Chinese Ambassador Criticizes Japan

China¡¯s top envoy to South Korea said yesterday that Japan cannot be trusted by its regional neighbors and cannot be a ``normal¡¯¡¯ state unless it acknowledges and apologizes for its wartime atrocities.

``As an offender, Japan should openly recognize its past actions and sincerely apologize,¡¯¡¯ Ambassador Li Bin said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. ``If it does not acknowledge its past, how can it be considered rational?¡¯¡¯

Seoul and Tokyo have been involved in an escalating diplomatic row in recent weeks over Tokto, South Korea¡¯s easternmost islets, and Japanese textbooks currently under government screening, which allegedly glorify the nation¡¯s imperial past in the early 20th century.

``Germany could be cited as a mirror (for self-reflection),¡¯¡¯ Li said, calling for a more sincere attitude in dealing with the history issues with neighboring countries, including China and South Korea.

With the United States apparently moving toward bolstering the role of Japan in the Northeast Asian region, Beijing has raised concerns about strengthening the alliance between Tokyo and Washington.

The recent diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan _ both an ally of the U.S. _ has raised concerns over the trilateral teamwork among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington in resolving the regional standoff over North Korea¡¯s nuclear weapons program.

During the interview with the South Korean news agency, Li also voiced strong support for Seoul¡¯s policy of engaging its communist rival, Pyongyang, saying it will eventually pay off.

``South Korea¡¯s patience over its economic cooperation with North Korea will have some result in the end,¡¯¡¯ he said, adding that continuing efforts to strengthen mutual trust between the two Koreas is the best way to realize peace.

``Dialogue, exchange, and cooperation are very important factors in building trust with each other,¡¯¡¯ said the Chinese diplomat, who spent most of his career dealing with Korean affairs.

He praised South Korea¡¯s supply of electricity to a pilot industrial park in Kaesong, a North Korean border city where several textile and other labor-intensive South Korean plants have recently opened up shop.

Li¡¯s remarks came amid growing calls by hardliners in Washington for Seoul to slow the pace of its cross-border projects and cut humanitarian aid, including food and fertilizers.

The Chinese ambassador also hinted that the upcoming week may mark a watershed in multilateral efforts to coax Pyongyang to the six-party talks, which involves the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

Rice arrived in Beijing later in the day for a two-day trip, after knitting together a common message in Tokyo and Seoul to be presented to the Chinese. China is believed to have most leverage to get the North Koreans back to the negotiating table.

``Her visit to Beijing is very important,¡¯¡¯ Li said. ``Rice will have in-depth discussions with Chinese officials on ways of resuming the six-way dialogue and Sino-U.S. relations.¡¯¡¯

Rice¡¯s trip will be followed by a weeklong visit to Beijing by North Korean Premier Park Bong-ju starting on Tuesday.

Li warned against isolating Pyongyang in the process of resolving the nuclear standoff and called for more flexibility on the part of the U.S. and other countries in the six-nation dialogue.

``It is not desirable to hold a round of talks without North Korea¡¯s participation,¡¯¡¯ he said. ``China¡¯s basic stance is to maintain the framework of the six-party talks. All the participants need to respect the hard-won process.¡¯¡¯

In the meantime, the Chinese diplomat expressed concerns over the much reported move by the U.S. to expand the role of its military stationed in South Korea beyond the peninsula.

``Those soldiers are stationed here for historical reasons. Deviating from the mutual interests (of Seoul and Washington) is not helpful for regional peace,¡¯¡¯ he said.

South Korea has made it clear that, though it understands the U.S. strategy as an ally, it opposes any situation in which it gets entangled in regional conflicts contrary to its willingness just because its allied power is involved in them.

Recalling his past three and half years in Seoul, Li said, ``Seoul and Beijing experienced the worst crisis in their diplomatic ties last summer over Koguryo.¡¯¡¯

By Ryu Jin / Staff Reporter

(Korea Times 2005-3-20)