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Former Japanese prime minister urges Tokyo to talk more to China and stop trying to 'encircle' it alongside the US

·3 min read

Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has called for more political dialogue between China and Japan and accused the current Japanese government of playing up ideological differences to "encircle" Beijing together with the US.

Relations between Asia's biggest economies, already complicated by wartime history and territorial disputes in the East China Sea, have been further strained after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida drew parallels between Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's increasingly assertive behaviour in Asia.

But Hatoyama told the World Peace Forum, an event hosted by Tsinghua University in Beijing, that the Japanese government had escalated the confrontation between the two sides by playing up "differences and values".

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As a firm ally of the United States, Japan has played an active role in several US-led multilateral mechanisms - including the Quad, a four-way informal security grouping that also includes Australia and India, as well as the Indo Pacific Economic Framework - the effect of which Hatoyama said was "the de facto encirclement of China".

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Tokyo, and Hatoyama said on Sunday that the US, Japan and China should increase efforts to manage tensions, particularly over Taiwan, which is widely seen as a dangerous potential flashpoint.

He said Kishida's comments about China were "totally different from reality" and urged both the US and Japan to reaffirm the one-China policy to avoid the tragedy of war over Taiwan.

"I believe between China and the US, especially between US President [Joe] Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, there should be good dialogue going on to assure a consensus on the one-China policy - that is Taiwan is part of China's territory, which should be reaffirmed," he said.

Hatoyama, who was in office between 2009 and 2010 leading a coalition of parties opposed to the usually dominant Liberal Democratic Party, also called for more political dialogue between China and Japan and said such exchanges were "unusual".

"It is not surprising that two independent countries have differences, but to use this as a reason for not communicating between leaders, this is foolish and a dereliction of diplomacy," Hatoyama said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pictured at last month's Nato summit, the first Japanese leader to attend such an event. Photo: Kyodo alt=Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pictured at last month's Nato summit, the first Japanese leader to attend such an event. Photo: Kyodo>

He said a mechanism could be established so that the foreign ministers of Japan and China could meet every two or three months, adding: "Even meeting online would be good so that when the atmosphere improves, we can restart our military dialogues.

"If usual communication is like this, once the situation escalates, communication between China and Japan will be even more difficult, and I am very worried that a situation, which could have been prevented beforehand, will end up being uncontrollable."

Tensions have worsened between China and Japan in the past year as Tokyo has become more vocal in its support for Taiwan - which Beijing claims as part of its territory - and made what Beijing sees as "provocative" moves, such as sending an active defence official to the island.

Kishida attended a Nato summit meeting on Wednesday, becoming the first Japanese leader to do so, as the transatlantic alliance seeks to deepen ties with Asia-Pacific partners.

Last month, highlighting growing concern about the prospect of Beijing attacking Taiwan, he told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore: "Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.