Yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura called a press conference to complain about China’s alteration of a joint press communiqué, which was released after the High-Level Economic Dialogue, bilateral economic talks held on December 1 in Beijing. The alteration, he said was “unthinkable from the viewpoint of customary international practice, and inexplicable.”
The Chinese deleted two references in the jointly-approved communiqué. The first omitted statement noted that Japan expressed its hope that Beijing would increase the value of the renminbi. The other deleted reference relates to China’s participation in the Energy Charter Treaty. The Japanese government delivered a formal protest on Friday.
Yasuo Fukuda, the current prime minister, has worked hard to improve Japan’s relations with Beijing. Since taking office in September he has reinvigorated dialogue with China, stepped up military exchanges, and increased financial assistance to the Mainland. Fukuda is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon, and the alteration may have been an attempt to limit the summit’s agenda.
Prospects for the meeting in the Chinese capital do not look good for the Japanese side. Officials in Beijing have not been impressed by gestures of friendship from a nation they consider to be inferior to their own. China and Japan have a troubled history going back centuries, and the act of altering an agreed text, virtually unheard of in the diplomatic world, shows a continuation of the Chinese people’s contempt for Japan and the Communist Party’s belief that others must accept its version of reality.
If anything, the incident shows that Fukuda’s conciliatory approach to China is undoubtedly the wrong one—unless he wishes Japan to become a vassal to the great and glorious Chinese state. So this is a crucial test for the prime minister and the nation he leads.