Japan says Abe’s quotes about China in Post interview were ‘misleading’

Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Friday during his visit to Washington.

TOKYO — Japan sought Thursday to clarify comments about China that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made to The Washington Post this week, with a top government spokesman saying that quotations published by the newspaper were “misleading.”

The Post had quoted Abe as saying that China’s Communist Party had a “deeply ingrained” need to spar with Japan and other Asian neighbors over territory, because the government uses such conflicts to win strong support from citizens whose education system emphasizes patriotism and “anti-Japanese sentiment.”

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“There is no comment made by the prime minister as saying that China wants to clash or [have] collision with other countries,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “As I said, as the prime minister said, we value mutually beneficial relations with China based on strategic interests.”

Japan’s response came after China denounced Abe for the reported remarks.

“It is rare that a country’s leader brazenly distorts facts, attacks its neighbor and instigates antagonism between regional countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “Such behavior goes against the will of the international community. . . . We have solemnly demanded the Japanese side immediately clarify and explain.”

Abe met with President Obama on Friday at the White House, where they discussed Japan’s potential interest in joining the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Parternship free trade negotiations and the two countries’ ongoing concerns about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

“We agreed that we would cooperate so that a resolution, including sanctions, would be adopted in the U.N.,” Abe said, referring to punitive action against Pyongyang. “We also discussed additional sanctions — for example, financial sanctions.”

Abe did not commit to entering the TPP talks, but the two governments agreed that Japan will not have to make concessions on lowering tariffs for American exports prior to the negotiations taking place.

Obama said that the two leaders agreed “that our number-one priority has to be making sure that we are increasing growth.”

They also discussed the ongoing clash between Tokyo and Beijing over a remote chain of islands that both consider part of their territory. Tokyo administers the islands and purchased several of them from a private owner in September, setting off the dispute between Asia’s two largest economies.

During the interview with The Post, Abe spoke at length about China, laying out a theory of how the Chinese government, no longer able to promise economic equality, now needs new pillars for its legitimacy. One is economic growth. The other is patriotism, which he said often equates to anti-Japanese sentiment. Those factors, Abe said, push China to expand its maritime territory “by coercion or intimidation,” directed both against Japan, in the East China Sea, and in the South China Sea against its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Then, answering a question about the “maritime issue,” Abe responded, “What is important, first of all, is that their leaders as well as business leaders recognize how deeply ingrained this issue is.”

The Japanese government says that a transcript of the interview posted on The Post’s Web site is correct.

Nakamura reported from Washington.

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