Japan said yesterday it was “disappointing” China did not send anyone to a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in the latest sign of deteriorating ties between the two countries.
Beijing’s apparent snub came after Japan invited representatives from Taiwan to take part on an equal footing with other diplomats in the national remembrance for people killed in the disaster.
The move also came as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing simmer over a territorial row, with Chinese government ships yesterday spotted in disputed waters, the latest salvo in a spat over the sovereignty of uninhabited Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), also claimed by Taiwan.
“The Japanese government explained to China that we would treat Taiwan appropriately in this ceremony considering its enormous support to us,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Tokyo told Beijing “that this would not change Japan’s position over the status of Taiwan as stipulated in the Japan-China Joint Communique, but China didn’t understand and was absent from the ceremony, which is extremely disappointing and a great pity,” he said.
In the 1972 joint communique, Japan recognized Beijing “as the sole legal government of China.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said yesterday that Beijing had made its position known to Tokyo.
“We believe that Japan’s behavior has violated the principles and spirit of the China-Japan Joint Statement and the commitments of the Japanese side,” Hua said. “We urge Japan to match its words and deeds regarding the issue of Taiwan, to honor its commitment and not play games.”
Suga said that no diplomatic representative from South Korea had been at the tsunami ceremony. However, he said Seoul informed Tokyo on Monday that its envoy’s absence was due to a clerical error.
Japan and South Korea have a dispute over a different set of islands, which sit in the sea midway between the two nations.
Taiwan donated US$260 million in relief and reconstruction aid to Japan, the most of any country in the world, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.
On the first anniversary of the disaster, Japan’s then-government, led by former Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, excluded Taiwan’s representative from a list of countries and territories read out at the ceremony. Taiwan’s omission was at the time criticized by Japanese lawmakers and media as being ungrateful. Noda later openly apologized over the snub.
Japan’s representative office in Taipei had published half-page “thank you” advertisements in major newspapers in Taiwan, recording the government’s gratitude for aid from Taiwan.
Monday’s memorial service was held at the National Theater in central Tokyo at 2:46pm, the same time the devastating earthquake struck Japan two years ago.
The participants, including Japanese Emperor Akihiko, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, family members of the victims in hard-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, and foreign ambassadors, first observed a minute’s silence.
Japan expressed its appreciation for the concern shown by other nations at the time of the disasters and the assistance they provided.
The names of those countries were read out, with the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan” used for Taiwan.
Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Shen Ssu-tsun (沈斯淳), and ambassadors from other nations were then invited to present flowers in memory of the victims of the disaster, which left nearly 20,000 people dead.
Shen’s presence was notable because the Japanese government did not arrange for Taiwanese officials to sit in the areas for foreign ambassadors or allow them to go on stage to present flowers at last year’s anniversary event.