Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Competitors


People's Republic of China Vice Premier Wu Yi has cut short her fence-mending visit to Japan, just short of a scheduled meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

The official reason is that some unstated situation requires Wu's urgent presence in Beijing; but Wu really left because Koizumi recently said he'd visit the Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni is a monument to thousands of Japanese soldiers killed during World War II. Fourteen of the dead are "Class A" war criminals involved in atrocities, including atrocities in China. Shrine visits have been a sore subject in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, but one might expect Beijing—supposedly alarmed by the success of the anti-Japanese riots it inspired last month and wanting to improve relations—to give Koizumi a pass.

Wrong. As the L.A. Times reports (and the Post weakly echoes), Wu not only canceled her Koizumi meeting on short notice, she then had lunch with Japanese business leaders and gave a speech, saying, "The relationship between the two countries is not satisfactory or benign."

Besides violating diplomatic protocol, Wu's behavior is plainly designed to drive a wedge between Japanese business—who have increasingly large investments in mainland China—and their own government.

But it's politically impossible for Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni, just as it would be for a U.S. president to skip laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns each year. The Japanese right is increasingly flexing its political muscles and if the moderate Koizumi loses office, his replacement might be even less to Beijing's liking.

One wonders what long-term interests the PRC is pursuing so undiplomatically. The only explanation I can think of is that Beijing's actions aren't "talking" to Japan at all, but to its other World War II victims. And keeping 60-year-old resentments fresh may help box Tokyo out of northern Asia—but may also drive Japan closer to the U.S.

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