarious state of relations between Asia’s biggest powers could be damaged “in an instant” if Koizumi persisted with actions upsetting to Japan’s neighbors.
The next day, Wu was recalled.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters in Tokyo, “We hope they will comply with international diplomatic rules and etiquette a little more.”
There was speculation that Wu may have left after her luncheon but before meeting with Koizumi in order to contrast Beijing’s warm feelings toward Japanese business leaders with the chill at the political level.
“The Chinese tactics are very well calculated,” said Koichi Kato, a former associate of Koizumi who has become a rival within the governing party. “They are formidable strategists and have embarrassed Mr. Koizumi.”
With Japanese investment in China soaring, investors are unsettled by the volatile political mood and a few have urged Koizumi to compromise on the Yasukuni issue. They argue that anti-Japanese feelings in China have cost them lucrative contracts, such as those to build high-speed railway lines and cellular phone networks.
But expressing pro-China feelings marks executives as potential targets for intimidation from right-wing extremists. The business community has recently fallen quiet on the subject.
Critics also note that pro-China voices within Koizumi’s Cabinet and inner circle have been stripped of influence.
“The balance in the governing party has suddenly collapsed,” said Masaru Kaneko, a finance policy expert at Keio University. “It’s a pity that the realistic politicians who have worked hard at maintaining diplomatic ties with China have been eliminated.”
Hisako Ueno of The Times’ Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.