Fukuda plans to fly on military jet to Games opening ceremony

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has reportedly decided to attend the Olympics opening ceremony and travel to Beijing aboard a military plane to save fuel, Japanese media reported yesterday.

Kyodo quoted unidentified government sources as saying that Mr Fukuda would arrive in Beijing on August 8 in a 19-seat Air Self-Defence Force plane instead of a government aircraft.

Neither the Japanese nor the Chinese foreign ministries would comment on the report yesterday.

The trip, although a step towards better Sino-Japanese ties that Mr Fukuda has been pushing for since taking office last year, could run into opposition from both politicians at home and Chinese who are against his use of a military plane. Many Chinese still feel scarred by the wartime atrocities of Japanese troops.

If confirmed, it would be the second time Japan has considered sending a military aircraft to Chinese soil over the past two months.

A plan to airlift emergency relief materials to quake-hit Sichuan by SDF aircraft was shelved in late May amid fierce opposition by mainland internet users, who flooded chat rooms with critical remarks.

Last month, the Japanese destroyer Sazanami made a historic visit - the first since the second world war - to Guangdong's Zhanjiang in return for a similar visit by a PLA warship in November.

The port calls were seen as attempts to boost military exchanges between the neighbours.

Tong Zeng , a leading anti-Japan activist, said any move by Mr Fukuda to travel to China on a military aircraft would be provocative.

'Saving fuel is just an excuse. He should travel to Beijing on a government plane,' Mr Tong said.

Attending the Olympics opening ceremony will present a logistical challenge to Mr Fukuda, who intends to show up at commemorations for the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9. It is not clear if these plans are related to the decision to use a military aircraft.

Some world leaders have decided to skip the ceremony following China's heavy-handed crackdown on the March unrest in Tibet.

The last trip by a Japanese state leader to the opening of the Olympics was in 1988, when the late Noboru Takeshita went to Seoul.