China and Japan at stalemate; stocks slide

Posted in Japan , Asia | 20-Apr-05 | Author: Chris Buckley| Source: International Herald Tribune

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura (L) meets with Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing April 18, 2005.
Tokyo official blames mobs for violence

BEIJING Chinese and Japanese diplomats on Monday ended two days of negotiations in Beijing, seemingly no closer to defusing the disputes over history and territory that have sent relations between the two countries spiraling downward in recent weeks, even to the point of affecting Tokyo's stock market.

The visiting Japanese foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, on Monday met with a senior Chinese diplomat, Tang Jiaxuan, but did not come away with the apology Japan has demanded for damage done to Japanese diplomatic missions and department stores in sometimes violent anti-Japanese demonstrations across China over the past two weeks.

"Primary responsibility lies on the mobs who inflicted damage on Japanese installations," said Hatsuhisa Takashima, the Japanese foreign minister's press secretary, at a press briefing after the meeting between the Machimura and Tang, a senior government adviser who served as China's foreign minister and ambassador to Tokyo.

"We cannot accept the notion that violence is acceptable because of this history issue," Machimura said.

Machimura agreed to future talks over disputed waters and gas reserves in the East China Sea, but he failed to obtain agreement on proposed meetings with China's top two leaders, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Hu Jintao, the press secretary also said.

But Tang refused to offer the Japanese foreign minister any apology, instead telling him that relations between China and Japan could improve only when Japan totally disavows its wartime aggression. He said Japan's handling of history has "harmed the hard-won restoration of friendship between the two countries' peoples," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"We hope that Japan seriously reflects on this and adopts practical measures to put things right," he added. In remarks reported in China's press Sunday, Tang held to China's position that Japan must bear responsibility for anti-Japanese feeling.

Thousands of Chinese marched to oppose Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Tang repeated that China will oppose the Security Council bid until Japan showed it has totally disavowed its wartime aggression by revising school textbooks and ending official visits to the Yasakuni Shrine to Japan's war dead.

Chinese observers, however, said the bitter current dispute over Japan's wartime atrocities in China before and during the second World War was ultimately a symptom of tectonic shifts in the balance of economic and diplomatic influence between China and Japan.

They point to echoes from over a century ago, when Japan dealt an unexpected and humiliating defeat to China in a naval battle in 1895.

"Now our two countries' roles are reversing," said Huang Dinghui, the director of the East Asia Institute at the People's University in Beijing.

"After the 1895 War, Japan disdained China and for a century afterwards was always confident that China's national strength could never catch up with Japan's," he said. "Really until recently that mentality hasn't changed, but now China is beginning to catch up with Japan, and attitudes don't shift so quickly, so it's difficult for Japan to adjust and both sides to enjoy harmonious relations."

Though the two countries are too economically interdependent to go to war, Huang added, the inevitable friction between a rising China and an economically mature, demographically aging Japan is likely to continue for another 15 to 20 years.

"Japan is still No. 2 in the world, but its strength isn't growing," he said. "We may catch up with them by many measures in 10 years."

Last year trade between China and Japan reached $170 billion, and Huang said it could easily reach $190 billion in 2005. But there were signs today that even the vast economic flow joining China and Japan is not immune to the political tremors of recent weeks.

In the longer term, Japan must adjust its foreign policy and attitudes to accommodate a stronger and more assertive China, said Chinese analysts.

Japanese public opinion surveys generally show that attitudes towards China have cooled as China's economy has grown, said Huang; before the latest demonstrations against Japan, about half of Japanese had a positive image of China, compared to an overwhelmingly positive reaction 25 years ago, when Japan was ascendant, he noted.

"China's rapid economic growth has been a shock to many Japanese, especially because the past decade was a lost decade for Japan's economy," Huang said. "This shift in economic power is a major underlying factor in the friction now."

Other observers said Chinese people must also adjust to the realities of China's rising international status, pointing to the harshly chauvinist slogans of many anti-Japanese protesters on Chinese streets over the past two weekends.

"China's rise is beyond dispute, but how to handle people's attitudes so they mature along with this rise is a challenge," said Lei Yi, an historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Two decades ago, when China was still groping toward economic reform, many Chinese officials and people looked to Japan as a model of a successful Asian economy, he said.