China-Japan Ties Continue to Fray Over Shrine Issue

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

BEIJING, May 24 -- The Chinese government declared Tuesday that it was "extremely unsatisfied" with remarks by Japanese officials concerning a controversial shrine in Tokyo honoring Japan's war dead.

A statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry emphasized continuing tension between Asia's leading powers despite several recent visits to Tokyo and Beijing by government officials who sought to calm the atmosphere after violent anti-Japanese protests here in April.

The latest such visit, a week-long stay in Japan by Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, ended in acrimony Monday after Wu canceled without explanation a scheduled meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The Japanese foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, said at news conference Tuesday that Wu had not apologized for the last-minute cancellation and that such conduct violated "international manners."

"This will contribute to a worsening of Japanese sentiment toward China," said Internal Affairs Minister Taro Aso, according to a Reuters news agency report from Tokyo.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, did not explain Wu's abrupt departure from Tokyo, but repeated an earlier explanation that internal Chinese issues required her presence in Beijing. The timing and content of Kong's highly critical statement, however, suggested the Chinese government had recalled Wu because of displeasure over the way the shrine controversy was being handled by Koizumi's government.

"To our regret, during Vice Premier Wu Yi's stay in Japan, Japanese leaders repeated remarks on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine that go against efforts to improve Sino-Japanese relations," Kong said in remarks distributed by the official New China News Agency. "China is extremely unsatisfied with it."

President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials have said visits to the shrine by Koizumi and other Japanese leaders are the most obvious irritant in Chinese-Japanese ties and must be stopped before relations can improve. Hu made the point again Sunday at a meeting in Beijing with a visiting delegation of Japanese parliamentary leaders.

The clash over the Yasukuni Shrine has been sharpened on both sides by a growing sense of strategic rivalry. Under Koizumi's leadership, Japan has sought recently to assert its power in the northern Pacific by redefining its self-defense force as a modern military and by seeking a permanent spot on the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile, China is expanding its military and diplomatic influence in the same area as it grows as a world economic power.

The shrine honors thousands of Japanese war dead, including 14 officers judged to be Class-A war criminals for their role in atrocities committed in China and elsewhere during World War II. For the Chinese, paying respects at the monument has become a symbol of Japan's refusal to express contrition over the cruelty of its soldiers during years of occupation here before and during the war.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company