Lack of apology sours historic summit Japan's prime minister expresses regret to China, fails to put it in writing

November 27, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TOKYO -- The state visit of the first Chinese leader to set foot on Japanese soil was tarnished yesterday when the two giants of Asia failed to reach common ground over their painful past.

Instead, a historic summit between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi foundered when Japan refused to offer a formal apology, nearly 55 years later, for its World War II cruelties.

Demonstrating that not all wounds are healed by time, the two sides took the unusual step of refusing to sign the protocol summarizing their summit talks, even though a formal signing ceremony had been scheduled.

Even five hours after the official meetings had concluded, diplomats from Beijing and Tokyo were wrangling over the words to be contained in the formal summit documents.

"We are not preoccupied with the past," Jiang told his Japanese counterpart during a two-hour summit meeting, diplomatic sources said, "but it is important that we deal with the past in the right way so that we can build the future together. It's important that we face history and the past squarely."

In response, Obuchi expressed "deep regret and a heartfelt apology" for Japan's wartime conduct, but the formal written declaration issued hours later contained no such language.

Instead, the formal declaration expressed Japan's "deep remorse," but no formal apology, for the mass murders, rapes and biological experiments conducted during Japan's 14-year occupation of China, which ended in 1945 and may have killed or injured more than 30 million people.

Japan's brutal occupation of China still stirs deep emotional resentment among Chinese citizens, and Jiang had reportedly insisted on a direct written apology.

Instead, the Chinese leader got some $3.2 billion in Japanese loans over two years to improve flood control and fight pollution, but language no stronger than a statement issued by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, who also acknowledged "deep remorse" for Japanese actions during its occupation of China.

Observers here said that while the Chinese leader insisted on a full-blown written apology, Obuchi's hands were tied by domestic Japanese politics.

As head of the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Obuchi would have been subjected to withering criticism from ++ his own party if he signed a declaration apologizing for Japan's invasion of China.

The Chinese were also acutely aware that only last month, during a visit to Tokyo by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, Obuchi expressed "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for the "great pain" Japan inflicted on the Korean people during its occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Obuchi signed a formal protocol with the Korean leader.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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