For China, Japan sets aside royal protocols

Japan's Imperial Household initally balked at a 'last minute' request by China's visiting vice president to meet with the Emperor Akihito. The request was made 19 days ahead, instead of 30. But the meeting will take place Tuesday in Tokyo.

Junko Kimura/AP
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (l.) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama prior to their meeting at Hatoyama's official residence in Tokyo on Monday.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping may himself be a “princeling,” as the gilded offspring of revolutionary leaders are known here. But his current trip to Japan is teaching him what it’s like dealing with real royalty.

Japanese royalty, at any rate. Beijing’s "last minute" request that Mr. Xi be granted an audience with Emperor Akihito sent the Imperial Household Agency into a paroxysm of 'protocolular' peevishness.

The problem is that Imperial Household rules state that requests for such an audience be presented at least a month in advance. Exactly when the Chinese authorities let it be known that Xi wanted to meet the emperor is not clear. But the Japanese government made the request of the Imperial Household on Nov. 26, only 19 days ahead of the meeting.

Court officials initially turned the government down, Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Shingo Haketa told reporters last week, according to the daily Asahi Shimbun.

But after the Japanese government's chief cabinet secretary had called Mr. Haketa twice, in the name of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, he did relent.

The cabinet secretary told him that he was “making this request on the instructions of the Prime Minister. While I understand that there is a rule, I beg that you reconsider setting up the meeting based on the importance of the Japan-China relationship," according to Mr. Haketa.

The meeting is now scheduled for Tuesday.

That smacks of using the Emperor for political purposes, Haketa implied. This was, in effect, preferential treatment for a top Chinese official by allowing a meeting with the highest authority of the Shinto religion and “the symbol of the state and the unity of the people" as the Constitution describes him, as a sweetener to help improve Japan’s ties with its powerful neighbor.

European monarchs are accustomed to being trundled out whenever it is thought politic to impress foreign commoners. Not the occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne, it seems.

Haketa said he made an exception this time because it is, after all, the government that rules Japan, not the Emperor. But he added that “This is very sad. Something like this should not occur simply because the other nation is considered important. This must never happen again.”

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