Ambassador to Tokyo plays down Japan's absence from parade, says ties are healthy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

Despite the conspicuous absence of the Japanese fleet at China's grand naval showcase yesterday, the military exchange between the two historical rivals is thriving and on a healthy and active track, Beijing's top diplomat to Japan says.

Cui Tiankai , the ambassador to Tokyo, dismissed a previous report that China had turned down Japan's offer to send naval vessels to the Qingdao fleet parade because the Chinese navy still harbours hard feelings towards its old foe. He was speaking at a luncheon in Hong Kong hosted by the Journalism Education Foundation.

More than 100 years ago during the first Sino-Japanese war, the North Sea Fleet, then touted as one of the most advanced in Asia, suffered a crushing defeat and its ashamed commander committed suicide. The result was that regional dominance shifted from China to Japan.

Qingdao, the birthplace of the North Sea Fleet, would particularly seem to be an poor fit to host Japanese warships, analysts say. The northern port city, chosen as the venue to show off the country's maritime might together with 21 fleets from 14 countries, would be more than happy not to be reminded of the painful past.

But the ambassador to Japan cautioned against reading too much into Japan's no-show.

'I don't think there's any big-deal hidden news behind it,' Mr Cui said. 'Not every country got to send a fleet [to Qingdao] and it all depended on how the PLA Navy negotiated with its counterparts in other countries.'

There was no 'insurmountable hurdle' in the military exchange between Beijing and Tokyo, he said, adding that the two countries had seen perhaps some of their most vibrant ties in the past few years.

The most noticeable achievements include the decision to negotiate a military hotline to react to potential crises, exchange visits by high-ranking defence officials, and port calls by warships.

In June last year, the Japanese destroyer Sazanami made a port call at Zhanjiang in Guangdong - the first visit by the Japanese navy to China since the second world war.

The visit was a return port call by the Japanese after a Chinese naval ship, the missile destroyer Shenzhen, visited Japan in November 2007, the first such visit since 1949.

Transporting relief goods including 300 blankets, 2,600 pre-packaged meals and other hygiene items for Sichuan earthquake victims, the 240 crew of the Sazanami 'conveyed [Japan's] sincerity' in further improving the Sino-Japanese military ties, Mr Cui said.

In a further sign of warming relations between the two Asian giants, more bilateral security talks were planned for this year. Chinese naval ships will make another visit to Japan and the defence chief, General Liang Guanglie , will also visit Tokyo later this year and meet Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada.

But Mr Cui did imply that it would take time for bad memories to go away. 'Some problems can't be solved during our generation. I believe our next generation will be smarter than us ... so we'll pass some of the issues on for them to solve.'