HANOI – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s five-day trip to Hanoi through Sunday appears to have been a disappointment, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao preferring to meet with European leaders rather than him.
Apart from attending a three-day summit of the 39-member Asia-Europe Meeting and speaking twice to reporters, the only official duties undertaken by Koizumi were holding talks with just two ASEM leaders — French President Jacques Chirac and host Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.
To make up for the lack of formal bilateral meetings, Koizumi had brief chats with Wen, South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and some other leaders.
On Thursday, prior to the start of the ASEM summit, he had a relaxed time in his hotel suite and — during the time reserved for a meeting with Wen — ate lunch with staff at an upscale restaurant.
“It makes me not want to leave Vietnam,” he was quoted as saying as he enjoyed local folk music with glasses of domestic beer and vodka during a dinner with the staff at another restaurant Saturday night.
In contrast, Wen engaged in active diplomacy over Beijing’s bid to lift the European Union’s 15-year-old ban against selling arms to China, sources versed in Japan-China relations said.
The sanctions were imposed in the wake of the 1989 crackdown on the prodemocracy movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Wen took advantage of his four-day trip to Hanoi to address the issue in all of his meetings with leaders of at least six European countries. A number of European countries wanted meetings with Wen, and China selected the six or so countries from among them, the sources said.
Chirac, who began a five-day visit to China on Friday night, called Saturday for lifting the arms embargo “within a few months” as France, a major arms exporter, is eager to sell weapons to China.
The European Union has not made a decision on the issue as its member states are divided. France supports the scrapping of the embargo while Scandinavian countries oppose it, saying they see no substantial improvement in China’s human rights record.
During a meeting with Koizumi on Friday in Hanoi, Chirac also asked the Japanese prime minister not to be unduly concerned by his country’s push to lift the ban on China, saying, “There would be no substantial impact even if the embargo is lifted.”
Koizumi said in response, “Japan is concerned about the case.”
Along with the United States, Japan is worried that China’s soaring military expenses could undermine the balance of power in the East Asian region.
Japan’s bilateral relations with China have soured in recent years due to Beijing’s anger at Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Class-A war criminals among Japan’s war dead. Relations have been described by the buzzwords “politically cold, economically warm.”
Koizumi has not met with Wen or Chinese President Hu Jintao at all this year. China denounced his visit on New Year’s Day to Yasukuni Shrine, which critics see as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. Koizumi has visited the Shinto shrine once a year.
He has also been unable to visit China since the new leadership under Hu was inaugurated in March 2003.
Koizumi, however, publicly remains optimistic about Japan’s relationship with China.
“The significance of Japan-China relations may grow further, but it will never diminish,” Koizumi said Saturday during told a news conference in Hanoi.
“China is expected to top the United States probably next year as Japan’s largest trading partner,” he said. “The Japanese government should not take China’s dramatic economic growth as a threat but should take advantage of it.”
Koizumi also said he is looking forward to meeting with a Chinese leader on the sidelines of either the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in mid-November in Chile or the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the end of November in Laos.
But his staff has yet to coordinate a time for the meeting during those two opportunities.
Joining Koizumi on Saturday in Hanoi, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura agreed with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, to try to mend the soured political ties but did not indicate how that would be accomplished.
Koizumi, meanwhile, tried to boost Japan’s bid to get a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council during the ASEM sessions.
“Japan was taking the lead in discussing U.N. reform,” one Asian diplomat said in describing how ASEM member states performed during the summit that covered a full range of issues from international counterterrorism to economic cooperation and cultural exchanges.
However, Koizumi, who made a pitch for Japan’s Security Council bid last month in New York, admitted it may be a “long way” off for the country to actually get permanent membership.
“There seem to be ASEM members who are not supportive” of the Japanese bid, Koizumi acknowledged in the news conference when asked if he managed to win support from ASEM participants.
The fifth biennial ASEM summit was also overshadowed by a row between Asia and Europe over admitting military-ruled Myanmar in its first enlargement.
Japan, as an Asian coordinator for the just-ended summit along with Vietnam, cleared the way for accepting Myanmar, but the European Union threatened to impose additional sanctions on the grounds it sees little progress in the country’s democratization and human rights record.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.