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China-Japan Tensions Flare as Beijing Recalls Envoy

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

China has curtailed a visit by one of its senior officials to Japan. That decision stops a fence-mending trip and it's the kind of diplomatic move that's often meant to signal anger. Just in case anybody found the message too subtle, China explicitly said today its government is indeed unhappy. The Chinese are protesting a plan by Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to visit a controversial shrine. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from Beijing.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Initial reports from the Chinese Embassy in Japan said that Vice Premier Wu Yi had returned to China because of an urgent internal matter. But she today continued with a planned visit to Mongolia, heightening speculation that her early departure from Japan was indeed a deliberate snub of the Japanese prime minister. Chinese spokesman Kong Quan, at a foreign ministry news conference today, made clear there was no urgent domestic matter.

Mr. KONG QUAN (Chinese Spokesman): (Through Translator) The Chinese government believes that China-Japan relationship is very important and wants to develop the relationship. Vice Premier Wu Yi has consistently emphasized that point on her trip, but even during her visit, some Japanese leaders make statements about visiting Yasukuni Shrine that have greatly displeased the Chinese side. In these circumstances, the appropriate atmosphere for high-level talks simply doesn't exist.

GIFFORD: Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo honors all of Japan's two and a half million war dead, but also enshrined there are 14 class A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minister of Japan who was executed for war crimes in 1946. Chinese newspapers weighed in on Prime Minister Koizumi's plans to continue visiting Yasukuni. An editorial in the China Daily newspaper said, `Such visits are like a sitting German chancellor annually visiting the bunker where Hitler committed suicide in order to honor the Nazi leadership. The world would not tolerate such an act,' the paper went on, `so how can this kind of thing happen in Japan?' Spokesman Kong Quan said it was especially sensitive this year.

Mr. KONG: (Through Translator) The biggest issue in China-Japan relations is the issue of Yasukuni Shrine. It's not just an issue for China, it's an issue for all of Asia and the whole world, especially in such a significant year as this, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It is incredible that Japan can ignore world opinion and the feelings of the victim countries.

GIFFORD: Japan yesterday expressed surprise at the cancellation. Prime Minister Koizumi himself said he did not know why Wu Yi had left early. Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura complained there was not even a word of apology from the Chinese for the cancellation. Rob Gifford, NPR News, Beijing.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.
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