China tries to patch its torn image
After weeks of anti-Japanese protest, China, Japan leaders may meet this weekend.
At the 50th commemoration of a conference that enshrined the phrase "peaceful coexistence," the leaders of China and Japan appear likely to meet, prodded by Asian neighbors' concerns over unstable relations between the two.Skip to next paragraph
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The current row arose swiftly, sparked both by historical animus and jockeying over future power and place in Asia - and it surprised many observers in the depth of antipathy on both sides.
Now, after three weekends of angry anti-Japanese street protests, authorities in Beijing appear to have decided that the largely student-led campaign to target Japanese businesses and diplomatic buildings may be harming China's image abroad and creating tensions in the region - and could pose a domestic challenge if sentiments among Chinese ever became unmanageable.
Chinese diplomats have refused to apologize to Tokyo for protests that have caused many Japanese to cancel vacations in China and have upset business leaders in Tokyo. But Beijing has put the word out strongly through party circles to urge quiet and enforce calm. Reportedly, no protests have taken place since a handful of students raised placards in downtown Xiamen on Monday.
In recent days, prominent authorities such as Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing have appeared on state TV, urging the People's Liberation Army and rank-and-file Communist Party cadres to trust the government's handling of the dispute, and to cease activities leading to protest. Earlier in the week, an editorial in People's Daily, the party mouthpiece, took what some analysts described as a "worried tone" - saying the time for criticism of Japan had ended, and that the time for "economic construction" and the building of a "harmonious society" was at hand.
Moreover, since Chinese students hurled bottles at the Japanese Embassy while Chinese police stood by chatting and eating, international reaction has not gone China's way.
Beijing was certain early this winter that a European Union arms embargo against China would be lifted (a move ardently opposed by the Pentagon). But last week, the EU said it no longer had a consensus to lift. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, in a frank interview with German media, even mentioned a possible need for a form of containment of China, until its social, political, and military direction became clearer.
Now, with a historic anniversary meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, of nonaligned nations, designed to affirm closer ties between Asia and Africa, Chinese officials are on the spot to calm the waters. In recent days, Tokyo has repeatedly pushed for an informal summit on the sidelines.
Should Chinese President Hu Jintao not meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, China would appear to be intractable or petulant in refusing to address a problem roiling Asia and threatening commercial and cultural exchange, analysts say. The dispute could also affect the internal dynamics of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program if it is not defused.