Chinese rebuff Japan's attempts to ease tension

Posted in China , Japan | 18-Apr-05 | Author: David McNeill| Source: The Independent

Anti-Japan protesters carrying banners march through the streets of Hong Kong.

China and Japan appeared to be locked in a potentially disastrous stand-off when thousands of protesters defied government warnings and took to the streets of China for another day of violent anti-Japanese rallies.

The protesters, carrying pictures of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dressed as Hitler and placards saying "Japanese Pigs Out", overturned Japanese cars and stoned shops, as Tokyo's Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, had a dressing-down from his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing.

Mr Machimura had gone to Beijing yesterday to demand an apology and compensation for the three-week wave of demonstrations that threaten to paralyse Japanese business and diplomatic activity in China, but was instead told that it was Japan that had "hurt the feelings" of the Chinese.

"The Chinese government has never done anything for which it has to apologise to the Japanese people," said Mr Li.

He added: "The main problem now is that the Japanese government has done a series of things that have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people on the Taiwan issue, some international issues including human rights, and especially in its treatment of history."

The talks ended with a vague promise to "work toward" a meeting of China's premier, Wen Jiabao, and Mr Koizumi, later this month but - barring a bold diplomatic move by either side - the stalemate is likely to continue. Last week Wen Jiabao angered Tokyo by refusing to apologise for the violence, saying Japan must "face up to history" before it can win the trust of the rest of the world.

Mr Koizumi responded to the crisis with a series of bland platitudes that have fallen well short of China's demands. Japan's Foreign Minister told reporters that relations between the two countries "could decline to a serious state" unless the crisis was resolved, a claim echoed last night by the Japanese Trade Minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, who said: "People around the world are wondering whether it's all right to pursue economic activity in China."

With Tokyo incensed at what it sees as the failure to rein in the protests and Beijing wary that confronting them could generate a wider anti-government movement, neither side appears prepared to back down.

The ferocity of the protests, which were sparked by approval of school textbooks that China says "glorifies" Japan's wartime behaviour, was further stoked by Tokyo's decision last week to grant oil and gas exploration rights in a disputed area of the East China Sea.

The anger has stunned observers of a society where demonstrations of any kind are rare.

The protesters are demanding that the United Nations rejects Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council and that the Japanese Prime Minister stops visiting the Tokyo war memorial, the Yasukuni Shrine.

Although activists in Beijing obeyed a government directive not to take part in anti-Japanese rallies, soldiers and about a dozen police cars were called in to protect the Japanese embassy in the city during Mr Machimura's visit.

A demonstration in Shanghai on Saturday, when protesters attacked the Japanese consulate and beat Japanese students, was followed by a war of words between the Japanese consul general in Shanghai, Yuji Kumamaru, and the city government spokeswoman Jiao Yang, who said the demonstrations were caused by "Japan's wrong attitudes and actions on a series of issues such as its history of aggression".

Mr Kumamaru said the city was "not doing enough to protect Japanese citizens". More marches took place yesterday in the southern cities of Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan, Chengdu in the south-west and the north-eastern city of Shenyang.

About 4,000 people also demonstrated in Hong Kong and in a Japanese-owned electronic firm in Guangdong province in the south, about 2,000 Chinese workers went on strike, smashing windows and burning the Japanese flag.

Tokyo believes the protests could not happen without approval from local officials but it is not clear whether Beijing is controlling the wave of patriotic fever, or being overwhelmed by it.

In Tokyo, a man described as an ultra-rightist set himself alight in front of the Chinese consulate.

Mr Machimura was due to fly back to Tokyo today, leaving behind thousands of Japanese-owned businesses and ex-pats hoping the protests will peter out .

But with both sides digging their heels in the weeks ahead are unlikely to bring much relief.