China reacted angrily Friday to a comment by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He was quoted as saying that Beijing has a “deeply ingrained” need to spar with Japan and its other Asian neighbors.
Anchor Aaron Schachter speaks with The World’s Beijing Correspondent Mary Kay about the growing tensions between Japan and China.
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Aaron Schachter: I’m Aaron Schachter, this is The World. Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe is in Washington meeting with President Obama today, but before Abe left for the US he gave an interview to the Washington Post that is not going down well in China. Abe described China as having a “deeply ingrained” need to spar with Japan and other neighbors over territory because Beijing uses external disputes to rally domestic support. The World’s Mary Kay Magistad is in Beijing. Mary Kay, what is the reaction there?
Mary Kay Magistad: Well, predictably, the foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today that China is strongly dissatisfied with these comments, astonished in fact that they distort facts and they attack and defame China. And he demanded an explanation. And not long after that Xinhua, the Chinese news agency ran a story staying that Japan had in fact clarified that the Washington Post had misquoted prime minister Abe.
Schachter: These provocative kind of comments have been going back and forth for quite a while now over the South China Sea especially. Is it a distraction in China and Japan?
Magistad: Well, China’s claiming territory and islands both in the South China Sea, where it has disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines and other countries in that region; and also in the East China Sea where it has disputes with Japan over what China calls the Diaoyu Islands and the Japanese call the Senkakus. And the Chinese say in the cases of all this territory and all of these sea islands, that this has always been China’s. And this is always China’s approach when it comes to dealing with territorial disputes. It goes back to ancient maps and to ancient voyages that Chinese sailors took and said this shows that this is ours. The neighbors say our sailors took voyages to those places to and we have maps, this proves nothing. There has never been international recognition that this was China’s. I think what’s happening is that as the Chinese military strengthens and as it modernizes, it’s flexing its muscles more and China has over the last 2, 3, 4 years just become more aggressive in staking its claims to these territories.
Schachter: As we said, Abe is in Washington. I don’t know, to a certain extent if feels like the US is playing the parent in this role between two squabbling children.
Magistad: Well, I’m not sure that the Chinese would see it that way. I think they see the equals in this relationship to be China and the US, and they say the Japanese are being used by the US as the US tries to reassert its hegemony in the Asia Pacific region. The US might say we never left the Asian Pacific region and you know, we serve an important role as a balancer when there are tensions of the sort that have been cropping up over the last few months between China and Japan. The US of course has defense treaty with Japan, so if there were to be a Chinese attack on Japan, the US is obligated to come to Japan’s assistance. Neither the US nor China really would like to see that happen and Japan, of course, would not either, so there seems to be a general moment right now where people are sort of taking a breath. The Japanese had sent a negotiator in this week who quietly met with his Chinese counterpart, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs. And they met on Wednesday and because this was initiated by the Japanese side, it was seen as an attempt to calm things down, let’s talk this through. And therefore, when the Washington Post article came out, the Chinese side was genuinely indignant. It’s like why are you saying this? You send your envoy and then you say this?
Schachter: The World’s Mary Kay Magistad, thank you.
Magistad: Thanks, Aaron.
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