Japan's top foreign policy adviser, in an inflammatory speech delivered at a regional forum in Hong Kong yesterday, accused China of asserting a territorial claim by force and breaching the international order.
Yachi Shotaro's speech, read on his behalf by a former Japanese official, at the third Sino-US Colloquium, was immediately rebuffed by Chinese participants.
Retired People's Liberation Army major general Pan Zhenqiang, now a government adviser, described Yachi's statement as "very rude and arrogant", and warned Tokyo to treat China as an enemy at its peril.
The fiery exchanges came as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang yesterday expressed "strong discontent" about comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over the Diaoyu Islands. Clinton said earlier that the United States acknowledged Japan's control of waters near the disputed island although it did not have a stance over who had ultimate sovereignty.
This is the first time that Japan has sent delegates to the annual forum, organised by the China Energy Fund Committee in Hong Kong. Among its speakers were two former US four-star generals, one PLA general and two former Japanese commanders, as well as top thinkers and government advisers from the three countries.
All attention was on the speech by Yachi, widely believed to be the architect of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's foreign policy and who was recently appointed a special foreign adviser. Yachi did not attend the talk in person but wrote the speech read by Takujiro Hamada, a former deputy foreign minister of Japan.
Yachi warned China to be careful of its behaviour or risk being isolated by its neighbours. He said Chinese leaders "made absolutely no claim" over the Diaoyu Islands after the second world war or in 1997, when the countries normalised their ties.
"You are now asserting the claim by force," said Yachi, referring to Beijing's dispatching of surveillance planes and ships to waters near the Diaoyus, which Japan calls the Senkakus.
"One must say that the act alone is breaching the rule of international order," he said. "I should like to ask you: is this a China you want to show to the world? Is this a China that your children will be proud of?
"My message to the Chinese is that now it is time for you to be content about who you are and what you have accomplished. Now it is time for you to be a good neighbour of Japan, a good neighbour to the Philippines and a good neighbour to Vietnam.
"Use of force and intimidation will buy you no goodwill from your neighbour or that of the international community. You will be a superpower - much feared but not much liked."
He called for the US to strengthen ties with Japan and said Tokyo was ready to "activate the dormant right of collective defence" - which could be interpreted as a step for Japan to rearm.
General Pan rebuffed Yachi's remarks. "I feel shocked and a bit sad about his historic view and his value system," he told the forum. "Mr Yachi's comments are so rude and arrogant. It is confusing [on who is in] the right and the wrong. [He] is saying that China can only be a responsible member if it totally complies to Japan's demands, otherwise China is irresponsible.
"When Japan invaded China [in the 1930s and 40s], this was the kind of attitude they showed to Chinese people: you can only enjoy peace and prosperity if you listen to our command. Do they still want to send that message to [the] Chinese today?"
Pan called Japan Asia's revisionist power, as Abe's government was trying to change the international order established after the second world war, which imposed a peaceful constitution on Japan and banned it from full-fledged militarisation.
"I just want to remind Japanese friends: is it in Japan's interest to treat China as an enemy? Is this the way for Japan to win respect by insisting on such strange historic view?" Pan said.