Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 24 News List

China, Japan face off in uneasy final

TENSE TIMES The Asian Cup final tomorrow has been marred by mud-slinging by both arch-rival finalists, but nevertheless promises to be a spectacular showdown

AFP , BEIJING AND REUTERS, TOKYO

A Chinese paramilitary policeman watches whilst a fan enjoys herself at China's semifinal game against Iran during the 2004 Asian Cup Soccer tournament at the Workers Stadium in Beijing. Authorities said yesterday that they are taking no chances that the grudge Asian Cup final between China and Japan will turn nasty, drafting in more than 1,000 extra police to keep order.

PHOTO: AFP

From territorial claims, to war atrocities and outrage over sex orgies, tensions between China and Japan are never far from bubbling to the surface.

And now there's the boo boys at the Asian Cup, whose antics threaten to escalate into yet another diplomatic spat between the Asian giants.

The old adage that sport and politics don't mix falls on deaf ears in China, where niggling its neighbor about the past is jumped on at every opportunity.

When China and Japan meet in the final of Asia's most prestigious football tournament in Beijing tomorrow, there will be more at stake than lifting the silverware -- national pride will be in play.

Japan defeating China on home soil may not go down well with the hordes of rowdy fans who have heckled Japan throughout the tournament, booing their players and national anthem, still incensed over World War II atrocities.

Many Chinese believe Japan has never fully faced up to its wartime past and its brutal occupation of Chinese territory before and during World War II, and security for the big match has been stepped up with 6,000 police on duty.

It is not just the war that riles Chinese.

The two sides routinely bicker over who owns a disputed chain of islands rich in oil resources in the East China Sea.

Relations, meanwhile, took a dive last year when hundreds of Japanese tourists were implicated in an orgy with Chinese prostitutes in a south China hotel.

The three-day romp ignited a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment as it culminated on the eve of the anniversary of the start of Japan's World War II occupation of China on Sept. 18, 1931.

Many people were convinced it was timed to humiliate China.

The depth of feeling is so great that in Chongqing, Japan's team bus was rushed by an angry mob while Japanese fans had to be escorted out of the stadium by riot police.

Politicians in Tokyo have become so irked by the antics that they've issued a formal complaint to their Chinese counterparts at the highest levels, calling on them to remove politics from sport.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi reportedly called the booing "deplorable" while Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi added: "It's a sports event. Why can't we just enjoy it?"

After days of silence, China yesterday asked its fans to behave, while also using the opportunity to have a dig at the Japanese media.

"We hope the Chinese and Japanese football fans will enjoy a wonderful match ... with good behavior," said foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan, while saying it was "regrettable" that some Japanese media had linked the booing with politics.

Japan Football Association President Saburo Kawabuchi meanwhile announced he would now attend the match after initially not planning the trip.

"It is not desirable if the top man of the Japanese association is not present when the country is through to the final," he said.

With the final being broadcast live around the world, the Asian Football Confederation is conscious the fans' behavior does not bode well for the image of the game.

"I hope the Chinese team will be well supported but at the same time, I am hoping that the China fans give the Japanese the same sort of treatment," said AFC general secretary Peter Velappan.

"We all know Japan's fans were not the most welcomed in Chongqing but we are advocating fair play at the Asian Cup. Every team has the right to compete on common ground so let's finish the tournament on a real high."

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