Abe told to face up to wartime past

Updated: 2014-01-24 00:30

By ZHANG YUNBI in Beijing, CAI HONG in Tokyo and FU JING in Davos, Switzerland (China Daily)

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Japan PM says relationship with China like that between Britain and Germany in 1914

Japan was urged by China on Thursday not to forget its wartime acts after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared the Sino-Japanese relationship to rivalry between Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I.

Abe made the comment to journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

He said China and Japan are in a "similar situation" to that of Britain and Germany before the Great War started in 1914.

Britain and Germany had strong trade ties but this did not prevent the outbreak of war, Abe said.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday that he did not know the details of Abe's remarks, but said Abe had by no means meant that a war between Japan and China was possible.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing that the Japanese leader's memory of history "should not be misplaced".

The tremendous damage brought by Japan's "fascist warfare to victimized nations including China" should not be forgotten, Qin said.

"Rather than commenting on the Britain-Germany relationship before World War I, (the Japanese leader) had better face up to history and make a heartfelt repentance for what Japan did to China before World War I and throughout entire contemporary history," Qin said.

Abe infuriated China and South Korea and drew global criticism after he visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Dec 26. The shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II.

Wang Ping, a researcher in Japanese political studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Britain-Germany comparison may be Abe's latest "lame" analogy following his comment comparing the Yasukuni Shrine to the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

"By mentioning historical details that sound familiar to the West, Abe is trying to bluff audiences in Davos and shift blame onto China," Wang said.

Bonji Ohara, a research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit think tank, said the Yasukuni Shrine "is not an equivalent" to Arlington, adding, "Abe's Yasukuni visit is political propaganda."

Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington-based research center Asia Policy Point, said in her latest online article, "Although both were the result of civil wars, Yasukuni now focuses on the idealization of the Pacific Theater in World War II, while Arlington records the continuing sorrow of a nation."

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Japanese policymakers, for political purposes, are "taking advantage of Japanese people's natural feelings in mourning their ancestors to justify the visit" to the shrine.

In Davos, Abe reiterated that he visited the shrine to make a no-war pledge.

He also criticized China's increased military spending as being a major source of instability in the region, saying, "We must ... restrain military expansion in Asia, which could otherwise go unchecked."

In December, the Abe administration approved two documents and a mid-term defense plan for 2014-18, aimed at China.

Ohara said: "The Japanese National Defense Program guidelines and National Security Strategy are a deliberate provocation against China. This is of great disservice to bilateral relations."

John Chipman, chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Reuters that the best prospects for avoiding an escalation of disputes between China and Japan lie in quiet military-to-military discussions to seek confidence-building measures.

On Thursday, the Japanese Prime Minister's Office released Abe's Chinese New Year greetings to Chinese nationals in Japan. These will be published by two Chinese-language newspapers in Japan on Jan 30, Lunar New Year's Eve.

Abe said in the greetings that separate issues should be "well controlled" to avoid them influencing bilateral relations, reiterating that "my door toward dialogue is open".

But Tomiichi Murayama, Japanese prime minister from 1994 to 1996, disagreed.

"If the door were really open, he should have said, ‘Welcome, please come in'. He should definitely establish circumstances in which a guest is comfortable. This is not good," Murayama told China Central Television in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Abe is taking actions that are totally contrary to his words, "which is extremely impolite," Murayama said.

Contact the writer at zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn