China raises stakes in dispute with Japan

BEIJING: China raised the stakes of its increasingly bitter dispute with Japan on Monday by saying that Japan itself was to blame for anti-Japanese violence that flared across China over the weekend. Japan's foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, demanded compensation and an apology from the Chinese government for the destruction of Japanese-owned property by thousands of sometimes rowdy demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday.

But in response to the demand, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry stressed that Japan should expect no apology.   "It's not China that bears the blame for letting Sino-Japanese relations come to this pass," said Qin Gang, the spokesman. "Japan must conscientiously and appropriately deal with its history of invading China - a major issue of principle involving the feelings of the Chinese people," he said. also called on Japan to do more to "increase mutual confidence."   The spokesman's remarks were reported by the official Xinhua news agency on Monday.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Chinese protesters - many of them university students - marched on the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Saturday and consular offices and Japanese-owned stores in Shenzhen and Guangzhou in southern China on Sunday. The protesters denounced what many Chinese say is Japan's failure to atone for its war crimes in World War II and the Japanese government's endorsement of a new history textbook, which the protesterssay whitewashes those crimes. The protesters threw rocks and bottles at the embassy building in Beijing, and also surrounded Jusco supermarkets, which are owned by the Japanese Aeon Group in Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

On Monday, a heavy Chinese security police presence remained around the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, as well as the Japanese Consulate office in Guangzhou.

But the Japanese Embassy received no more reports of protests or violence against Japanese-owned buildings on Monday, said Ide Keiji (井出敬二), a spokesman for the embassy in Beijing.

Chinese discontent with Japan's handling of its wartime past has long troubled relations between the two countries, but the recent flare-up in tensions comes at a particularly volatile time for the two countries' relations.

Japan has been pushing to gain acceptance as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. While the Chinese government has not expressly opposed Japan's entry, it has said that it has reservations about how the Security Council might be reformed.  Equally, tens of millions of Chinese have signed online petitions opposing Japan's entry into the Security Council. 

The two countries are also embroiled in a territorial dispute over control of possibly lucrative gas reserves under the East China Sea. Japanese diplomatic officials sought to smooth over the widening cracks in relations on Monday. But the officials also hinted that they were troubled with the Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement.

"We've read the statement, and we're still trying to clarify what it really means," said Ide, the spokesman for the Japanese in Beijing, referring to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement about the weekend riots.

"Violence should not be tolerated, but in Japan there's some confusion about the statement's attitude towards violence," the spokesman said.

The Japanese foreign minister, Machimura, may visit Beijing sometime over the coming days in an effort to lower tensions in relations with China, Ide said.

But arrangements for the Beijing visit have not been finalized, and the Chinese government's attitude towards a possible trip remains unclear, the spokesman said.

In Tokyo, the chief secretary of the Japanese cabinet, Kiroyuki Hosada, said China and Japan should try to calm relations.

Hosada said that both sides should work to "prevent mutual misunderstanding from growing," and he also refrained from direct criticism of China's statement that Japan is to blame for the weekend disturbances.
"If I said at this moment that this is terrible and condemned it, it would not make things any better," he said of the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, according to news reports from the Japanese capital.