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Japan minister warns of nationalism in East Asia
Thu May 4, 2006 4:18 AM IST
By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - East Asian countries must fight against growing "narrow-minded nationalism" as they build a regional framework that peacefully accommodates China's rise, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said on Wednesday.
Aso, a contender in the race to be Japan's next prime minister, also said democracy was an "unavoidable path" for China and that Tokyo's ties with its neighbors were better than recent disputes over history and territory would suggest.
"The rising tide of nationalism in East Asia cannot be easily reversed, but it can be channeled in a positive way," he said, without naming countries.
"There is a fine line between healthy love of country -- which is called patriotism -- and narrow-minded nationalism that breeds hatred of others," he said in a speech at the end of a visit to Washington during which Japan and the United States strengthened their military alliance.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea have slumped to their lowest point in decades, strained by disputes including the issue of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine and conflicting territorial claims.
"Not all of our problems will go away" by resolving the Yasukuni dispute, Aso said. The shrine is seen in Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism because convicted war criminals are honored there among Japan's 2.5 million war dead.
Aso, 65, has himself angered China and South Korea with remarks about Japan's wartime past. But analysts say he is trying to soften his image as a hard-liner toward Asian neighbors ahead of the Japanese leadership vote in September.
CHINA AS STAKEHOLDER
Aso said his vision for future East Asian relations was based on a "deep sense of remorse and apology" for suffering Japan caused in the region before and during World War Two.
Highlighting Japan's surging trade with China, heavy tourist flows among neighbors and the popularity of Japanese cartoons and music in Asia, Aso said a focus on disputes "underestimates the depth, breadth and quality of our relations."
The foreign minister reiterated Tokyo's call for China to "increase its military transparency" after another year of double-digit-growth in China's published defense budget.
"China's transformation into a truly democratic nation will also become an unavoidable path in the future," he said in a talk hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
On Monday, Aso and Japanese Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in announcing an agreement to bolster the U.S.-Japan military alliance.
The bilateral alliance had an "irreplaceable role" in maintaining prosperity and stability in East Asia, Aso said. But he called on China to play a central role as well.
"We see a China that acts as as an opportunity to its partners and a responsible stakeholder on the world stage as well as in the region as essential to East Asia's peace, stability and prosperity," Aso said.
Last year, the United States began using the term "stakeholder" to appeal for Chinese cooperation on global problems, including the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
Japan foreign chief warns of nationalism in Asia
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Published: May 4 2006 03:46 | Last updated: May 4 2006 12:06
Taro Aso, Japan’s foreign minister, on Wednesday called on Asian countries to resist “narrow-minded nationalism” in what appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to growing Chinese and South Korean hostility towards Japan.
“The rising tide of nationalism in East Asia cannot be easily reversed, but it can be channelled in a positive way,” Mr Aso told an audience at an event sponsored by Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“There is a fine line between a healthy love of country – which is called ‘patriotism’ – and narrow-minded ‘nationalism’ that breeds hatred of others,” he said.
Relations between Japan and China and South Korea have deteriorated dramatically in recent years over territorial disputes, accusations that Japan continues to gloss over its wartime history, and controversial visits by prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to the Japanese war dead which include convicted war criminals.
Mr Aso, a potential candidate to replace Mr Koizumi in September, repeated apologies made by Japanese politicians about Japan’s wartime past in East Asia, saying his vision for the future was “rooted in this deep sense of remorse and apology”, and was aimed at improving peace and stability in the region.
But he played down the Yasukuni shrine issue, saying that solving that particular dispute would not eliminate all the problems between the countries.
One of the leading hawks on China in the Japanese government, Mr Aso reiterated Japanese and US calls for China to be more transparent about its military spending. His comments came at the end of a visit to Washington that saw Japan and the US strengthen their military alliance.
“There has been a double-digit growth in China’s defence spending for the past 18 years,” said Mr Aso. “In order to build confidence among its partners, it is important for China to increase its military transparency. China’s transformation into a truly democratic nation will also become an unavoidable path in the future.”
Echoing language used recently by Robert Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state, Mr Aso said China’s acting like a “responsible stakeholder” was essential for peace and prosperity in East Asia.
Mr Aso said greater political and military transparency in east Asia would “greatly reduce the risks of a regional arms race or potentially catastrophic miscalculation”.
Among the policies he suggested Japan needed to implement was improving relations with India. The Bush administration has also made a big push to improve relations with the world’s largest democracy, partly in an attempt to build allies to counter the rise of China.
Mr Aso also thanked President George W. Bush for recently inviting a relative of Megumi Yokota, a Japanese schoolgirl who was abducted by North Korea in 1977, to the White House, a move that was a political favour for Mr Koizumi, who enjoys one of the best relationships of a foreign leader with Mr Bush.
In what appeared to be an attempt to tone down some of his criticism of China, Mr Aso said the increase in Sino-Japanese trade, which has risen eight-fold between 1991 and 2005, had been “critical” in helping to pull Japan out of the long-term recession that plagued the country in the 1990s.