The expulsion of a Japanese journalist from China this week highlights the political tension between the two countries. It is a warning signal from China that Japan not ignore Chinese concerns. That is the view of Peking observers who see the action by China's State Security Ministry as reflecting a tougher attitude toward Japan on the part of older Communist Party leaders and as part of China's reaction to unsolved political problems between the two East Asian neighbors.
The expulsion, ordered last Friday, comes three weeks before the first visit to China by Yuko Kurihara, the head of Japan's Defense Agency. Later in June, eight or nine Cabinet-level ministers from Tokyo are scheduled to meet in Peking with their Chinese counterparts in an annual review of Sino-Japanese relations.
Politically, these meetings will be very sensitive. They will cover such issues as the increase in Japan's defense spending this year and the related fear, in China, of Japanese militarism. The discussions will touch on the potentially volatile problem of Japan's relations with Taiwan as well as economic and trade issues, especially how to continue to lower China's still sizeable trade deficit, increase Japanese investment, and improve technology transfers.
``This [expulsion] was a message to Japan - in advance of these high-level meetings - that Japan must take China's warnings on these issues more seriously,'' a Japanese journalist commented.
Western diplomats agree, saying that the decision to expel Shuitsu Henmi of Japan's Kyodo news agency was mainly linked to the uncertain political relations between the two countries.
Mr. Henmi has been charged with paying money to a Chinese government official to procure secret documents of the Chinese Communist Party. Details of his case were first made public Tuesday night. According to the official New China News Agency, Henmi paid money to Tang Dadi, identified as a government official, for secret internal documents of the party's Central Committee. Mr. Tang is being detained.
Detailed excerpts from the documents, namely Central Committee directives Nos. 1, 2, and 3, were subsequently published by Kyodo on Feb. 27 as ``disclosed'' by a ``senior official'' of the Chinese Communist Party.
``Investigations have shown that Henmi's statement is a lie, designed to cover his illegal acquisition of China's internal secrets to confuse the public and debase China's reputation,'' said the Chinese news agency.
His actions are ``completely incompatible with normal news gathering and the status as a journalist,'' according to an unnamed official of the Ministry of State Security. The official alleged that Henmi also obtained other secret information by illegal means.
Last Friday, Henmi was told to leave China and he returned to Tokyo on Monday. Before leaving Peking, the journalist strongly denied that he had done anything illegal, although he predicted that the Chinese government would ``fabricate a case'' against him.
Japan has expressed its official regret over the expulsion. Despite an agreement between China and Japan to discuss matters relating to journalists, the Japanese ambassador was told that the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not think it was necessary to discuss the issue. Requests for information were directed to the Ministry of State Security, China's counterespionage agency.
Observers say that the expulsion may also be linked to shifts in domestic Chinese politics. Party leaders who have consistently advocated a tougher attitude toward Japan are among the so-called conservatives who have gained influence since the dismissal of party secretary Hu Yaobang last January. Veteran leaders such as Peng Zhen, Hu Qiaomu, and Deng Liqun have all had unfriendly words for Japan in recent months.
Last week, senior leader Deng Xiaoping added his own voice to the chorus, warning that Tokyo should not follow Washington's example in its policies toward Taiwan. Mr. Deng also linked ``recent developments'' of Japanese militarism to the handling of a court case on a dormitory for Chinese students.
A court decision in February awarded ownership of the Kyoto dormitory to Taiwan. The case has been appealed to Japan's Supreme Court and the final decision could take a year or more. A Japanese diplomat described the case as a ``nasty problem'' in Sino-Japanese relations. China's case is a weak one, he said, and the final verdict is not likely to yield good results for relations between the two countries.
In recent meetings with Japanese visitors, Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese premier and acting party secretary, has not mentioned the political irritations in China's relations with Japan. The recent deterioration of those relations date from the fall of Mr. Hu who actively promoted ties with Japan.
Among Hu's ``mistakes,'' which have reportedly been cited in internal party documents, was his invitation to 3,000 Japanese students to visit China as guests of the government in 1985 as well as his invitation to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to visit China last year. Both invitations were made on his own initiative.
``We now know for sure that Hu's diplomatic efforts toward Japan was not a main reason for his [forced] resignation, but it was certainly one reason,'' a Japanese diplomat said.