China seeks support of other countries in dispute against Japan

February 24, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Amid deepening conflicts with the Abe administration, China is enlisting the cooperation of countries from Asia to Africa to bolster its current position, in particular, neighboring South Korea.

In January, a memorial hall honoring An Jung-geun (1879-1910), an activist for Korea’s independence from Japanese rule, opened in the compound of the Harbin railway station in Heilongjiang province, northeastern China.

At the station in 1909, An assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909), who was then serving as the first resident-general in the protectorate of Korea. Because of that, An is regarded as a hero in South Korea.

However, the South Korean government officials could not conceal their surprise at the size of the memorial hall.

“We never thought that the memorial would be such a large-scale one,” one of the officials said.

When South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited China last June, she only asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to erect a memorial stone for An.

For South Korea, China’s active move toward forging relationships based on anti-Japanese sentiment is disconcerting.

“It is not good (for South Korea) to be regarded (by the United States and Japan) as engaging in all-out cooperation with China,” said one South Korean government official.

Another added, “We are strengthening cooperation with China only from the necessities (for cooperation) in the economic field and measures to deal with North Korea.”

According to sources on China-South Korea relations, however, China also plans to erect in Xian, capital of Shaanxi province, a memorial for the military stronghold of the Republic of Korea’s provisional government there that fought against wartime Japanese forces.

On Feb. 21, Xi told a visiting delegation of South Korean lawmakers, “Last year, I discussed the future relations of China and South Korea together with Park. Little by little our plans are bearing fruit.”

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals as well as the war dead, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has developed an “anti-fascism” campaign.

The ministry ordered its overseas ambassadors to spread the message through local media and other means that signs are appearing of a militarism revival in Japan.

USE OF FORMER ALLIES

Earlier this month, Xi participated in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. He took the opportunity to again propose to Russian President Vladimir Putin that China and Russia should jointly hold a memorial ceremony next year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory in the anti-fascism war.

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited China on Feb. 14, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talked about the 70th anniversary and urged the United States for solidarity as former Allies.

Chinese leaders also made the same request when they held meetings with representatives of other countries, such as France and Mongolia.

China is also actively approaching ASEAN member countries, though Abe is also placing importance on them. During the first six months after the launch of their leadership, either Xi or Li held talks with leaders of all of the ASEAN member countries except for the Philippines, which is in a conflict with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

In addition to offering economic assistance, China is also trying to strengthen cooperation with these countries in the fields of politics and security by urging them to conduct joint military exercises.

It is apparently trying to counter Japan’s strategy of forming a network that surrounds China.

EMPHASIZING ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE

To countries in Africa and the Pacific, China is not only providing economic assistance but also repeatedly emphasizing solidarity as developing countries. By doing so, China is asking them to understand its diplomacy.

“Anti-Japan demonstrations and riots in 2012 damaged the international image of China," said an executive of a think tank affiliated with the Chinese government. "Reflecting on that, our government carefully examined what it should do when Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine.”

Immediately after Japan put the Senkaku Islands under state ownership in 2012, then Vice President Xi said, “The practice is a challenge to the post-war world order.” As the remark indicates, China has tried to handle the conflict between Japan and China from the viewpoint of a recognition of history.

Initially, reactions to the Chinese strategy from the United States and European countries were muted. After Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, however, the U.S. government expressed “disappointment” over the visit.

After aides to Abe made gaffes, media in the United States and Europe also began to cast doubts on the Abe administration’s perception of history. As a result, the Yasukuni visit and the gaffes have aided China’s strategy of forming its own network that surrounds Japan.

(This article was compiled from reports by Nozomu Hayashi in Beijing and Akihiko Kaise in Seoul.)

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