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Japanese Official's Trip to China Fails to Break Political Deadlock

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A10

BEIJING, April 18 -- A two-day fence-mending visit by the Japanese foreign minister ended Monday with no sign China and Japan are prepared to back away from the political and territorial disputes that have pushed their relations to a postwar low.

"I don't know the reason why we would have to change our policies with regard to China," said Hatsuhisa Takashima, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura.

The unyielding positions of both countries appear sharpened by a sense of strategic rivalry as China's power expands across Asia and Japan redefines its regional military role in close cooperation with the United States. In the newly adversarial atmosphere, China has opposed Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, saying it is unfit for such leadership until it faces its past.

"Since the normalization of relations in 1972, this is the most difficult of the difficult, the most serious difficulty," said China's deputy foreign minister, Wu Dawei. "And it has lasted a relatively long time."

Wu told reporters the crisis could be resolved only when Japan deals frankly with atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China during World War II. A senior Chinese leader, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, told Machimura the same thing on Monday, Takashima said.

China has long complained that Japan whitewashes its role in history. Thousands of young Chinese demonstrators participated in anti-Japanese protests over the history issue in a dozen cities Saturday and Sunday, damaging Japanese diplomatic buildings and businesses.

Japan reiterated its demand for an apology, saying the Chinese government failed to control the crowds. Although Chinese leaders have described the protests as spontaneous outbursts, authorities here normally exercise tight control over any show of political sentiment; police were seen cooperating with protest leaders in several cities.

"The primary responsibility" for the rise in tension, Takashima said at a news conference, "lies on those mobs that attacked Japanese Embassy and diplomatic installations and injured Japanese nationals."

But Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said on Sunday that China had no intention of apologizing for the violence, and Tang repeated that refusal Monday, saying the burden was on Japan to address its past more completely, Takashima said. He said the Chinese leaders pointed in particular to a textbook recently approved by the Japanese Education Ministry that, according to Chinese reports, refers to the Nanjing massacre of 1937 -- in which historians estimate that 200,000-300,000 people were killed -- as an "incident."

Tang and Li also objected to Japan's policies on Taiwan, Takashima said at a briefing. Japan's posture on the Taiwan issue has been a subject of growing concern among Chinese officials as they weigh the future of relations with Tokyo.

In particular, China has objected to an expanded strategic understanding between the United States and Japan in February that declared, for the first time, that a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue is a "strategic objective" shared by the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Takashima noted that the U.S.-Japanese accord expressed hope that the Taiwan standoff could be resolved peacefully. But including that point in a list of U.S.-Japanese strategic objectives was interpreted here as a sign Japan might help the United States defend Taiwan in the event of war.

Moreover, the accord followed by only a few weeks an assessment by the Japanese government that China should be considered a potential military threat. Diplomats point out that the sea lanes carrying Persian Gulf oil to Chinese and Japanese ports include waters that would be a battleground in any conflict over Taiwan. Both countries consider the issue vital to their security.

Against that background, a dispute over exploratory oil drilling in the East China Sea has emerged as a sore point. Last week, Japan announced it would permit private companies to start drilling in a contested area. The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the decision as a "provocation" and said further reaction might follow.

Machimura and his Chinese counterpart agreed that senior aides would hold further meetings on the drilling dispute, Takashima said. But he gave no indication that either side was willing to shift long-standing positions in the disagreement, which involves claims to exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea and competition over potential underwater energy reserves.

Japan claims sovereignty over all waters east of the midway line between Okinawa and eastern China. But China has refused to accept that contention, saying the Asian continental shelf must be taken into account.

China has been drilling in an area just west of the line proposed by Japan and thus not in dispute. Japanese experts have warned, however, that China's drilling platform could be drawing oil from an undersea deposit that stretches into areas claimed by Japan.

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