- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

TOKYO As Asia's two big powers, Japan and China, approach another turning point Sunday's 30th anniversary of normalizing their relations more and more Japanese eye the giant country next door with suspicion.

For decades, Japan has had trouble winning the trust of its Asian neighbors especially China and South Korea because of Japan's treatment of its World War II history. These days, however, it is China that faces an uphill struggle to earn the confidence of Japanese.

A survey conducted in late August by the Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's largest-circulation newspaper at more than 10 million copies a day, showed that 55 percent of Japanese said they distrusted China, while 37 percent said they were confident about that country. In a 1988 Yomiuri poll, 76 percent of Japanese said they were confident about China.

Last month's survey was the first time that the number of those who didn't trust China exceeded that of those who did, the paper said.

The growing skepticism among Japanese is attributed mainly to:

•China's repeated criticism of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo dedicated to Japan's military war dead since the end of the shogun system in 1868, including 28 Class-A war criminals convicted by the Allies after Japan's defeat in World War II.

•The May 8 "Shenyang incident," in which Chinese police entered the compound of the Japanese Consulate in that city and seized North Koreans seeking diplomatic protection there.

•Japanese suspicion that financial aid from Tokyo was used for China's military buildup.

Bad press of China also is involved. This varies from reported crimes by Chinese illegal immigrants or crime syndicates; diet products from China linked to illnesses and deaths; and frozen spinach imported from China that reportedly contained an illegal amount of pesticide.

In July, Bungei Shunju, an influential Japanese monthly, ran a 109-page special package titled "Distrust of China," in which Japanese analysts discussed China, from its political leaders to exports. Some demanded that Japan be assertive, not apologetic, to mend its "distorted" relationship with China.

Some Japanese politicians fuel impatience with China.

This scorching Aug. 15, 57 years after Japan's defeat, politician Katsuei Hirasawa of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a former police chief in Okayama Prefecture, made an emotional speech to a conservative audience at Yasukuni Shrine attacking Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who repeatedly had criticized Mr. Koizumi's visits to the shrine.

"Can we call it anything but their interference in our internal affairs?" Mr. Hirasawa asked his listeners.

Like Mr. Hirasawa, more Japanese politicians and commentators have become impatient with what they call Mr. Jiang's obsession with history as he perceives it and his unrelenting criticism of the Japanese prime minister's visit to Yasukuni.

"It is outright interference in internal affairs," declared Tadae Takubo, a professor of international relations at Kyorin University in Tokyo. Yasukuni "is a place where we go to have a dialogue with those who gave their lives to our country. This is not a matter to which any third party at all can make objections."

More of the Japanese public has become aware that China has made Yasukuni Shrine and Japanese history textbooks diplomatic issues, said Mr. Takubo, an executive board member of the Japanese Society of History Textbook Reform, which produced the textbooks.

"Whenever China criticizes Japan concerning Yasukuni Shrine and the textbooks, Japan offers an apology," he said. "But China does not forgive Japan until it gives money."

As China's biggest donor, Japan has poured tens of billions of dollars worth of projects into China over the 30 years of established relations. This huge amount of funding, however, is largely related to Japan's vested-interest aid structure, some argue. The official development assistance (ODA) to China has been debated hotly in recent years.

During fiscal 2001, which ended March 31, Japan's ODA to China was cut by 25 percent, the largest reduction since the aid began. It is widely expected that growing anti-China feelings as well as Japan's protracted economic troubles will lead Tokyo to cut aid to China again this year. A Foreign Ministry official said, however, that the Japanese government "has not decided anything yet."

Japan's normalization of relations with China came one year after President Nixon's surprise 1971 announcement that he would visit the People's Republic of China the next year, ending more than two decades of hostility toward the communist country.

To catch up with U.S. policy, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka flew to China in late September 1972, seven months after Mr. Nixon's visit there. The Japanese prime minister firmly shook hands with Prime Minister Chou En-lai at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, establishing relations on Sept. 29.

The late Mr. Tanaka was the father of Makiko Tanaka Mr. Koizumi's foreign minister until he replaced her early this year amid bureaucratic and political infighting. She also met with Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung during her father's five-day visit to China.

Although many Japanese leaders long wanted to normalize relations with China, Japan could not have done it if the United States had not made the first move, many analysts have said.

Soon after the 1972 milestone, Japan raised its international profile with its economic growth and prosperity.

During the past decade, however, Asia's two big powers have appeared in stark contrast China, rapidly expanding its economy and wielding more influence on the world stage under strong-minded leaders, while Japan seems leaderless and rudderless with persistent economic troubles.

Some observers say that Japan's irritation with domestic problems has helped generate anger toward China, which is catching up with the world's No. 2 economy.

"It's Japan's problem," said Katsuya Okada, policy chief of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, adding that Japan's growing dissatisfaction with China and the United States comes from "frustration that Japan has not been able to change itself."

Speaking of Japan's diplomatic ties with China, Mr. Okada and others point out a lack of government policy toward the big neighbor.

Under Mr. Koizumi's leadership, "there has been no progress at all between Japan and China," complained Mr. Okada. "Koizumi is, after all, an amateur in diplomacy."

How Japan goes about building a partnership with China is important, the opposition politician said. China is not an economic threat, but it offers Japan an "enormous opportunity since we have such a huge market nearby. We should consider how we can create a win-win relationship," he said.

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