Leaders of Japan, China Meet Amid Deep Differences

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Japan said Monday that a meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao was a step towards improving strained relations between the Asian neighbors, but there are indications from both sides that numerous issues remain unresolved.

The meeting, which took place on the sidelines of an Asia-Africa conference in Indonesia, came shortly after Koizumi made a public apology at the summit for Japanese aggression before and during World War II.

Relations between the two have soured during weeks of anti-Japanese demonstrations in Chinese cities.

Angered by a new Japanese school textbook's handling of historical events and by Japanese leaders' visits to a controversial shrine for Japan's war dead, China has demanded that its former occupier and foe "face up to history."

Tokyo, meanwhile, has been calling for apologies and compensation for damage caused to its property during the protests.

The two governments have also clashed over the exploitation of gas reserves in disputed waters, the Japanese stance on Taiwan, and Japan's candidacy for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).

Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said Monday that the government believed the Koizumi-Hu meeting "was the first step towards bringing things back on track to have normalized contact between the two nations."

He conceded that many issues had still to be addressed.

Koizumi, in a press conference after the meeting, did not categorically rule out future visits to the Yasukuni shrine, where 14 war criminals are honored together with 2.5 million other fallen Japanese.

"I shall make judgment appropriately," he said.

Critics of the visits say the Shinto shrine symbolizes Imperial Japan's expansionist policies. Koizumi has not visited Yasukuni yet this year, but any decision not to do so will likely draw strong criticism from nationalist groups in Japan.

The textbook issue also shows little sign of being resolved. Although only a small number of Japanese schools are likely to use the controversial new books, many Chinese feel strongly that they play down the vicious nature of Japanese militarism.

But China, too, has come in under fire, with critics accusing Beijing of hypocrisy, saying Chinese school children are not taught accurately about China's history, including aggression against Tibet and Vietnam.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said at the weekend his government would examine Chinese history textbooks for anti-Japanese references, and if necessary request changes.

"There is a tendency toward this in any country, but the Chinese textbooks are extreme in the way they uniformly convey the 'our country is correct' perspective," he said in a television talk show Sunday.

Not just history

China recently said its ties with Japan were at their lowest ebb in three decades, and although the historical disagreements have fuelled the protests in China, there are also more current differences between Asia two largest economies.

Territorial disputes over islands in the East China Sea, and a row over the demarcation line between the two nations' exclusive economic zones have also generated angry rhetoric.

China is unhappy about Japan's attempts to take a more assertive security role in the region and beyond. Stretching the constraints of its post-war pacifist constitution, Tokyo has sent non-combat troops to Iraq, is cooperating with the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, and has agreed to work with the U.S. in developing missile defense systems.

China protested strongly earlier this year when, for the first time, a joint U.S.-Japan security document stated that easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait was among the "common strategic objectives" of the two allies.

China regards its dispute with Taiwan - which it regards as a rebel province - as an internal affair, and objected to the implication that Japan may support the U.S. in the event of any future conflict over the island.

After his meeting with the Japanese leader, Hu stressed that Taiwan was an important factor in the bilateral row.

"The question of Taiwan should be correctly handled," he told reporters. "It is hoped that the Japanese side will demonstrate through concrete action its adherence to the one-China policy and opposition to Taiwan independence."

The other simmering issue between the two is Japan's bid to join China as a permanent Asian member on the Security Council.

India is also vying for a seat, but while Beijing has indicated support for India, it has strongly hinted that it may use its veto to oppose Japan's candidacy.

Koizumi gave no indication after his meeting with Hu that the two had discussed the UNSC matter.

China's official media continues to question Japan's readiness to assume a permanent seat, however.

China Daily quoted a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences expert on Japanese affairs, Prof. Jin Xide, as linking Japan's bid to concerns about America's position in the global community.

Japan has "no independence in its foreign affairs," he said, arguing that Japan simply followed, and was controlled by, the U.S.

"If Japan becomes a permanent member in the UNSC, Uncle Sam's unilateralism could be boosted, which is no good for the peace and development in the world," Jin said.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow