Chinese group appeals to Japan's emperor over artefact

BEIJIN (AFP) - A Chinese organisation has appealed to Japan's Emperor Akihito to return a 1,300 year-old stele taken from China over a century ago, state media reported.

The Honglujing Stele was "looted by Japanese soldiers early last century from northeastern China", the official Xinhua news agency said, and now sits in "virtual seclusion" in Japan's Imperial Palace.

The stone monument, 1.8 metres tall and three metres wide, shows that the first king of the northeast Asian Bohai kingdom was given his title by a Chinese emperor from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the report said.

The China Federation of Demanding Compensation from Japan (CFDC) sent a letter to Akihito and the Japanese government on Sunday via Tokyo's embassy in Beijing, Xinhua reported on Monday.

The demand comes as relations between Beijing and Tokyo is at a multi-year low, with a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea rumbling against a backdrop of disputes over history.

It was unclear what impact the letter would have as under Japan's constitution, the emperor has no power.

According to the website of Japan's Imperial Household Agency, the government department that manages the royal family's affairs, all imperial household property belongs to the state.

Japan's presence in China and Korea expanded after it defeated China's Qing Dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The stele was taken from an area Tokyo captured from Russia in the latter war and sent to Japan in 1908, the report said.

"What we try to recover is not just the relic itself, but also a symbol of international justice," CFDC president Tong Zeng said, according to Xinhua.

The news agency described the CFDC as a "civic group", and said it was established in 2006 to seek "compensation for personal, material and spiritual damage caused by Japanese militarism during the country's aggression against China in the 20th century".

Bohai, also known internationally by Korean spellings including Balhae, Palhae and Parhae, lasted from 698-926 and succeeded another northeast Asian kingdom known as Koguryo. Both are regarded in Pyongyang and Seoul as ancient Korean political entities, but their history is highly politicised as Chinese scholars have emphasised their cultural, political, ethnic and geographic links to China, angering Korean scholars and officials.

Japan in 2005 gave South Korea a stele commemorating Korean victories against invading Japanese forces in the late 16th century that had been taken to Japan in the early 20th century. Seoul later sent it to North Korea for return to its original location.