Chinese leader accuses Japan of distorting its conduct in war Jiang ends visit to Tokyo saying smooth relations between nations at stake

November 29, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TOKYO -- Taking a stinging farewell jab at his Japanese hosts, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said yesterday that the issues of Japan's World War II conduct "have not been properly laid to rest by the Japanese" and reproached "people in high positions who constantly distort history."

Ending a historic visit to Tokyo, the first by a Chinese head of state, Jiang said at a news conference that relations between Asia's two most powerful nations can proceed smoothly only if Japan "squarely faces" its wartime past.

That process, the Chinese leader said pointedly, would not only help Japan improve its relations with China, but also "would be beneficial to Japan itself."

"In Japan, there are still certain people, and people in high positions, who constantly distort history and try to beautify aggression," Jiang said. "This continues to hurt the feelings of Chinese people and other people," he said, suggesting that Japan show a "necessary response and reaction."

"It is important that you squarely face that history and learn a lesson from it."

Jiang's unusually blunt public comments suggested that China might be increasingly willing to challenge Japan's dominance, for more than a century, in East Asia, the product of the much smaller nation's first military, then economic superiority.

Although China remains relatively poor and backward, its economy is expected to grow by more than 7 percent this year while Japan is mired in recession, and Jiang and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji seem more dynamic than Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and other Japanese political leaders.

A renewed rivalry between China and Japan could complicate U.S. diplomacy in Asia, where the United States has cultivated close economic ties with both nations but maintains a military alliance only with Japan -- formed in part to contain Chinese communism.

Yesterday, Jiang firmly warned the Japanese not to get involved in a struggle over the fate of Taiwan, a former Japanese colony that Beijing considers a renegade province. At the same time, the Chinese leader refused to rule out the use of force to reclaim what China considers a part of its territory.

"The Taiwan issue is a domestic affair of China," the Chinese president said. "We very much hope the Japanese side will live up to its word" that it would never become involved in efforts to defend the island.

The Japanese have pledged, as has Washington, that there is only one China, and Beijing is its capital. But the United States has pledged to support Taiwan if it is attacked and would undoubtedly use U.S. forces based in Japan to defend the island.

Japan has agreed to provide medical, intelligence and other support to U.S. forces and has refused to state categorically that it would bar U.S. forces from using Japanese staging areas to defend Taiwan against an attack from the mainland.

Jiang made his harsh remarks about Japan's World War II history two days after the Chinese and Japanese sides held frank talks in which Obuchi apologized to the Chinese leader for the atrocities his nation committed during its 14-year occupation of China, from 1931 to 1945, but refused to put the apology in writing.

As a result, the leaders failed to sign the formal declaration of partnership that emerged from their two-hour summit meeting.

Diplomats from Beijing and Tokyo played down the dispute over the apology, insisting that there had never been plans for the heads of state to sign the protocol. "We never had a thought of signing this agreement," Jiang told reporters yesterday.

But Japan's lack of a forthright confession 53 years after the end of World War II overshadowed the pledge by the two Asian nations to engage in a "partnership for the 21st century" and clearly irked the Chinese leader.

At a state dinner with Japanese leaders Friday evening, at a speech yesterday morning at Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University and at the 50-minute news conference yesterday afternoon, Jiang repeatedly stressed Japan's need to account for its wartime aggression.

"Thirty-five million Chinese soldiers and civilians were either killed or injured, and China suffered economic losses worth more than $600 billion" during the Japanese occupation, Jiang told students at Waseda, where he was accompanied by Obuchi, a Waseda graduate. Hecklers interrupted Jiang's speech twice, and fights broke out after ultra-rightists unfurled a banner demanding that the Communist leader apologize to Japan's emperor.

Jiang's demands for Japanese atonement have irritated some Japanese leaders. Said government spokesman Hiromu Nonaka, "Isn't this a finished problem?"

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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