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Japan was opposed to the Group of Seven countries slapping sanctions on China on June 4, 1989, the day of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, according to declassified diplomatic papers.

In fact, the overall impression from the trove of records released Wednesday is that Japan was the lone voice in the wilderness calling for restraint as all the other members sought to ramp up action against China following the massacre.

Another revelation from the papers is that then-Chinese Vice Premier Wu Xueqian told Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu in 1990, one year after the massacre, that he had directly asked the emperor to visit China. Tokyo, however, kept Wu’s remarks hidden from the public, given the level of anti-China sentiment at the time due to the Tiananmen crackdown.

Then-Prime Minister Sosuke Uno (center) attends the Group of Seven summit in Paris in July 1989. | KYODO
Then-Prime Minister Sosuke Uno (center) attends a Group of Seven summit in Paris in July 1989. | KYODO

Last month in Tokyo came another invitation: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, to visit China next year, sources say, as Beijing works to improve relations with Tokyo while Sino-U.S. ties languish due to friction over trade and human rights.

Wang made headlines during the visit when he stressed China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands at a joint news conference with Motegi. In what is surely no coincidence, the government has since revamped a website about the islands to present more expert commentaries backing Japan’s sovereignty over the East China Sea islets, Kyodo reports. Videos and English translations will be added, and Chinese and Korean translations are also being considered.

Wang also said last month that he and Motegi had agreed to set up a hotline within the year, but time is tight. Last week, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said he had reached a similar deal with his Chinese equivalent, but don’t hold your breath: The hotline was first touted back in 2018, but the two sides have made little progress.

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