BEIJING – China’s state-run media on Friday seized on an apology by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama during a visit to a wartime atrocity memorial, amid tense relations between the two countries.
Hatoyama is no longer a member of the Diet, and the party he was in is now in opposition, but reports and pictures of his visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial were splashed across the front pages of both Chinese and English-language papers.
Relations between the two Asian powers, including the dispute over East China Sea islands claimed by Beijing as Diaoyu but controlled by Tokyo, which calls them Senkaku, are heavily colored by history.
“I apologize for the crimes that Japanese soldiers committed during wartime,” the Global Times quoted Hatoyama as saying.
“As a Japanese, I feel responsible for the tragedy and I am here expressing my sincere apology,” Chinese Web portal Sina reported.
The nationalist Global Times — which has painted new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s current trip to Southeast Asia as an attempt to “encircle China” — welcomed his comments, and his earlier recognition of a dispute over the islands.
“Hatoyama’s words and deeds these days show that in spite of the tough environment, forces which are friendly to China have not disappeared,” the paper said in an editorial. “Besides never giving way to Japan in both the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands, we can find more ways to deal with Japan.”
Likened to a traitor
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has branded former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama a traitor for suggesting Japan should admit that a legal dispute exists with China over the Senkaku Islands.
Hatoyama said in meetings in China on Wednesday that it is important to recognize the islets as “a disputed area.”