Japan, which prides itself on warm relations with the West, is looking on with unease at French President Nicolas Sarkozy, worrying he does not care about the Asian economic power.
Since taking office 14 months ago, the young French leader has not paid an official visit to Japan, a sharp contrast to his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who considered himself a connoisseur of Japanese culture.
When Sarkozy finally came last week for the G8 summit, he did not meet one-on-one with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, despite finding time to go jogging and to meet on Japanese soil with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).
Publicly, the two countries have played down any spat.
“There isn’t any problem between France and Japan. President Sarkozy has promised to pay a visit to this country sometime in 2009,” French Ambassador Philippe Faure said.
He said about 10 French ministers had visited Japan this year, including Prime Minister Francois Fillon, whose trip was meant to mark the 150th anniversary of relations between the two countries.
French Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, spokesman for the Japanese government, also said he was “not at all worried about relations between Japan and France.”
But the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Sarkozy, who had already put off a visit to Tokyo scheduled for this month, canceled a one-on-one with Fukuda at the G8 summit in the northern Japanese mountain resort of Toyako.
The Asahi also said Sarkozy clashed with Fukuda during the closed-door talks when the French leader proposed expanding the G8 to include emerging economies such as China and India.
Japan, which has fought unsuccessfully for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has relished its role as the only Asian nation in the G8, seen as an elite club of Western leaders.
The French ambassador said Sarkozy never had a meeting with Fukuda scheduled at the G8.
Faure said it was impossible to arrange a “serious visit” to Tokyo ahead of the G8, in part because Emperor Akihito does not ceremonially receive state guests on Sundays. The G8 summit opened on Monday.
Sarkozy did not help his image in Japan when in 2004 he mocked sumo as “battles between fat guys,” diminished Kyoto’s famed ancient gardens as “grim” and called Tokyo a “suffocating city” in contrast with “magical” Hong Kong.
The 2004 remarks, as quoted by a French magazine, were an apparent attempt to differentiate himself from Chirac, who so loved sumo that he named his dog after Japan’s ancient sport.
“Chirac was a friend of the Japanese and in his time there were privileged relations between France and Japan,” said Yasushi Gunji, a Japanese journalist who spent several years in Paris and authored the book Chirac’s France.
“As for Sarkozy, we’re wondering for now and we’re on guard. The Japanese were also disappointed not to see Carla Bruni at the G8,” he said.
The French first lady canceled her attendance at the G8 at the last minute as she promotes her new album. Her no-show was particularly distressing to Japan’s tabloids, which had eagerly awaited her.
A well-informed source in Paris said the first lady sent a letter to Fukuda’s wife to express her “regrets at not being able to come to Japan, a country that she likes very much” and has visited several times.
But Valerie Niquet, director of the Asia center at the French Institute of International Relations, said there was an incoherence in French policy towards Asia.
Sarkozy appears most interested in snagging big business deals, as he did in China and India, she said.
“On that basis, Japan obviously carries less weight as it’s very tough to come back from Tokyo announcing record sales for Airbus,” she said.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
BEYOND CULTURE: The US State Department was expected to announce that the Chinese government-funded institutes would have to register as foreign missions US President Donald Trump’s administration is increasing scrutiny of a long-established Chinese-government funded program that is dedicated to teaching Chinese language and culture in the US and other nations, the latest escalation of tensions with Beijing. The US Department of State was expected to announce as soon as yesterday that Confucius Institutes in the US — many of which are based on college campuses — would have to register as “foreign missions,” according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. The designation would amount to a conclusion that the institutes are “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by