Success hinges on NE Asian ties

May 29, 2006

Territorial disputes, Yasukuni visits making proper talks difficult, participants say

Participants at the Future of Asia conference last week voiced concerns over Japan's chilly relations with China and South Korea.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine have angered China and South Korea, which makes it difficult for the Japanese prime minister to hold summit talks with the two countries.

The problem of Japan's diplomacy with its neighbors is seen as blocking the creation of an Asian Community, some speakers insisted.

"Visits to Yasukuni Shrine and acts that ignore neighboring countries' sovereignty should be stopped," said Chung Sye-kyun, the South Korean minister of commerce, industry and energy, during his speech. His comment also referred to the territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea over the Takeshima islets, known as Tokdo in South Korea.

Wang Yi, China's ambassador to Japan, said, "We don't want to see relations between China and Japan further deteriorate." He refrained from mentioning Yasukuni Shrine by name at the conference, but noted, "We hope (Japan) will avoid hurting the feelings of nations victimized in the war."

Future rests on relations

Referring to Japan and China, Thomas Hubbard, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said, "East Asia's future will depend heavily on how relations between these two regional giants evolve." He added, "It is ironic that just as Asians are doing more and more business together and working together to build regional institutions, the two largest nations in the region are moving ever further apart."

Because cooperation among Japan, China and South Korea is regarded as essential to create an Asian Community, Domingo Siazon, Philippine ambassador to Japan, said that Southeast Asian nations are worried about the "utter vacuum created by the suspension of highest-level dialogue among the region's biggest states."

He said more than 1.1 million Filipinos died during World War II as the Imperial Japanese Army fought in the country. Nevertheless, he noted, "We signed a peace treaty with Japan and this year we are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations." Stressing that his country has always looked forward, Siazon said he hopes the same attitude will be taken in relations among Japan, China and South Korea.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who had just returned from Qatar where he had held bilateral talks with his counterparts of China and South Korea, said, "I feel (relations with the two countries) are beginning to improve." Aso, one of the post-Koizumi contenders, said that one way to enhance dialogue would be an exchange program of young people between Japan and China as well as South Korea.

(The Nikkei Weekly May 29 Issue)

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.