Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China-Japan Spat Drives Plunge in Support for Japan's Kan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China-Japan Spat Drives Plunge in Support for Japan's Kan

Article excerpt

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels Monday, but the issues at the heart of recent China-Japan friction remain unresolved.

Monday's meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is the clearest sign yet that the countries are mending fences after their worst bilateral row for years.

Over the course of a 25-minute "spontaneous" encounter after dinner at the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels, the leaders, according to Mr. Kan, agreed to "return to the starting point of improving our strategically mutual beneficial relations."

But the show of postprandial statesmanship falls well short of a resolution of the issue at the heart of recent friction: competing territorial claims to the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islands in the east China Sea that China refers to as the Diaoyu, and drilling rights to nearby oil and gas fields.

And unfortunately for Mr. Kan, the Japanese public has taken a dim view of his handling of the spat, which erupted after a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkakus early last month.

Political support for Mr. Kan plummets

Support for Kan's government has dropped to 49 percent from 64 percent last month, according to a poll in the Mainichi newspaper. More than 70 percent of respondents said prosecutors in Japan should not have released the captain, Qixiong Zhan, before deciding whether to charge him - a course of action that looks increasingly unlikely.

Anger at the prosecutors' actions has shifted to Kan amid a widely held suspicion that his administration pressured prosecutors to release Mr. Zhan to avoid inflicting further damage on Sino- Japanese relations. What officials viewed as necessary realpolitik, voters saw as an ignominious climbdown in the face of Chinese pressure.

"I think the decision to release the captain exposed flaws in Kan's foreign policy," says Hajime Izumi, professor of international relations at the University of Shizuoka. "First he said the matter would be dealt with in line with domestic laws, but then the captain was released. …

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