Japan's top diplomat blamed for arousing Beijing's ire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 October, 2010, 12:00am

An unusually strong reaction from China, accusing Japan of ruining the atmosphere of a possible summit between Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, raises a question: what made Beijing so angry?

Mainland analysts say Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is to blame.

Jiang Lifeng, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said what first upset Beijing was Maehara's meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Hawaii a day ahead of the Asean summit. The central leadership was further infuriated by Maehara's mention of a long-disputed East China Sea gas field to media after he talked to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Friday morning.

Beijing believed Maehara was trying to show off his close ties with the US and give his domestic audiences the impression that China might agree to resume talks on the gas field in order to strengthen his political capital, Jiang said.

'First of all, he played up his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Hawaii on Thursday. Then he spread untrue statements about his meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi,' the academic said.

'Maehara is ambitious in achieving quick success by taking advantage of the Sino-Japanese crisis. He flatters the United States at the cost of Japan's diplomatic ties with China.'

Media reports quoted Maehara on Friday as saying a Wen-Kan summit was likely and that Beijing had agreed to resume talks on the gas field, called Chunxiao in China and Shirakaba in Japan. A strongly worded Xinhua statement rebutted the reports. Late that night, Japanese officials said Maehara had only proposed to Yang about resuming talks on the gas field. They dismissed the earlier media reports as wrong.

But Maehara, by raising the topic with the media on Friday at a time when both sides were still working on a possible Wen-Kan summit, was already angering Beijing, given its deep mistrust in him, Jiang said.

Tensions flared early last month when Tokyo arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that collided with Japanese coastguard vessels near the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands. Beijing cancelled talks with Tokyo on a planned joint exploration of the gas field.

Shi Yinhong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said Beijing made a serious mistake by meeting Maehara in Hanoi.

'Maehara's attitude to China has never been friendly since the crisis broke out in early September. Beijing should not have organised a meeting between Yang and him in the first place,' Shi said, referring to Maehara's comment on October 18 that Beijing's reactions to the arrest were 'extremely hysterical'.

A day after Maehara spoke, Beijing's Foreign Ministry said 'China felt deeply shocked' by his remarks.

Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue made a statement on Friday night. According to Shi, Hu was hinting that Maehara was responsible for the stalemate. 'Although Beijing did not mention Maehara's name, all the accusations in the statement clearly target him.'

He believed Maehara would be a major obstacle in Sino-Japanese ties.

Both Shi and Jiang believed Clinton's remark in Hawaii, that the Diaoyus fell within the scope of a US-Japanese security treaty, was not the main reason behind Beijing's fury on Friday - although it didn't help, either.

'What Clinton told Maehara ... was just a reiteration of the US standpoint in August,' Jiang said.

Shi believed Beijing would not want Sino-US ties strained by its fallout with Tokyo in Hanoi. 'President Hu Jintao will visit Washington in two months. Both China and US will try to create a warm and friendly atmosphere for the visit.'

Peng Xi, deputy director of Nanjing University's Institute of Japanese Studies, said the timing was not good for bilateral talks, pointing to domestic situations in both nations. 'Protests against each other are still escalating. It is not the right time for the two leaders to shake hands during such a sensitive moment.'