Territorial and historical issues are resurfacing to strain Japan's relations with China and South Korea, forcing scheduled visits of high-ranking defense officials from both countries to be canceled.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba called the cancellations and worsening of relations “regrettable.”
“Not all the countries get along perfectly well with their neighboring countries. We will have to work hard to overcome problems with certain backgrounds,” Genba told a news conference on May 23.
The Japanese foreign minister implicitly sought “mature reactions” to the diplomatic difficulties with China and South Korea.
On May 19, Tokyo was notified that a visit by Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Communist Party Central Military Commission, would be postponed. That came only two days after Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua met and confirmed Guo’s visit.
Guo’s visit was originally requested by Beijing, mainly to discuss improving communications at sea. That was prompted by an incident in 2010 in which a Chinese fishing boat rammed Japanese patrol ships, leading both countries to seek a framework of cooperation to avoid incidents that could trigger a military confrontation.
On May 17, South Korea Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin announced cancellation of his trip to Japan.
Kim was expected to visit Japan at the end of May to reach an agreement on the conclusion of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, which stipulates rules for the protection of confidential military information, and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, a pact for the exchange of supplies between South Korea's military and Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
“All we can do is keep pushing forward (toward a conclusion),” said a Japanese Defense Ministry official.
Consecutive cancellations of visits by Chinese and South Korean defense leaders are rare, especially when the schedules and agendas were in place.
“The military has possibly judged that the environment is not favorable for (Guo to) visit,” a Chinese diplomatic source said.
China had been complaining about the World Uyghur Congress meeting, which was held in Tokyo from May 14-17, of exiled Uyghur groups protesting the Chinese occupation of East Turkestan.
The Chinese Embassy to Japan in Tokyo sent a letter to Japanese lawmakers, asking them not to support the congress. But it invoked a backlash from Japanese politicians, who responded that China was interfering in domestic affairs.
“Japan does not listen to us because Japan has a different system (allowing freedom of speech and assembly),” the Chinese diplomatic source said. “There is a deep (perception) gap between the two countries.”
Chinese newspapers also criticized Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine and her donation to help Tokyo purchase the controversial Senkaku Islands, which China also claims.
In February, Nagoya Mayorq Takashi Kawamura denied the Nanking Massacre took place, which was followed by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s announcement in April that Tokyo plans to purchase the Senkakus.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang also canceled his planned visit to Japan.
The National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will be held in autumn, when a generational change of the party leadership will take place.
“For party leaders, to become associated with Japan itself can be a (political) risk,” said one senior official at the party’s China-Japan exchange division.
(This article was written by Nozomu Hayashi and Toru Higashioka.)
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