- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

TOKYO — Friction between Japan and China over the events of World War II has escalated to a level that threatens to destabilize the region, according to scholars who warn that hostilities could result unless calmer heads prevail.

“Leaders are playing to nationalism, because that’s all they have as glue,” said Andrew Horvat, visiting fellow at Tokyo Keizai University.

In China, President Hu Jintao and other leaders struggle to maintain the legitimacy of the Communist Party. In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi presides over a flagging economy.

The latest in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges has Japan fuming over a high-profile snub by China early last week.

Just hours before Mr. Koizumi was to meet Chinese Vice Prime Minister Wu Yi in Tokyo — a meeting requested by China — Beijing canceled.

“It’s immoral,” fumed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso, who said the gesture has “contributed greatly to aggravating anti-Chinese sentiment” in Japan.

After a spate of denials, Beijing admitted that the snub was in retaliation for Mr. Koizumi’s continued worship at the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead and war criminals who were tried and executed by the Allies.

“It’s undeniable that Koizumi’s continued Yasukuni visits are exacerbating the deterioration of China-Japan relations,” said Yukio Okamoto, a former diplomat who now runs his own consulting firm in Tokyo.

But things turned sour long before Mr. Koizumi took the reins in 2001, Mr. Okamoto said. “It’s a deeper, more structural problem.”

One useful, if rough, barometer of anti-Japanese sentiment in China, Mr. Okamoto said, is the number of anti-Japanese Web sites in that country.

The number of Chinese sites calling for rallies and boycotts, for instance, had more than doubled to nearly 800,000 by late April over the previous summer, he told a recent gathering at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Japan.

While it is tempting to write off the most recent anti-Japanese furor as merely the latest of many such episodes that have erupted periodically, Mr. Okamoto warned that the protests have taken a far more virulent tone.

After what is regarded as a Sino-Japanese honeymoon in relations after normalization of ties in 1972, Beijing changed course in the mid-1990s, launching a renewed emphasis on patriotic, anti-Japanese education.

“If you were a Chinese and you were told these other people had killed 20 million of your countrymen, could you easily forgive them?” Mr. Okamoto asked rhetorically. “I would not be able to.”

Many Japanese find China’s repeated hectoring disingenuous, particularly given Japan’s billions in foreign aid and repeated apologies.

Japanese born after the war wonder, said Mr. Horvat, “What exactly are we supposed to do to atone? I’m 30 — how am I hurting the Chinese people?”

The only way out, many analysts say, is taking the difficult and long road embarked on by Germany and France back in the 1950s: To cease recriminations, drawing lines in the sand and bickering over petty sovereignty issues, and instead start looking ahead.

“You need the desire for a shared future,” Mr. Horvat said.

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