China, Japan relations still strained

Beijing officials consider request for meeting at Asia-Africa summit

April 19, 2005|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING - Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura yesterday wrapped up a two-day visit to China aimed at halting the recent freefall in relations between the two countries but left with little to show for the talks.

Beijing remained noncommittal over Japan's request for a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of an Asia-Africa summit in Indonesia planned for the weekend. Chinese officials said they were "studying" the idea and would respond in due course through diplomatic channels.

Even as Japanese officials expressed concern about the violence in China directed against their embassy, consulates and companies, Chinese officials repeated the claim that Japan was at fault for failing to own up to its militaristic past.

"It shouldn't be us who should apologize," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei told reporters. "It is Japan who should apologize."

Students and other protesters in Beijing and Shanghai have demonstrated against Japan for the past three weekends after critics slammed a recently released Japanese textbook for glossing over World War II atrocities.

Chinese also have voiced opposition to Tokyo's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and criticized Japan for labeling Taiwan as an area of strategic concern. China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and other nations' involvement in the dispute as potential interference.

Evidence of rising Chinese nationalism has been evident in the cities of Dongguan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in southern China, Chengdu in the central part of the country and Shenyang in the northeast.

Following Sunday's meeting between Machimura and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Wu said yesterday that bilateral relations were at their lowest point since the two nations normalized relations in 1972. Later in the day, Machimura met with State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan to discuss issues regarding Taiwan, history, the nations' relationship and the textbook material but reached no breakthrough.

Despite the tense atmosphere, there were continued signs that Chinese authorities were trying to lower the temperature after standing by earlier as demonstrators overturned cars, smashed windows at restaurants and beat up several Japanese nationals.

In recent days, universities have restricted entry to their campuses, allowing in only professors and students with proper identification. Online chat rooms at the prestigious Qinghua and Peking universities in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai have been blocked to outsiders. Students at Shanghai's Tongji University were warned not to participate in any uprising. And there was a heavy police presence yesterday around the Japanese Embassy and throughout Beijing's diplomatic quarter.

The tension between the two Asian giants has sent jitters throughout East Asia. Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock index fell 3.8 percent yesterday, its biggest decline in nearly a year, even as neighbors expressed concern.

"Without good China-Japan relations, it will be impossible to have full-fledged East Asian cooperation, especially northeast Asian cooperation," Wu said.

Hatsuhisa Takashima, press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing yesterday that his government saw no reason to change its basic policy toward China or Taiwan in response to mob violence. Bilateral relations are mostly sound, he said, and the volume of China-Japan trade now exceeds that of U.S.-Japan trade.

However, he added that unchecked instability could undermine the ties.

About 10,000 Japanese tourists have canceled trips to China planned between now and June. "They are scared," said Ide Keiji, culture, education and press minister with the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

Usually about 3 million Japanese visit China each year.

Takashima expressed Japan's hope that China would better safeguard Japanese offices, factories and nationals "so anxiety and worries by Japanese and many in the international community will be wiped out as soon as possible."

While the Chinese may blame Japan's account of history in its textbooks, he added, that doesn't justify the use of violence.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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