China angry at 'apology' from Japan

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THE JAPANESE government was trying to put a brave face on the state visit of the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, last night after reports of a dispute between the two sides over a Japanese apology for wartime atrocities.

Japanese officials insisted publicly that a historic meeting between Mr Jiang and the Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, had been successful, but there were persistent rumours of a falling-out after Tokyo refused to make a written apology for its brutal invasion and occupation of China during the 1930s.

The two men had been expected to issue a signed document committing themselves to increased co-operation and partnership in what has always been one of the frostiest and most troubled relationships in East Asia.

Although their statement was made public, the two leaders did not put their names beneath it, provoking speculation that the Chinese side had refused to sign in anger over the apology.

"There was a very earnest exchange of views, but with a positive atmosphere prevailing throughout," Mr Obuchi's spokesman, Sadaaki Numata, said last night.

"The Japan-China relationship has now entered a new phase. They discussed real issues and there was a feeling of mutual satisfaction."

During the meeting Mr Obuchi repeated an apology made in 1995 by his predecessor, which expressed "deep remorse" for his country's "aggression" during the Pacific War. But it stopped short of the written apology that was presented to the South Korean President, Kim Dae Jung, during the Japanese leader's visit last month.

For all the positive spin deployed by officials, it has been an unpredictable state visit between the two countries. Up until the past few days, Japanese officials were unable to forecast the likely contents of the meeting, and the two foreign ministers were still conducting intensive talks on the night before President Jiang's arrival from Russia.

The issue of war apology and responsibility has cropped up ever since 1978, when Tokyo and Peking first stabilised their relations with a treaty of peace and friendship. There is still an argument over Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway Chinese province but with which Japan conducts a flourishing and independent two-way trade. Fresh tensions have arisen recently over the scope and range of Japan's military activities.

Japan has recently renegotiated its defence guidelines with the US and undertaken new responsibilities in helping its ally.

In the past, Japan's military role was strictly limited to the defence of its home islands and territorial waters. Now, Tokyo is offering to carry out non-combat logistical support, including medical help, sup- plies and mine-sweeping.

China fears that the situation being prepared for is a conflict between itself and the United States over Taiwan, and that Japan is passively taking the side of the US.

Since North Korea launched a test rocket over its territory in August, Japan has also begun planning a missile defence system - another development that irritates the Chinese.

Tokyo, for its part, is uneasy about the recent chumminess between Mr Jiang and President Bill Clinton, and the shared disapproval that the two of them have expressed over Japan's failure to overcome its economic problems.

The unsigned joint statement covered little fresh ground. Mostly it reaffirmed previous positions stated by the two sides. The territorial dispute over a group of islands lying between China and Japan was not addressed. But Japan did agree to provide economic assistance of 390 billion yen for various projects, including the construction of a "bullet train" between Shanghai and Peking.