TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not attend events to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in China next month, Japan's government spokesman said yesterday, amid concerns over China's military ambitions.
More than 10,000 troops - mostly Chinese, but with contingents from Russia, Mongolia and a few other countries - will march through central Beijing on Sept 3 in a parade that will be the highlight of events marking the war's end.
Mr Abe has tried to improve relations with China, but progress has been very slow due to Japan's perceived failure to atone for its wartime aggressions and China's increasingly assertive tone in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas.
"The prime minister has decided not to attend because of his schedule in Parliament," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. "He will not be travelling to China shortly before or after Sept 3. We will continue to seek out ways for our two countries to communicate with each other."
Earlier yesterday, national broadcaster NHK said Mr Abe would skip the ceremony in China to focus on collective self-defence Bills currently being debated in Parliament.
"Giving up on a visit to Beijing won't have a serious impact, and they will have opportunities to meet in other settings."
MR ROBERT DUJARRIC, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan campus, on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe skipping the events in China
Mr Abe also decided to side with Western leaders who are staying away from the military parade in China because of worries about its military expansion in the region, the Sankei newspaper reported.
European and US officials have expressed concern that the show of military power could send the wrong signal in an already tense region. The expected presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin has also put off many Western leaders, diplomats have told Reuters.
Tanks rumbled through Beijing and fighter jets flew overhead during the weekend in a parade rehearsal. In a statement yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the parade would be a gathering of people from around the world who "love peace", adding that China only wanted to be a force for good in the world.
He made no mention of the Japanese prime minister.
China has drawn criticism for reclaiming land in the disputed South China Sea as neighbouring countries fear it could use the land for military bases. China and Japan also claim islets in the East China Sea.
Sino-Japan ties have long been affected by what China sees as Japan's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of the country before and during the war. Western and Chinese historians estimate that millions of Chinese civilians were killed.
Ties have thawed slightly since Mr Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at multilateral gatherings in April and last November, but the diplomatic relationship between Asia's two biggest economic powers is far from friendly.
Mr Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan campus, said the issues between Japan and China are too deep to be resolved by a short summit meeting.
"Giving up on a visit to Beijing won't have a serious impact, and they will have opportunities to meet in other settings," he added.
Mr Abe's decision not to visit Beijing also torpedoes any hopes of a meeting there with South Korean President Park Geun Hye. Ms Park will take part in a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary, but has not yet decided whether to attend the parade. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG