News Column

Japan's Relations Fraying with China, South Korea

August 12, 2013

Takehiko Kambayashi, dpa

When his ruling Liberal Democratic Party won the upper house elections in July, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo was always open to dialogue with China.

He called the relationship with China "one of the most important."

However, Tokyo's purchase of disputed islets in the East China Sea last September led to anti-Japan protests in dozens of Chinese cities, and a boycott of Japanese products. Chinese navy ships have been spotted near the islets more often since then.

The Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands are also claimed by Taiwan and China, which call them Tiaoyutai and Diaoyu respectively.

In late July, deputy foreign minister Akitaka Saiki visited Beijing to mend ties. But the visit was not intended to set up a meeting between Abe and President Xi Jinping, Chinese media reported.

Saiki also travelled to South Korea, but relations remain chilled over the issue of Korean women forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War, and a territorial dispute.

Abe continues to push his nationalist platform, heightening regional tensions, critics said.

A few days before the July election, he visited Ishigaki island and reiterated Japan's stance that it has sovereignty over the islands nearby.

"The Senkakus are an inherent part of Japan's territory in terms of history and international law, and there is no territorial dispute," he said.

On Tuesday, the premier also said he would not stop his cabinet ministers from visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945.

He declined to comment on whether he would visit it himself.

The shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals. Visits by political leaders infuriate Japan's neighbours, especially China and South Korea, which see it as glorifying the country's wartime aggression.

Abe's diplomatic strategy for the two countries "has been inconsistent," said Akikazu Hashimoto, professor of political science at JF Oberlin University in Tokyo.

"The premier seems to believe deepening ties between Japan and the United States serves Asia," Hashimoto said.

Washington has also expressed concern about the nationalist views of Abe and members of his cabinet. Their visits to the shrine on August 15 "could again spike tension in the region," a US Congressional Research Service report said.

Kang Duk Sang, professor emeritus of contemporary Korean history at the University of Shiga Prefecture, said he does not expect ties between Tokyo and Seoul to improve under Abe.

The premier "seems to say to South Korea, 'Listen to us. You need us' because of its tense relations with North Korea," Kang said.

Abe, who was first elected a legislator in 1993, "has consolidated his political position by bashing [North Korea] repeatedly," he said.

In mid-July, South Korean President Park Geun Hye urged Japan to try to create an atmosphere conducive to talks between her and Abe.

"Japan has done things hurting our people's scars" on such issues as the territorial dispute and wartime sexual slavery, Park was quoted by the Yonhap News Agency as saying.

The premier and some of his ministers have repeatedly denied the Imperial Japanese Army's involvement in wartime sexual servitude.

Last week, Japan released a survey on Tokyo's claim to a group of islets controlled by South Korea. Seoul immediately condemned the move.

The survey showed that 60.7 per cent of Japanese polled saw the islets - known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea - as Japan's territory in terms of history and law.

The survey showed Japan's "defiant attitude" towards South Korea, Kang said.

"Japan's relations with China and South Korea are among the most serious problems" under Abe's government, Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst, said.

Morita criticized Abe's subservient attitude to Washington and urged him to restore relations with the two countries through peaceful diplomacy.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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