Cancellations lessen impact of Japanese destroyer's visit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am

Warship welcomed in Zhanjiang, but occasion seems hollow

Japanese servicemen were greeted with applause and fireworks from the Chinese navy yesterday when they returned to China nearly 63 years after the end of the second world war.

But perhaps the Japanese troops' first friendly exchange with Chinese people in such a long time fell short of expectations, as mainland authorities decided at the last minute to cancel virtually all public functions for the destroyer Sazanami.

According to the itinerary handed out to the Japanese media covering the 4,650-tonne warship's historic five-day visit to the Zhanjiang port, two public functions were originally scheduled to allow the public to meet the crew face to face - a concert by a Japanese orchestra today and a joint orchestral performance with Zhanjiang's South Sea Navy troops tomorrow.

Instead, reporters were told yesterday, without explanation, that the two shows would be reduced to one joint concert on Friday, which would now be staged at a restricted area of the Zhanjiang naval port instead of a public square.

A spokesman from the Defence Ministry said the event would be open to the public but did not specify who could attend and how they would be admitted.

In fact, apart from a well-selected pool of official mainland press and a dozen Japanese media who gained access to the Chinese naval installation through arrangements by the Japanese embassy, no foreign journalists - including those from Hong Kong and Macau, were allowed to cover the landmark event.

The visit by the Sazanami was agreed when President Hu Jintao's visited Japan last month set the stage for the improvement of bilateral ties.

A source said the Japanese sailors were disappointed that they didn't get to meet the public and were not received in either Shanghai or Tianjin , where more Japanese reside.

Responding to a question at the regular twice-a-week news briefing yesterday in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao denied that authorities feared the visit might stir public discontent.

'Strengthening our exchanges and co-operation in the field of defence will be supported by the people,' he said. 'I don't think there will be any public anger.'

Qingdao University international relations expert Li Guangmin believed there was a need for this visit to stay low profile.

'It is especially so because the visit was an important one - Beijing should be super-cautious,' he said. 'The fragile but blossoming Sino-Japanese ties could be easily jeopardised if it raised public resentment.'

Activist Tong Zeng , who led protests after a Japanese coastguard boat rammed a Taiwanese boat this month, said this was exactly why the visit came at a bad time.

'The visit may have seen better results if it wasn't held at such a sensitive time,' he said. 'Beijing made it all look ... so secretive.'

The Sazanami carried relief materials including food, blankets and disinfectants for Sichuan earthquake victims.

It will be transported to the area by train today.