Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday said that Japan and China are “inseparable” and urged Beijing to come to the table for “vital” summit talks, as he sought to move on from comparisons he drew between Sino-Japanese relations now and German-British ties in World War I.
Abe told lawmakers he would not budge on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands which are claimed by Beijing and Taipei — where they are called the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) — but insisted that the disagreement should not prevent a meeting between the two Asian giants.
“Japan and China are inseparable. I will continue to make efforts to improve relations, while calling [on China] to return to the principles of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests,” he told the opening of a parliamentary session.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Earlier, Abe’s chief spokesman faced questions on the prime minister’s WWI parallel.
Abe was quoted by multiple media as saying he saw a “similar situation” between current Japan-China relations and ties between Germany and Britain in 1914.
“We would like to use our diplomatic channels to explain the prime minister’s true intention,” Yoshihide Suga told a briefing on Friday.
The Japanese-language transcript of Abe’s remarks did not contain the words “similar situation,” although Abe made a passing reference to the ties between Germany and Britain, according to Suga.
Suga said the remarks were misinterpreted, adding that Abe meant to stress his commitment to avoiding a path that would lead to war.
Responding to the WWI comment on Friday, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) said the analogy was misplaced.
Wang also reiterated China’s anger over Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 convicted World War II criminals along with millions of Japanese war dead.
“It strikes me that his statement is a bit anachronistic because the current era is a world apart from the situation of 100 years ago,” Wang said at Davos. “The forces for peace in the world, and they include China, are growing.”
Wang said a more relevant history lesson would be recalling Japan’s military aggression against China and other Asian states.
Wang said Beijing regarded Abe’s visit to the shrine as the biggest problem in bilateral ties.
“The Class A war criminals of Japan were like the Nazis. Could you imagine a European leader could today lay a wreath at a memorial to Nazi war criminals?” he added.
Against that backdrop, analysts say it is in China’s interests to keep the issue simmering because it has a bearing on how the rest of world sees territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors, including over the Diayotuais.
Meanwhile, Abe arrived in New Delhi yesterday to push for closer ties with India, as Tokyo seeks to offset Beijing’s growing might.
Abe was received at the airport by Indian government officials and told the Times of India daily in an interview yesterday that he wants to “develop vigorously” economic and security cooperation with India.
India, which has its own simmering border row with China has said all “regional issues,” including tensions with Beijing, would be discussed on Abe’s visit.