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Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012

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The big chill: Chinese paramilitary police patrol outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Saturday as the two countries marked the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties amid soaring tensions over the disputed Senkaku Islands. KYODO

Isles row puts chill on 40th anniversary of ties

Tensions over disputed isles mar 40 years of bilateral ties


BEIJING — Tokyo and Beijing marked the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations Saturday as simmering tensions over Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands showed no signs of subsiding.

The mood in Beijing was far from festive since the Chinese government earlier snubbed bilateral exchanges in economic, cultural and other areas in response to Japan's purchase of three of the Senkaku islets in the East China Sea this month, a move Beijing slammed as "illegal and invalid."

Countermeasures taken by China, which claims the uninhabited isles that it refers to as Diaoyu, have cast a cloud over whether the two countries and South Korea can launch envisaged negotiations on a trilateral free-trade pact at a regional summit in November.

Such steps include the postponement of a planned visit to Beijing by a major Japanese business delegation led by Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Fujio Cho, and the cancellation of a trade fair featuring energy-saving and environmental technologies that was scheduled to be held in Shanghai.

In a show of the Chinese government's anger, the sovereignty row dominated an hourlong meeting held Thursday in Beijing between China's fourth most senior leader, Jia Qinglin, and a group of prominent Japanese lawmakers working to promote bilateral ties.

The meeting, attended by former Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono, former Upper House President Satsuki Eda, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, among others, was set up after China canceled an official reception that was to take place Thursday in Beijing to commemorate the anniversary.

Jia, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, pressed Japan to recognize the existence of the territorial rift, warning the nationalization of the islets has thrown bilateral ties "into an unprecedented and severe situation." Tokyo maintains there is no dispute over the Senkakus' sovereignty.

In separate talks with former State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan on Thursday, Kato said Tang was enraged by Japan's purchase of the three islets, which came just two days after Chinese President Hu Jintao had expressly voiced Beijing's vehement opposition to the plan in a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 9.

"President Hu met Noda on the sidelines of the (APEC) summit in Vladivostok at Japan's request, but his government decided to nationalize the islands two days later. How could you do such a thing?" Kato quoted Tang as asking the delegation.

"I did not expect Tang to address us in such an explicit way," Kato told reporters Thursday evening in Beijing. "Not only Tang, but other Chinese people must have felt angered that Hu had lost face."

Since Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai normalized ties on Sept. 29, 1972, the two countries have seen relations flourish — especially in the economic arena, with bilateral trade soaring more than 300-fold over the last 40 years.

On the back of breakneck growth in recent years, China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy in 2010. And with more disposable income, the number of Chinese tourists to Japan has surged.

But historical issues have remained an obstacle, preventing the two countries from forging stronger political relations.

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin repeatedly criticized Japan for its interpretation of historical events, especially the Imperial Japanese Army's invasions of neighboring countries before and during World War II.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's regular visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which China and other Asian countries regard as a symbol of Japan's militarist past, also stoked Beijing's ire and sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests in 2005.

And although Hu and then-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda advocated the concept of a "strategic relationship of mutual benefit" in a 2008 joint statement, the Chinese government turned a blind eye to anti-Japan protests that broke out all across China this month over the Senkakus issue. The protests quickly turned violent, with demonstrators destroying, vandalizing and looting Japanese factories, stores and restaurants in the country.One source close to bilateral relations said Tokyo and Beijing must consider and begin to tackle the Senkakus dispute from a broader perspective.

The source said the "politically cold, economically hot" relations between the two Asian giants during Koizumi's 2001-2006 tenure as prime minister must not be allowed to turn into "politically icy, economically cold" ties.

Neither side, however, appears ready to back down, especially with China's public watching as Beijing prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition and Japan's electorate awaiting a possible general election after Noda in August promised to dissolve of the Lower House sometime "soon."

The Chinese media has criticized Noda's recent reiteration that the Senkakus are an inherent part of Japanese territory and that Tokyo will never waver from its official stance — there is no dispute with Beijing over their ownership.

"The Japanese government's sweeping denial of the existence of the bilateral dispute and of the consensus the two countries once reached on shelving the issue has shown Japan is shifting to the right," the state-run China Daily said in an editorial Friday.

"And as the new president of Japan's (main opposition) Liberal Democratic Party, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (who was elected leader Wednesday) couldn't wait to show how tough he would be if he regained his old job, playing up his determination to revise Japan's Constitution and vowing to protect its territorial claims," the China Daily added.

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