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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 370
Friday June 9, 2006 TOKYO
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@@ VIEWPOINT: That's Your Neighbor You're Offending
I'm sometimes asked by Japanese whether I can distinguish them
from Chinese and Koreans. They seem to hope I answer yes, so as
to confirm a dearly held identity of racial uniqueness. So my
wishy-washy "sometimes" disappoints. But that's the truth. Take
a Korean teen, dye her hair russet brown, dress her in magazine-
inspired haute couture, plunk her down in Shibuya, and I
couldn't tell her from the other faux brunettes clogging the
byways of that Tokyo quarter.
My point being that I regard all three peoples as belonging to
a single Northeast Asian race, which also happens to share
Chinese characters, the Buddhist religion, and Confucian values.
So I sometimes wonder why the three nations don't get along better.
Taro Aso, the Japanese Foreign Minister, met separately with his
South Korean and Chinese counterparts, Ban Ki-Moon and Li Zhaoxing,
in Doha, the Qatar capital, toward the end of May. He was looking for a
breakthrough in relations with Japan's two neighbors. Japan failed
to reach an agreement with either concerning Prime Minister
Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine. However, both men did agree
to construct a future-oriented bilateral relationship with Japan.
It was the first Sino-Japanese foreign ministerial meeting since
May of last year. Both ministers seemed eager to mend relations.
Li Zhaoxing, while reiterating criticism of Koizumi's visits to
Yasukuni Shrine, stressed President Hu Jintao's policy of
emphasizing the further development of relations with Japan.
Foreign Minister Aso explained the Japanese stance.
Both China and Japan confirmed the expansion of cooperation in
all fields including science and technology, culture, and security,
and the acceleration of consultations at the agency head level
for the development of gas fields. Furthermore, they agreed to
examine the implementation of a consultation-reporting system
to forestall unforeseen events (like a naval clash) in the East
China Sea. Li also demonstrated understanding of the importance
of the abductee issue to the Japanese people.
I would like to think that less than a year after violent
anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, the two sides have
reaffirmed the importance of their relationship and are calmly
exploring ways to mend fences.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, besides requesting
that Prime Minister Koizumi refrain from visiting Yasukuni,
agreed to the resumption in early June of talks on defining
the borders of the EEZ around Takeshima, the disputed island
in the --- Sea (its very name is a bone of contention).
They also agreed to strengthen collaboration in solving the
abduction issue. Last month bilateral ties were strained over
Takeshima, yet the two ministers managed to keep the issue on
the back burner and seek ways to improve bilateral relations.
According to an "opinion poll of social awareness," whose
results were released by the Cabinet on May 20, 31.3% of
respondents named diplomacy as an area "in which Japan is
headed in the wrong direction." That is 7.8 points above the
figure in the poll of February 2005. If Prime Minister Koizumi
goes ahead with a visit to Yasukuni, which enshrines Class-A
war criminals, during the remaining term of his office, he
will set back relations with both countries.
Yes, I sometimes wonder why these neighbors in Northeast
Asia don't get along. Of course, respect for the
sensitivities of others would go along way to improving
relations. It would be downright neighborly.
-- Burritt Sabin
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Written by Burritt Sabin
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