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Commentary: Japan, China watching public opinion as they maneuver over Abe’s visit

(Mainichi: July 23, 2015 – p. 2)


 By Akira Kudo in Beijing


 It is reckoned that Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi (with the rank of vice premier) presented the three conditions for accepting a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his meeting with Shotaro Yachi, head of the National Security Secretariat, because China wanted to minimize negative domestic reactions and pressure Japan not to make Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II something unacceptable for China. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is poised to weigh the pros and cons of the visit while closely watching developments in China. Maneuvering by the two governments is expected to intensify as they gauge domestic public opinion.


 Through the ceremony on Sept. 3 and other events related to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, China wants to “emphasize its historical contribution to world victory as the main battleground of the anti-fascism war in the East.” It is aiming at publicizing, both internally and internationally, the history of the founding of present day China through the anti-Japan resistance war led by the Communist Party of China.


 President Xi Jinping is also visiting the U.S. in September. Successful “victorious nation diplomacy” in Beijing around Sept. 3 will also be a boost to his U.S. visit. The U.S. does not want any intensification of conflict between Japan and China. If Xi is able to hold a summit with Abe to show his achievement in this respect, he will also be able to demonstrate improvement of ties with Japan to President Barack Obama.


 Among the three conditions set by China, it is very unlikely that Abe will announce that he will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine. If China is able to sense in some way that no shrine visit will take place, it will probably be able to accept Abe’s visit even if he does not attend the ceremony on Sept. 3.


 Although China is setting conditions for this visit, Chinese officials are actually hoping for Abe’s visit and a summit meeting with Xi. A source at a Chinese think tank pointed out: “It is significant to accept Prime Minister Abe’s visit and hold a summit meeting in the sense that China will be able to convey its position directly to him. If we decide not to meet because of instability in bilateral relations, China as a major power may be viewed internationally as being narrow-minded in its diplomacy.”


 Japan releases gas field photos to pressure China


 By Yu Takayama


 In reaction to the three conditions set by China for Abe’s visit if he does not attend the ceremony marking “victory in the anti-Japan resistance war” on Sept. 3, the Japanese government reckons that this is meant to mitigate increasingly negative reactions to Abe’s visit in China. It is taking a wait-and-see approach for now to determine China’s true intent. China’s conditions may aggravate anti-China public opinion in Japan in light of its gas field development near the Japan-China median line in the East China Sea and cast a dark shadow on the trend toward improvement of ties. The government will analyze China’s actions carefully as a basis for making a decision.


 When asked about the reason for releasing the gas field development photos at his news conference on July 22, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “There is increasing interest, both at home and abroad, in China’s various attempts to change the status quo,” citing “public opinion” on China. He also mentioned Abe’s two previous meetings with Xi, noting, “Both sides’ wish to establish a trend toward improvement of relations has been confirmed. Such thinking remains unchanged,” stressing that Japan is keen on improving ties.


 China is persisting in its unilateral development of gas fields in the East China Sea despite the 2008 agreement on joint development. There is great public interest in this issue and the Liberal Democratic Party had made an unusual request to add a depiction of the present situation to the 2015 Defense White Paper. It appears that releasing the photos at this time is meant to influence public opinion, so that the government will not be perceived as being “weak-kneed” as it plans Abe’s visit to China in September, as well as deepen the public’s understanding of the security bills, which have been pushing the cabinet support rating downward.


 China’s establishment of three conditions for Abe’s visit can also be viewed as an indication of its strong desire to have Abe attend the ceremony on Sept. 3. However, its blatant attitude of imposing conditions may further aggravate Japanese public opinion against China, making the Prime Minister’s visit more difficult. It is believed that the government will persist in working for an “unconditional” visit. It will weigh the pros and cons of the visit carefully while also conveying to China the harsh public opinion in Japan.


 With regard to Abe’s China visit, a government source pointed out on July 22 that, “Although China is imposing various conditions through different channels, it is the Chinese, not the Prime Minister, who are desperate about the visit.” He said: “The hurdles put up by the Chinese often tend to change from time to time. It is important not to respond to their demands and to appraise the situation carefully.”

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