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Chinese media questions sincerity of Japan's Abe

Publication Date : 24-01-2013

 

The Chinese media is questioning the sincerity of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even as a member of his coalition government comes to the Chinese capital to try to mend ties.

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, who arrived on Tuesday on a four-day visit, is the first politician from Japan's ruling coalition to visit amid rising tension over isles claimed by both countries.

Yamaguchi is tentatively scheduled to meet incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping tomorrow and to pass him a letter from Abe which is expected to convey goodwill and to broach the possibility of a bilateral summit. He is also expected to meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi today.

But China's state media has poured cold water on the visit.

"On the issue of Diaoyu isles, does Japan have sincerity? There still isn't any, by the look of things," said a commentary in the People's Daily.

Instead, Chinese media noted that the nationalistic Abe is ceding no corner and had reiterated during an interview on Japanese television on Tuesday that the disputed isles belong to Japan.

Both countries claim a cluster of isles in the East China Sea which are called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.

Tensions spiked after Tokyo, which administers the isles, overrode Chinese protests to nationalise them last September.

Fears of an armed conflict grew last week after Japan said it might fire warning shots in response to increased Chinese flight activity near the isles.

Washington's top diplomat Hillary Clinton last week also warned against "unilateral actions that would undermine Japan's administration" of the islands, sparking an angry reaction from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Yamaguchi, whose party is pacifist and has strong ties with the Chinese Communist Party, is seen as well-placed to help bridge differences between the two East Asian powers.

However, just like former prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party of Japan Yukio Hatoyama, who was in Beijing last week, Yamaguchi has come under pressure back home for his perceived pro-China stance.

Yamaguchi suggested on Monday that Beijing and Tokyo shelve differences over the isles, a position taken by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. He was forced to distance himself from the suggestion a day later, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

He also drew flak back home for saying that both sides should refrain from sending planes over the contested isles. Abe obliquely rebuked him on Tuesday when he noted that the airspace above the isles belonged to Japan and that Japan could decide whether to send planes there.

These developments have raised further doubts among the Chinese over how much influence Yamaguchi's party has as a junior partner in the ruling coalition dominated by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

They also voiced suspicion towards Abe's intentions, seeing his visits to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam last week as moves to contain China.

"While Mr Abe has said that he wants to improve Sino-Japan ties before and after coming to power, his actions and attitudes have not caught up," said a commentary in the Beijing Times.

Japanese analyst Tetsuo Kotani of the Japan Institute of International Affairs did not think Yamaguchi's visit would help ease tensions.

"Beijing is trying to make use of Yamaguchi to restrict Abe's diplomatic flexibility," he told The Straits Times. "(Mr Yamaguchi) and his party (are) against Abe's conservative security agenda and hawkish stance on the Senkakus. So Beijing expects that New Komeito can put restrictions on Abe's foreign policy."

 

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