PostHeaderIcon Missiles and Toilet Diplomacy Draw Japan Closer To Neighbours

Tokyo's ties with its East Asian neigbours have been at a low ebb during the past two years, largely because of rows over their World War II history and territorial disputes. China, invaded by Japan in the last century, has refused meetings wth Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi due to his visits to a shrine which honors 2.5 million Japanese dead including 14 top war criminals. And despite six decades of division, North and South Korea are united in their lingering bitterness toward Japan over its brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula. However, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was pleased after meeting Thursday with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts, Li Zhaoxing and Ban Ki-Moon, at Asia's regional security forum in Kuala Lumpur. "China's Li and South Korea's Ban both opened up more to me this time," Aso said after the one-on-one meetings. "It's much better than May in Qatar," when Aso met them last time, he said. Ironically the feuding countries appear to have been brought together by pariah state North Korea -- often a source of deep divisions -- and its test-firing of seven missiles earlier this month. The UN Security Council condemned the tests in a Tokyo-sponsored move and imposed weapons-related sanctions, even winning the support of North Korea's long-time ally China. "Foreign Minister Li said during the bilateral meeting that even if China and Japan had different opinions over the UN resolution (against the North) it was good as we adopted it after all," said a Japanese delegation official. Seoul, another key sympathiser of Pyongyang, mildly complained to Japan this week that Japan did not consult it over an initial tougher draft. Nevertheless, South Korea moved to suspend aid to impoverished North Korea. Japan left its neighbours to lead attempts to bring the North to six-nation talks on its nuclear programme on the sidelines of this week's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum. North Korea walked out of the talks in November in protest at US financial sanctions. The talks group the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and Russia. "This is not the main battlefield," a top Japanese diplomat said, adding that Japan would pursue the North Korean problem in other ways. The Japanese official in charge of Chinese affairs admitted that Li brought up Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine with Aso, saying "honoring Class-A war criminals is a political obstacle that has not been solved." Publicly, however, China refrained from making an issue of it. Akira Kato, a professor of political science at Tokyo's Obirin University, said China and South Korea were keen to cool Japan after its harsh stance on the missile tests surprised observers. "China and South Korea don't want to push Japan to harden its attitude," Kato said. Domestic politics have also played a factor, Kato said. Aso is in the running to replace Koizumi when he leaves office in September and is keen to look good on the international stage Meanwhile, in a symbol of the new detente, there was also a new venue for one of the meetings between the Chinese and Japanese ministers -- a washroom at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. When China's Li Zhaoxing popped into the toilet during talks on Wednesday and discovered that Japan's Taro Aso happened to be inside, the two took the chance for a 20-minute chat, mystifying waiting journalists. "I just met Li in the toilet and we had a good discussion," Aso reportedly told other Asian ministers when he returned. A more formal meeting was held later in a nearby five-star hotel. oh/dk/sls/ag


ASEAN-JAPAN-EASIA - 07/28/2006 13:42 - AFP
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Service: World News (ASI)