Japan Tightens Ties with China Kaifu Trip This Month Signals Improving Political as Well as Economic Links with Beijing

By Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 1991 | Go to article overview

Japan Tightens Ties with China Kaifu Trip This Month Signals Improving Political as Well as Economic Links with Beijing


Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WHILE Washington debates how to mend ties with China, Japan will push ahead in August to not only patch up relations with its Asian neighbor but to create a new political intimacy.

Less concerned than the United States about human rights in China, Japan has sent four top ministers to Beijing so far this year as a warm-up for a trip by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu from Aug. 10-13.

Mr. Kaifu will be the first leader of a major industrialized nation to visit China since Japan and most Western nations imposed sanctions after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

"This trip is the symbolic normalization of relations," says Nobuo Maruyama, China specialist at the Institute for Developing Economies in Tokyo.

To help pave the way for Kaifu's trip, Japan was able to dampen criticism of China at the July summit of seven industrialized countries. A Japanese official visited Beijing July 22 to report on the summit's results.

"Up to now, China has seen us as an important economic partner," says a Japanese Foreign Ministry official. "But it also is beginning to see us as a very important political partner in shaping events in Asia and the world." Softening hard-liners

Japanese officials say a new political intimacy with China has enabled them to soften Beijing's stance on such issues as support for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, support for North Korea, human rights, and arms exports.

"We have succeeded little by little," says the Foreign Ministry official, "to pull China onto the international stage."

The US government, meanwhile, spent much of July debating whether to limit trade privileges with China. A bill passed by Congress to do just that awaits President Bush's expected veto.

Perhaps as a sign that political ties are stronger between Asia's biggest nation and its richest, Kaifu is not expected to bring a big aid package with him, unlike past visits by Japanese prime ministers. One reason is that China is in the middle of receiving a $6 billion loan from Japan that does not end until 1995. That low-interest loan, the third from Japan since 1979, was offered in 1988 by Noboru Takeshita, the last Japanese prime minister to visit China.

After the Tiananmen massacre, that loan was suspended, but then resumed last November, restoring Japan's status as China's biggest aid-giver.

The Kaifu trip also provides Japan a chance to discourage an increasing tendency by many countries to ask Tokyo for money. Such requests have mounted since Japan became the world's largest aid giver in 1990 and also because it was a big donor to the US in the Gulf war.

"Japan is seen now as a cash-dispensing machine," says Mr. Maruyama, "and it wants to change that by applying a strict aid policy toward China."

But the Kaifu trip also comes just four months after Japan announced a major shift in its aid policy from merely responding to aid requests case by case to now judging a country's record on military spending, arms trade, level of democracy and markets, and environmental policies. …

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