China-Japan row threatens five-year warming trend between old foes
The speed with which the fishing boat dispute turned ugly suggests how little has been achieved in China-Japan reconciliation over the past five years, say analysts.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The fierce row over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed waters “shows how really fragile and easily changeable relations are” between the two countries, says Mel Gurtov, chief editor of the Seoul-based “Asian Perspective” quarterly.
The surprising speed with which the dispute turned ugly also suggested “how little has actually been achieved” by continuous efforts at Sino-Japanese reconciliation over the past five years, says Tobias Harris, who runs observingjapan.com.
The ball is in whose court?
Japan’s release of the trawler captain, accused of deliberately ramming Japanese patrol boats, did not defuse the crisis. Beijing then demanded an apology and compensation for his detention, which Tokyo bluntly refused.
Instead, Japan has demanded that China pay for repairs to its damaged patrol vessels, and repeatedly complained to Beijing about the presence of two Chinese fisheries protection ships near the islands at the heart of the territorial dispute, since Friday.
China, meanwhile, continues to hold four Japanese citizens arrested last week for investigation on charges they had illegally trespassed into a military zone.
On Tuesday, each side held the other responsible for the next step to improve ties. “The ball is already in China’s court,” said Yoshito Sengoku, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary. “We hope that Japan will take practical steps to repair Sino-Japanese relations,” countered Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
What happened to diplomatic warming?
Only a few weeks ago, Beijing and Tokyo were still pursuing the diplomatic efforts that they had been making for nearly five years to try to mend their troubled relations, soured by Chinese memories of harsh Japanese occupation, military mistrust, and competing territorial claims.
In what the Chinese termed a “warm spring” in the relationship, one Japanese Prime Minister after another visited Beijing, and both Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Chinese President Hu Jintao went to Tokyo. Chinese warships visited Japanese ports, Japanese schoolchildren visited China on school trips, and Sino-Japanese trade leaped to record levels.