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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Obuchi ties a WTO deal - and little else

By Jonathan Sprague

more stories
Lee's Parting Shot Taiwan's president ignites a new cross-straits row

PRIME MINISTER OBUCHI KEIZO wanted his hosts to be in a good mood during his visit to Beijing last week. China's President Jiang Zemin had been rather sour at the end of his trip to Japan last year after Tokyo snubbed his attempt to win a written apology for wartime aggression. Besides, Beijing was seething about increasing Japanese-U.S. defense links. So Obuchi brought along a reminder of Jiang's one great success from his trip - his gift of a pair of rare birds whose newly hatched chick has thrilled Japan. "I came to China with enthusiasm, to open a new phase in future relations, and with this picture of a baby crested ibis," Obuchi said. It must have worked, as the two sides sealed an accord on China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) which they hailed as a symbol of "friendly" relations. But the Japanese leader's goody bag heading home did not look very full.

Topping Obuchi's agenda were security issues. China frets that Tokyo's new defense guidelines, which envision closer cooperation with Washington not just in Japan but within an ill-defined region, might prompt them to intervene should a crisis erupt over Taiwan. Obuchi reiterated that the pact was purely defensive, and that the guidelines were not aimed at specific countries or regions. For good measure, he added: "It is impossible for our country to support or take any action for Taiwanese independence." Beijing must find those words reassuring - a bit - especially now that Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui has trampled on the "one China" concept. Still, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji told Obuchi: "We want you to prove what you have said by action in future."

China's entry into the WTO

Bilateral talks substantially concluded

U.S.-Japan defense pact

Beijing still skeptical about its scope

North Korea missiles

Beijing will do "whatever it can"

Japanese wartime aggression

Largely avoided

Territorial disputes

Put off pending further talks

Closer to his heart, Obuchi hoped to win Beijing's support in persuading North Korea not to launch a new ballistic missile. Pyongyang last year sent a missile flying over Japan and into the Pacific, and may be preparing to test a longer-range version. On that issue, Obuchi had limited success as well. "China has been making an effort to keep peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Zhu told him. "We will continue to do whatever we can."

With the WTO deal, Obuchi did achieve a minor coup by becoming the first Group of Seven industrialized nation to resolve bilateral objections to China's entry. The contents are secret so there is no telling how sweet the deal is for either side. But leaks to Japanese media indicate that it parallels the much-applauded offers Zhu made during his visit to the U.S. in April - such as gradually allowing 49% foreign ownership of telecommunications carriers. Obuchi failed to persuade Beijing to resume WTO talks with Washington, given anger over NATO's bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade. "It is only when NATO has given a response that China is satisfied with that the talks can resume," Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng said. But on a positive note, Zhu told Obuchi that China has not withdrawn the concessions he offered in Washington, despite fears that they were another casualty of the embassy bombing.

Not much else emerged. Obuchi agreed to provide 10 billion yen to China's reforestation efforts. Tokyo's complaints about Chinese research vessels operating near disputed islands in the East China Seas were brushed aside pending talks on maritime issues. The two sides agreed to plan a cleanup of chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese army following World War II. Says a Western diplomat in Beijing: "The greatest boost is economic, it's the WTO deal. Political issues are as they were before. China is obviously not satisfied with the U.S.-Japanese security pact and there is no way to sort that out." At least Obuchi avoided too much criticism about Japan's wartime behavior. Not that he got off completely. The official China Daily printed a full-page story on the Nanjing Massacre during his visit, and President Jiang reminded him of the need "to understand and treat history correctly."

But both sides probably emerged fairly happy. Obuchi bandaged a festering foreign policy sore, clearing the diplomatic decks as he heads into a leadership race at home. Jiang and Zhu signalled that they are still keen on WTO and, if Japan gave them a sweetheart deal as some think, may have boosted China's bargaining position vis-a-vis the U.S. and Europe. But Tokyo and Beijing have a ways to go before "friendly" relations turn into friendship.

- With reporting by Anne Meijdam / Beijing and Murakami Mutsuko / Tokyo

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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