China is deploying a new strategy in its rift with Japan by rallying the international community against Japanese premier Shinzo Abe over his recent visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, say analysts.
They cite as proof how six Chinese ambassadors have issued warnings in recent days that Mr Abe's shrine visit has underscored his right-wing streak and bid to remilitarise Japan.
For instance, China's envoy to Jordan, Mr Gao Yusheng, on Sunday called Mr Abe's Dec 26 visit to the shrine that honours war criminals among 2.5 million war dead "not only provocative to the Chinese people, but also to the neighbour countries". It "represents Japan's tendencies towards militarism", he told a press briefing.
Mr Cui Tiankai, China's envoy to the United States, told reporters on Friday that the "international community should have a clear view on this … and we should not allow Abe to lead Japan in the wrong direction".
Other Chinese envoys who have weighed in are those in Portugal, Britain, Canada and Australia.
In a separate development, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday left for Spain and France, where he is expected to press Tokyo's case in the spat, reported Agence France-Presse.
Mr Kishida will explain the establishment of a US-style "National Security Council" last month aimed at promoting Japan as a "proactive contributor to the peace", a Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying.
Mr Abe's visit to the shrine is the first by a sitting premier since 2006, by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. China and South Korea view the shrine as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Mr Abe's visit has worsened Sino-Japanese ties, which have plunged since September 2012, when Tokyo nationalised the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands to which both sides lay claim. China deems the move as a departure from a decades-old consensus to shelve the dispute and pursue joint development.
Singapore-based international relations analyst Chen Gang said the clutch of Chinese envoys speaking up against Japan reflects China's new tactical play at work.
"China knows that most countries would not want to get involved in its bilateral dispute with Japan," said Dr Chen of the East Asian Institute.
"But by depicting Abe's shrine visit as a sign of his intentions to reverse the history and outcome of World War II, China thinks it will be able to turn it into an international issue and get more countries to condemn Japan."
Dr Chen thinks the strategy also stems from China's growing confidence in its foreign policy.
"China did not take such actions in 2006 when Koizumi visited the shrine. Now, China thinks its international stature has risen, so its calls may carry more weight."
Analysts say a news report published last Saturday in the overseas edition of the People's Daily - the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party - that criticised South-east Asian countries for not being more vocal in their protests over Mr Abe's Yasukuni visit also reflects the new strategy.
But some add that China will have to tread carefully in playing the numbers game against Japan.
For instance, it would be unfair to expect other countries to respond towards Japan as China has, given the different circumstances and history, said Asean expert Xu Liping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
For the record, on Dec 29, Singapore issued a statement expressing "regret" over Mr Abe's shrine visit, as it had done in 2006 over Mr Koizumi's act.
Jinan University South-east Asia expert Zhang Mingliang said Asean states' concerns over a more assertive China outweigh their concerns over Japan's future direction under Mr Abe.
"Chinese media will do well to understand and respect South-east Asian countries' interests and not take steps that could complicate Sino-Asean relations," he told The Straits Times.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 8, 2014
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