HONG KONG -- China's relations with Japan, already strained because of territorial disputes and differing perceptions of history -- in particular, because of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan's memorial to its war dead, including Class A war criminals -- were aggravated last month when Tokyo joined Washington for the first time in voicing concern over Taiwan.

In a joint statement issued in Washington on Feb. 19 after a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, the two countries said Taiwan was one of their mutual security concerns.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately responded: "The Chinese government is firmly against the United States and Japan issuing any joint statement about Taiwan, which interferes with China's internal affairs and hurts China's sovereignty."