China has hit back at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after he allegedly claimed that current tensions in East Asia are akin to those between Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he believes the analogy employed by Abe was misplaced.
In the latest salvo in a simmering diplomatic spat, Wang also reiterated China’s anger over Abe’s controversial recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which along with Japan’s war dead also honors Class-A war criminals.
“It strikes me that his statement is a bit anachronistic because the current era is a world apart from the situation of 100 years ago,” Wang told the annual gathering of business and political leaders. “The forces for peace in the world, and they include China, are growing.”
Abe’s alleged comparison of the current situation in East Asia with early 20th century Europe was taken to mean that Britain and Germany’s economic relationship did not prevent them from taking up arms, implying something similar could happen between China and Japan despite the billions of dollars worth of trade and investment ties at stake.
Abe’s comments, made to journalists in Davos on Thursday, were part of his government’s campaign to alert the world to what it sees as China’s growing military assertiveness, which Japan views as an increasing threat to its own security at a time when U.S. willingness to underwrite its key security ally is in increasing doubt.
Wang said a more relevant history lesson would involve recalling Japan’s military aggression against China and other Asian states in the last century.
“Reviewing these episodes of history would clearly show who was the instigator of war and the troublemaker,” he said.
He said Beijing regards Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni as the biggest problem in the bilateral relationship, describing it as a shrine that glorifies militarism, justifies past aggressions and honors 14 convicted or accused Class-A war criminals from World War II.
“When a Japanese leader lays a wreath at such a shrine, he crosses a line — he is breaching the conscience of humanity and international justice. He is contesting the outcome of the Second World War and the international order that emerged from it.
“The Class-A war criminals of Japan were like the Nazis. Could you imagine a European leader could today lay a wreath at a memorial to Nazi war criminals? Would the European people accept such a move? No. And it would be illegal besides,” Wang said.
Britain and the United States both criticized Abe for visiting Yasukuni while the move prompted a furious reaction in South Korea.
Against that backdrop, analysts say it is in China’s interests to keep the issue simmering because it has a bearing on how the rest of world views territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors, including one with Tokyo over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan currently controls the Senkakus but China claims them as Diaoyu. Beijing blames Japan for upsetting a delicately balanced arrangement that prevented the status of the uninhabited isles from becoming a major issue for around four decades by asserting its sovereignty over them in September 2012 to keep them away from then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
“China had no choice but to react to the Japanese move,” Wang said. “We have offered negotiations but the Japanese refuse to discuss the islands because, in their view, they are not in dispute.
“Let me again make the offer: We should begin to have a bilateral negotiation over the island to establish a crisis management mechanism.”
Before addressing issues related to Japan, Wang outlined how he sees the Chinese Communist Party’s commitment to a new wave of reform leading to the country playing a bigger role on the global stage.
He said China wants to “shoulder more international responsibilities” by becoming more active in helping to defuse what he termed “hot spot issues” around the world.