China urges Japan to face 'comfort women' issue
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing called on Japan yesterday to properly handle sensitive historical issues, such as the forced use of Asian women as sex slaves for Japanese troops in the second world war, to ensure the success of Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Tokyo next month.
But he refrained from criticising Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by name over Mr Abe's recent comments that there was no proof that 'comfort women' were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese military during the war.
'Conscripting the so-called comfort women was one of the most serious crimes committed by the Japanese imperialists during the second world war,' Mr Li said at a press conference held on the sidelines of the National People's Congress's annual session in Beijing.
'This is a historical fact and I believe the Japanese government should face up to this part of history, take responsibility and seriously view and properly handle this issue.
'History, in my view, is a strong progressive force. It should not become a burden to the progression of peace.'
Mr Li's remarks were Beijing's first reaction to Mr Abe's comment on Thursday, which have sparked international outrage and protests throughout Asia.
Beijing has softened its stance towards Tokyo in recent months, with top Chinese diplomats avoiding making harsh comments on contentious historical issues that were stumbling blocks to the recovery of Sino-Japanese relations.
Bilateral ties worsened dramatically under Mr Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, because of his repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japan's war dead.
Beijing is keen to avoid disputes and clashes with Tokyo ahead of Mr Wen's visit, the first by a Chinese leader in years. Mr Li said bilateral ties had been improving since Mr Abe's fence-mending visit to Beijing in October, soon after he took office. He held talks with President Hu Jintao , the first summit in five years.
'We will continue to work with the Japanese side for a healthy and steady development of the Sino-Japanese relations,' Mr Li said. 'I recently visited Japan and received a warm welcome. I have full confidence that Premier Wen's visit to Japan will be a success.'
He said China was ready to co-operate with Japan in areas of economy, trade, science and technology, environmental protection, as well as regional and international issues.
China was also prepared to talk to Japan about the joint exploration and development of the resource-rich East China Sea, another source of dispute between the two Asian neighbours, and seek solutions acceptable to both sides.
'We will make the East China Sea a sea of friendship, co-operation and peace,' Mr Li said.