[NOTEBOOK]A lecture for Mr. KoizumiPrime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan got a lengthy lecture on history from President Hu Jintao of China at the summit meeting of the two leaders on Nov. 12 in Santiago, Chile. Both were there for the APEC meeting. President Hu said, “If we are to improve relations between China and Japan, we cannot evade the problems of our history, and there is no way for both countries to avoid them.” President Hu’s words were tantamount to a warning. He went on to say, “The reason why political relations between the two countries have become stiff and tense lies mainly in the fact that Japanese leaders worshipped at the Yasukuni Shrine.” He also warned, “If this problem continues to be an issue, the feelings of not only China but other countries on which you inflicted pain will be hurt even more.” Mr. Hu added, “Not forgetting the past is to use it as an indicator for the future. If a person is a national leader he should, out of sense of responsibility toward history and his own compatriots, handle this issue for the greater cause of peace and development of Asia.”
The meeting between the two Asian leaders triggered a big reaction in Japan. Conservative politicians said President Hu’s statement was “interference in Japan’s internal affairs” and “great pressure.” But the Japanese business community openly urged Mr. Koizumi on Wednesday to reconsider his visits to the shrine. In other words, Mr. Koizumi was criticized for being an obstacle to good relations between China and Japan.
In March 2003, when the fourth-generation Chinese leadership took office, the biggest pending issue in foreign relations was the improvement of relations with Japan. There had been no visits to and from Japan in the previous three years, and that was a burden for both countries. On top of that, President Hu is known very well in China as a politician who wants better relations with Japan. That is why his history lecture was so strong as to seem inappropriate. It was different from the customary suggestive and roundabout speaking manner of Chinese leaders. And it came at a time when the Chinese authorities were forcing the closure of anti-Japanese Web sites in China.
Why is it that President Hu made such a strong statement? Perhaps it was an attempt to appease Chinese public opinion before making epoch-making improvements in Sino-Japanese relations. But it is also true that China has frequently raised its voice to its neighbors recently.
One Thai journalist reported recently that China is applying obvious pressure on ASEAN countries to not acknowledge the independence of Taiwan. As a result, Singapore, which was trying to keep an equal distance from both China and Taiwan, had to go through the difficulty and humiliation of choosing “one China” openly. Southeast Asian countries are now trembling with fear.
China will probably remain comparatively gentle until the 2008 Olympics, but there is no way to know what kind of pressure attitude it will apply afterwards. In this respect, the incident of the Chinese nuclear submarine operating in Japanese territorial waters recently can be seen as a warning message sent not just to Japan but to other nearby countries too. The near-collision of a Japanese and a Chinese ship near Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Islands, which both countries claim for oil exploration rights, is also something that the people of East Asia must be concerned about.
China is reinforcing its military power with its sudden economic development. At the same time, China is also increasing its economic influence on neighboring countries with the absorbing force of its huge market. Japan and Southeast Asia, and of course Korea, are no exceptions. President Hu’s history lecture to Prime Minister Koizumi was probably symbolic of its diplomatic goals. Of course, if Japan had cleaned up its history well enough, China would have no reason to be so aggressive.
* The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Kwang-jong