China says Japan's Abe evading history with World War remark
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is evading Japan's "history of aggression" by comparing Sino-Japanese relations to those of Britain and Germany prior to World War I, the Chinese government said Thursday.
"There's no need to make an issue of the U.K.-Germany relationship." Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing. "Such remarks by Japanese leaders are to evade the history of aggression, to confuse the audience."
Abe Wednesday told a group of editors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Germany and Britain went to war despite their strong economic ties. He said Japan and China must do everything to avoid a similar fate. The Japanese government later confirmed the remarks.
Abe "absolutely" did not mean he thought Japan was headed for war with China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo Thursday. He cited Abe's call for dialogue in a speech he separately delivered at Davos that was overshadowed by the comments on World War I.
China's criticism of Abe adds to tensions between the countries at a time when China is flexing its military muscle in Asia, asserting claims to territory and resources. President Xi Jinping is expanding China's navy, with the country's first aircraft carrier carrying out sea trials and the South China Morning Post reporting it plans to build a fleet of four carriers by 2020. German Emperor Wilhelm II challenged British naval dominance in the run up to World War I even as the two countries maintained strong trade ties.
"The 1914 comparison has been taken with a pinch of salt, but at the same time tension is rising in East Asia, in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea," said Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. "China is modernizing at a pretty fast pace and has demonstrated it can produce highly sophisticated weapons."
Japan under Abe has also increased military spending as he seeks to loosen restrictions on Japan's Self-Defense Forces imposed by the country's pacifist constitution.
The defense forces of Asia's two largest economies have come into increased contact as the countries remain locked in an ownership spat over a chain of tiny islands in the East China Sea. Tensions escalated in November when China established an air defense identification zone in the area, demanding that civil and military aircraft present flight plans to its authorities. Japan and its main ally, the United States, have refused to comply.
The following month, Abe visited the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, seen by nations such as China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. Qin today referred to convicted World War II criminals enshrined at the site as "Nazis in the East."
The two countries haven't held a summit since Abe took office in December 2012, and China said Jan. 21 it would not consider a meeting at the Sochi Winter Olympics next month.
In his keynote speech at Davos Wednesday, Abe warned that increased military spending in Asia threatens the region's economic growth and called on countries to curb defense outlays.
"The dividend of growth in Asia must not be wasted on military expansion," Abe said. "We must use it to invest in innovation and human capital, which will further boost growth in the region."
China expanded military spending 10.7 percent to 740.6 billion yuan ($122 billion) in 2013 and Abe plans a second consecutive rise in Japan's defense budget. China is already building its second aircraft carrier to be completed in 2018, the South China Morning Post reported Jan. 19, citing a regional Communist Party chief.
In December its first carrier, the Liaoning, returned from an initial training mission in the South China Sea, where China has been at odds with the Philippines over control of the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground.
"Military budgets should be made completely transparent and there should be public disclosure in a form that can be verified," Abe said in the speech. While he did not mention China directly, Japan and the U.S. have criticized a lack of transparency in China's military outlays. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates Chinese military spending at 1,049 billion yuan for 2012, almost 50 percent more than China's official figure.
Abe called for the creation of a mechanism for crisis management and a communication channel between armed forces to help build trust. "This can only be achieved through dialogue and the rule of law and not through force or coercion," he said.
Japan and China have agreed in principle to set up a system to avoid unplanned marine clashes but it has never been implemented. Patrol boats from Japan and China have frequently tailed each other around the disputed areas of the East China Sea.
Asked after his speech about his visit to Yasukuni, Abe said: "I put my hands together and pledged to create a world where people would never again suffer the cruelty of war."
"Just like the many Japanese leaders who have visited the shrine since the war, I had absolutely no intention to hurt the feelings of China and South Korea," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy urged Japan to reconcile with its neighbors in an interview published by the Asahi newspaper Thursday. Reiterating U.S. "disappointment" over Abe's visit to the shrine and concern it could raise regional tensions, she told the paper that leaders who try to overcome history and create a peaceful future should be encouraged.
Japan and China are interdependent for many reasons, Japan's Minister for Ocean Policy and Territorial Issues Ichita Yamamoto said in an interview at Davos Jan. 21. "I really hope our prime minister can have a talk with the leader of China," Yamamoto said.