China-Japan Relations under the Koizumi Administration (series): China-Japan Timeline for May 2005
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
A list of articles on a similar theme by the same author can be found here.
Since anti-Japanese riots swept mainland China over several weekends in April, Sino-Japanese political relations have been severely strained. Beijing says they are at their lowest point since diplomatic ties were established three decades ago. This article examines some of the key events that influenced relations during the critical month of May 2005.
May turned out to be another turbulent month for bilateral ties. It saw Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi strongly hint that he would again visit the Yasukuni Shrine and the sudden cancellation of a meeting between Koizumi and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, an incident which drastically raised the political temperature. Lawmaker Masahiro Morioka upset China by saying the postwar prosecution of Japanese war criminals was illegal and the month concluded with Sino-Japanese talks over disputed oil and gas resources in the East China Sea ending in deadlock.
May 2005 Timeline
4 May 2005 - The Chinese authorities prevent any anti-Japanese demonstrations from taking place in mainland China to mark the sensitive anniversary of the May 4 Movement. On 4 May 1919, anti-Japan protests broke out in Beijing that became a symbol of resistance to foreign domination.
In Hong Kong, about 80 people did stage a demonstration with the permission of the authorities, but it passed off peacefully.
7 May 2005 - According to an NHK news survey, 48% of Japanese oppose Koizumi's continued visits to Yasukuni while 40% support them.
13 May 2005 - The Japan-China Friendship Association announced it would change the venue for its national convention from Awara, Fukui Prefecture, to Tokyo because rightwing groups threatened to disrupt the meeting.
16 May 2005 - Koizumi strongly hinted that he probably would visit Yasukuni this year. During questioning at the Lower House budget committee, he declared, "I don't understand why I should stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine," adding, "I will decide appropriately when to go." He robustly defended his past actions, saying linking his Yasukuni pilgrimages to militarism "should not be taken seriously" and stressed that Japan was a country committed to peace.
Ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he also denied that his shrine forays had in any way harmed relations with Tokyo's neighbors. "Japan's diplomacy has not been deadlocked nor isolated. It's going fine," he told lawmakers. With more conviction he explained, "Every country wants to mourn their war dead, and other countries should not interfere with the ways countries pay tribute to the war dead."
He also said, "I still don't understand why it's inexcusable to pay homage and express gratitude for the war dead as a whole. It's in the teachings of Confucius. It is the offense and not the offenders that should be condemned." Koizumi explained, "It's not an issue that a foreign country should intervene in."
However, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda argued that Tokyo should immediately mend relations with China and ease tensions over Yasukuni and Japan's wartime aggression in Asia. He pointed out the absurdity of the current situation in which Chinese and Japanese leaders barely speak to one another. He told parliament, "It is abnormal not to be able to hold a normal summit with China…If we can talk frankly, we could hold a sufficient conversation on important issues."
- According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 48 percent of respondents supported or somewhat supported Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, while 45 percent opposed them. 65 percent of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) supporters approve of Koizumi's Yasukuni pilgrimages, while many supporters of opposition parties opposed them. Regarding the handling of disputes with China, including the Senkaku Islands and China's development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea, 77 percent said Koizumi should be more assertive. 13 percent said he should maintain his current stance, and 4 percent said Japan should give more consideration to China. 74 percent also said they were concerned about the 2008 Olympic Games being held in Beijing. The survey was conducted on 3,000 eligible voters between 14 and 15 May, with 1,880, or 62.7 percent, responding.
17 May 2005 - Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi began a eight-day visit to Japan in an effort to try to improve relations after the violent anti-Japanese protests across China. Wu was schedule to meet Koizumi and several other ministers. Her visit was planned to end on 24 May.
- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented ahead of his trip to Tokyo that Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine show a lack of repentance for Japanese military atrocities during World War II. He said, "From the point of view of many countries in the region who have experienced Japanese occupation, it raises many unhappy memories…A visit to the shrine is interpreted by many people, I think including many in Singapore, as being a gesture of not entirely accepting responsibility and not accepting that Japan did wrong during the war and that these were war criminals and they should not be honored."
19 May 2005 -Departing Russian Ambassador to China Igor Rogachev said of Koizumi's Yasukuni visits, "The latest mistake is from the prime minister of Japan." Rogachev also added, "For what purpose [Koizumi visits Yasukuni], I can't understand."
20 May 2005 - Echoing comments made by Chinese leaders, New Komeito lawmaker Junichi Fukumoto told Koizumi in parliament, "I want you to think about how Jewish people would feel if the German chancellor visited the grave of Adolf Hitler."
- Koizumi said his visits to Yasukuni Shrine are as a private individual and not in his capacity as prime minister. "I pay a visit as a person and not as duty of the prime minister." He emphasized, "Junichiro Koizumi, who is prime minister, is paying a visit as an individual."
- In a calculated snub to Beijing, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara visited Okinotorishima [Island] to emphasize it is the southernmost part of the Japanese archipelago and its surrounding waters are part of Japan's exclusive economic zone, a claim Beijing disputes. Located 1,700 kilometers from Tokyo, Okinotorishima is a coral atoll consisting of two reefs and is 11 kilometers in circumference.
21 May 2005 - In Beijing, LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe reportedly angered Chinese Communist Party executive Wang Jiarui by indicating Chinese complaints about Koizumi's Yasukuni visits constitute meddling in Japan's internal affairs.
22 May 2005 - Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated his concern over Japan's treatment of its wartime past and Taiwan, and warned "China-Japan ties have developed step by step, but it would be possible to damage the relations in an instant." Hu made the comments in a meeting with LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe and New Komeito Party Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba. Hu raised three issues as points of concern for China: (1) Koizumi's visits Yasukuni, (2) the treatment of history in Japanese textbooks and (3) the issue of Taiwan.
23 May 2005 - At short notice Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi unexpectedly canceled a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi due to a "sudden duty" and returned to China. She explained her lightning departure by simply saying, "I have some domestic business to do." The highly unusual incident indicates that recent efforts to improve battered bilateral ties have collapsed, and highlights the complete deadlock over Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine. Beijing has effectively given Koizumi a highly public slap in the face. The fact that a goodwill mission was terminated in such an undiplomatic fashion does not bode well for Sino-Japanese relations.
Tokyo denies any Yasukuni connection with Wu’s sudden departure. In a statement Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Akira Chiba said, "The Chinese side made it very specific that it has nothing to do with Yasukuni." When Koizumi was asked if the Yasukuni factor lay behind the aborted meeting, he replied, "I have no idea. I have tried not to negatively affect relations with China."
- Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung accused Koizumi of not living up to a four-year-old promise to find a more appropriate way to pay his respects to the war dead at Yasukuni. Kim said during a speech at Tokyo University that at an October 2001 summit meeting between the two leaders, "[Koizumi] promised to 'consider how to visit the shrine without offending the people of the world.' He has not upheld this promise."
24 May 2005 - Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan said, "The Chinese Government attaches great importance to China-Japan relations and has made unremitting efforts to improve and develop our relations. Vice Premier Wu Yi's visit to Japan also well testifies to the fact. But to our regret, Japanese leaders repeatedly made remarks on the issue of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine right during Vice Premier Wu's trip, which is inconducive to the improvement and development of China-Japan relations. China feels strongly dissatisfied. We sincerely hope our two sides will work together to materialize the five-point proposal made by President Hu Jintao in Jakarta during his meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi, so that China-Japan relations embark on a track of healthy and stable development."
He explained, "In my opinion, when the entire world is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the victory of Anti-Fascist War, and when the Chinese people are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the victory of the Resistance War against Japanese Aggression, the Japanese leader repeatedly made wrong remarks on the issue of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, in defiance of the feelings of the Chinese people, the heinous atrocities committed by Japanese militarism that the Chinese people suffered in the unforgettable history, and the commitment to the remorse on history repeatedly made by the leader himself. Doesn't he feel any regret whatsoever?"
He also said, "Do you understand what the War against Japanese Aggression means to China? It means eight years of resistance war, which caused 35 million casualties, 100 billion-dollar direct losses and 500 billion-dollar indirect losses. It left huge traumas to innumerous Chinese families. The monstrous crimes of the Japanese militarism outreach the most telling record."
He concluded, "Against such a backdrop, the Japanese leader went back on his own commitment to the remorse on history made in front of the international community by making once and again wrong remarks on the Yasukuni Shrine, where class A war criminals were worshiped. Didn't he give any thought to the feelings of the victimized countries? Don't the unrecoverable traumas of the people in the victimized countries mean anything to him? "
25 May 2005 - Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said, Tokyo would no longer comment on Beijing's cancellation of the meeting between Koizumi and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi.
- Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori accused China and South Korea of "niggling" in their attacks on a Japanese school textbook that critics claim whitewashes Japan's militarist past. Mori was quoted as saying, "They say it glorifies history or contains no remorse by the government. It is nothing but niggling."
26 May 2005 - Masahiro Morioka, an LDP lawmaker and an aide to the health minister, said the postwar prosecution of Japanese war criminals was illegal, and there was nothing wrong with them being honored along with other war dead at Yasukuni. Exerts from his emotional speech were broadcasted on all major news channels and reproduced in the press. He said, "There are no grounds to say winners are right and losers are wrong. There is no need to apologize [for the war]. That is the truth of the Class A war criminals, and Japan needs to tell this to not just China and South Korea, but to the world.'' He added, ''Koizumi has paid his respects at Yasukuni shrine every year. I think that is a very good thing.''
He told the audience, "Class-A war criminals are treated as bad people because of fear of China…War criminals were categorized as Class-A, Class-B and Class-C at the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals. They were categorized by a one-sided tribunal led by the Occupation forces at which crimes against peace and humanity were created…A war is part of politics, and it is in line with an international law. The Diet unanimously agreed to pay pensions to the families of Class-A war criminals who have died. They're not seen as criminals in the country…Saying it's bad to enshrine Class-A criminals at Yasukuni Shrine is to turn a blind eye to future troubles."
China angrily denounced Morioka's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China and its people ''express righteous indignation and severely condemn'' the remarks.
Junji Higashi, Diet Affairs Committee chairman of the New Komeito Party, said, "The remarks were careless and inappropriate as they came at a time when we are making efforts to find a breakthrough in the cooling relations between Japan and China."
26 May 2005 - Koizumi brushes Morioka's comments aside, saying, "The lawmaker was making personal comments and it's best not to make too much of it." He added, "I don't think it appropriate to take up the remarks seriously as he must have expressed his views as a House of Representatives member." Asked to comment on the status of the 14 Class-A war criminals, he said the blame placed on Japan's wartime leaders is "a matter that has already been settled."
27 May 2005 - Japanese Health Minister Hidehisa Otsuji said he had no intention of pressuring Morioka over the remarks. He explained, "Although his views are different from those of the government, it was a comment by a parliamentarian, and it's not a problem that we have to deal with." He added, "I don't think it's necessary for him to clarify further what he said."
28 May 2005 - A Kyodo News poll found 57.7% thought Koizumi should not visit Yasukuni Shrine this year, an increase of 16.9 percentage points from a survey conducted in December. Those who thought he should go to the shrine stood at 34.3%, a decreased by 16.7 points. This dramatic reversal appears to be the first time a poll has shown more people against the visits than for them. For-against ratio in December 2004 was 51% to 40.8% and in May 2005 is was 34.3% to 57.7%
29 May 2005 - LDP Diet affairs chief Hidenao Nakagawa suggested enshrining the 14 Class-A war criminals somewhere other than at the Yasukuni Shrine, provided their families and shrine officials agree. Speaking on a Fuji Television program, he said, "[It is desirable that] the Yasukuni Shrine and the bereaved families hold talks and voluntarily remove the Class-A war criminals from the shrine, and in return China support Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council."
He sought to justify Koizumi's Yasukuni visits by saying they were done in the capacity of a private citizen and liken them to those of former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who stated that his visits to the shrine while in office from 1980 to 1982 were in a private capacity. Nakagawa said, "This is an expression of the prime minister's desire to see things return to the state they were in at the time of Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki." He observed that China never protested Suzuki's visits, and indicated that if China could view the visits as a private matter, bilateral ties might improve.
31 May 2005 - Sino-Japanese talks over a dispute involving the rights of possible oil and gas resources in the East China Sea end in deadlock. Japan accused China of extracting gas from the Japanese side of the fields, which a 1999 survey estimated had a massive 200 billion cubic meters of gas. The fundamental cause of the dispute is the absence of a bilateral agreement to delineate boundaries between the Japanese and Chinese exclusive economic zones.