China visit cancellations mark a new cost in Senkakus dispute

September 13, 2012


The impact of the Senkaku Islands dispute is increasingly being felt outside official circles, as China orders some exchange groups and tourists to delay or cancel, and Japanese residents in China report fearing retribution whipped up by testy rhetoric from Beijing.

On Sept. 12, China requested that a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers cancel a planned visit. About 30 individuals had planned to travel from Sept. 26 to attend events marking 40 years since China and Japan normalized diplomatic relations.

"It is impossible to welcome the delegation in a friendly atmosphere," the reception body, the International Department of the Central Committee of China's Communist Party, told the Japanese side in a phone call, according to a diplomatic source.

On Sept. 10, China vowed unspecified retaliation for a move by Japan's government to put three of the Senkaku Islands into state ownership. Under Japanese law, they have until now been the property of a private landowner. China and Taiwan both claim the Japan-administered islands.

China calls them Diaoyu.

As Beijing maintains its hard-line stance, a feeling of tension is rising among Japanese people living in China.

Some have reported being refused rides by taxi drivers.

Japanese schools in Beijing and Shanghai put off athletic meets they had planned for Sept. 15.

On Sept. 12, protesters gathered for a second day outside both the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and the consulate general in Guangzhou.

In Beijing, protesters maintained a constant presence, numbering from several dozen to around 150 individuals. Police officers spoke with them calmly. It seemed authorities had sanctioned demonstrations as long as there was no violence.

At least one Chinese organization appeared reluctant to be identified as dealing with Japanese officials.

"Don't take photos of the sign at the entrance," a Bejing hotel representative told journalists Sept. 12.

The hotel had been hosting Shinsuke Sugiyama, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau. Sugiyama traveled to China for talks with Luo Zhaohui, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of Asian Affairs.

The hotel was apparently afraid that Chinese citizens would recognize it as having accepted the Japanese official. Local security officers prevented news gathering in front of the hotel, citing security concerns.

Sugiyama addressed reporters at a Beijing airport shortly before his return to Japan and summed up his two days of meetings.

"We agreed it is important for both countries to communicate with each other in every form, including with practical consultations," Sugiyama said.

But Beijing's foreign ministry maintained a combative posture.

"We will take necessary measures, considering developments in the matter," said Hong Lei, a ministry spokesman, Sept. 12.

Meanwhile, the Central Party School, which trains top Communist Party officials, notified the Japanese side it would postpone an exchange visit by 50 medium-rank executives from Japanese government offices, municipalities and businesses.

A delegation from China's Shandong province visited the city of Yamaguchi on Sept. 11 to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of friendly ties between Yamaguchi Prefecture and the Chinese province. But the group shrank in size from a planned 15 delegates to six, and its leader, Shandong Vice Governor Xia Geng, was among those who stayed away.

Yamaguchi Prefecture reported Xia's cancellation as the result of a sudden official duty.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 Chinese citizens enjoy a long holiday period, which includes China's Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day.

But on Sept. 11, the Communist Party committee of Guiyang, in Guizhou province, ordered travel agencies in the city not to handle group tours to Japan.

And Chinese media reported that a major travel agency in Beijing was suspending tours in protest at Japan's actions over the Senkakus.

Further cancellations of trips to Japan are being reported elsewhere, too.

Repercussions are being felt in other spheres as well.

Shinji Tanimura, a Japanese singer who is well known in China, had planned a concert Sept. 25 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. It was to have commemorated 40 years since the normalizing of relations between Tokyo and Beijing.

The concert was postponed. The Japanese side reportedly learned of it from the organizers, who include Beijing city officials.

Meanwhile, the canceled delegation of roughly 30 Japanese lawmakers had a particularly high profile.

It was to have been led by Hiromu Nonaka, a former chief Cabinet secretary. Nonaka had called for the cross-party group visit to take place because, he said, channels between the two countries must not close.

Other members were to have included Yoshito Sengoku of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and Makoto Koga of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. Executives of New Komeito, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Sunrise Party of Japan and New Party Daichi-True Democrats were also supposed to have taken part.

The group had planned to participate in a reception commemorating 40 years since Japan and China normalized ties, a high-profile event due to have taken place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 27. They were also lining up meetings with key Chinese figures.

Nonaka himself is known to have had a trusting relationship with Chinese leaders, but their objection to Japan's bid to buy the Senkakus was sufficiently strong to reject such "old friends."

"Now that friendship between the two countries has collapsed, so too has the premise for exchanges and we must rethink them," said a Chinese Communist Party official.

A member of the Japanese delegation added: "Diplomacy by lawmakers could be impossible for the time being."

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Demonstrators protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Sept 12. (Atsushi Okudera)

Demonstrators protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Sept 12. (Atsushi Okudera)

  • Demonstrators protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Sept 12. (Atsushi Okudera)

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