Japan wary of Emperor's trip to China

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The Independent Online
A JAPANESE man tried to commit hara-kiri in front of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's home yesterday in protest at the government's plan to send Emperor Akihito to China this year.

The planned visit, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the normalisation of Sino-Japanese relations in 1972, is controversial in Japan because of nationalists' fears that the Emperor will be humiliated by the Chinese over Japan's wartime record.

Details of the visit - which would be the first by a Japanese emperor to China - have not yet been officially announced, but government sources say it is likely to be from 22 to 27 October. By delaying a formal announcement - possibly until the middle of next month - while at the same time unofficially leaking details of the trip, the government is hoping to minimise public opposition and extremist outbursts such as yesterday's.

The protester, whom police named as Yusuke Kuwabara, a 27-year-old member of Chuko Juku, a radical right-wing group, arrived at Mr Miyazawa's house shortly after dawn and began shouting slogans against the imperial visit, then produced a knife and plunged it into his stomach. He was arrested for illegal possession of a weapon. The police said his wound was not life-threatening.

Meanwhile, Mr Miyazawa is continuing his backroom efforts to achieve a political consensus on the Emperor's visit, which has been opposed by right-wing extremists and even some conservative elements within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The Japanese Emperor is regarded as being above politics, but there are concerns that the Chinese will try to drag him into the continuing controversy about Japanese reluctance to apologise for atrocities committed during the Second World War.

Mr Miyazawa yesterday had lunch with Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister with strong nationalist views, to 'discuss' the visit. Mr Nakasone, who is known to have reservations about the trip, created a stir in 1985 when he visited the Yasukuni shrine to Japan's war dead in Tokyo in his capacity as prime minister. Yasukuni commemorates, among others, some war criminals executed after the war, and China has frequently protested at Japanese politicians' visits to the shrine.

China and Japan, respectively the most populous and the richest nation in Asia, have a curious bittersweet relationship that stretches back more than 2,000 years. Much of Japanese culture, including its writing system, pictorial arts, traditional architecture and Confucian set of values was taken directly from China.

But unlike Korea and Vietnam, the two other Asian nations most strongly influenced by China, the Japanese imperial court always refused to send tributes or kowtow to the Chinese Emperor - an attitude that has always irritated China.

The bitterest chapter in Sino-Japanese history began in the Thirties, when Japan took over Manchuria and began a brutal eight-year campaign against the Chinese. The Rape of Nanking, where in 1937 Japanese troops killed over 100,000 people and raped some 20,000 women in an attempt to terrify the rest of China into submission, has never been forgotten by the Chinese. Children are taught about the massacre in great detail. By contrast, Japanese textbooks devote minimal space to such atrocities. Some right-wing politicians even deny the massacre took place.

Peking will expect some form of apology for the war from the Emperor. The last Emperor, Hirohito, merely referred to 'unhappy events' in Sino-Japanese history when Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader, visited Tokyo in 1978. But Japanese Foreign Ministry officials say the Chinese have not been pushing the issue of an apology too hard, and are more interested in getting Japanese technology and capital to help the country's economic development. However, Japanese diplomats are nervous. One said: 'We know very well they could mobilise crowds overnight to demonstrate against the Emperor if they wanted to.'

Peking formally invited the Emperor to visit China in June last year. He is expected to visit Peking, Xian and Shanghai.

(Photograph omitted)