BOAO, China – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may have saved face for China, but maybe not for Japan, when he sang the host’s praises during his keynote address at the Boao Forum for Asia on Friday.
Koizumi hailed China’s economic expansion, brushing off concerns at home that the Chinese economy is a threat, including growing fears that Japanese industries will become “hollowed out” as more and more companies shift production to China.
Koizumi was the only state leader other than Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to attend the gathering of Asian political and business leaders on the southern island of Hainan.
According to a Japanese government source, Koizumi’s participation was partly aimed at “saving China’s face” and making the meeting a “full-fledged international conference.”
Although Zhu thanked Koizumi for attending, the Japanese prime minister seemed to get little more in return from Japan’s neighbor.
Zhu failed to give the prime minister a positive answer to any of his major requests, except for agreeing to set up a new, bilateral, economic dialogue framework.
Koizumi sought Zhu’s consent for Japan to raise a suspected North Korean ship from China’s exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea. The ship sank in December after exchanging fire with Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels.
Zhu showed his understanding of Japan’s desire to salvage the vessel, but said he has to take domestic opposition into consideration before making any decision that could lead to the problem being solved.
Koizumi also called for China to cooperate with Japan to find at least 11 Japanese nationals that Tokyo suspects of being abducted to North Korea between 1977 and 1983, as Beijing is one of Pyongyang’s last remaining allies.
Zhu said, however, that China does not have a great deal of influence over its reclusive neighbor.
During the speech, Koizumi pressured China to follow international rules under the World Trade Organization.
He said Asia “must leave behind parochial nationalism and dogmatism” to enjoy prosperity — wording that could help erase fears among other Asian countries about the possibility of China’s future monopolization of the Asian economy.
Koizumi is likely to face criticism after he returns home Saturday almost empty-handed from the three-day stay.
Koizumi’s timing was questioned by some lawmakers before his departure to China because of the busy Diet and administrative schedules.
Koizumi, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is under pressure to tackle thorny issues, such as restoring trust in politics in the wake of a series of scandals involving key political figures.
People’s anger at Koizumi’s slow moves to deal with the political problems, as well as with the sluggish economy, is affecting his Cabinet’s public approval ratings — which once topped 80 percent.
Koizumi’s attendance at the economic forum was also designed to mend ties with China as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary this year of the normalization of diplomatic ties.
But there has been little celebrating in Japan, as sentiment toward China has been chilly due to Beijing’s military buildup and the rise in Japan of crimes involving Chinese.
Ties between the Asian giants soured last year due to rows over some Japanese school textbooks, which critics say gloss over Japan’s wartime aggressions, as well as Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors World War II Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead.
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