Japanese Remarks About Taiwan Anger Beijing

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The quarrel between Tokyo and Beijing over Japan's colonial and wartime history spilled over to the sensitive topic of Taiwan over the weekend, after Japan's foreign minister praised his country's past rule over the island.

The minister, Taro Aso, said in a speech on Saturday that Taiwan's present high educational standards resulted from Japanese colonial policies. China, which ceded Taiwan after losing a war to Japan in 1895 and considers the island a renegade province, condemned the comments on Sunday.

Mr. Aso said that ''thanks to the significant improvement in educational standards and literacy'' during Japan's colonial rule, ''Taiwan is now a country with a very high education level and keeps up with the current era.''

''This is something I was told by an important figure in Taiwan and all the elderly people knew about it,'' he said, according to Kyodo News. ''That was a time when I felt that, as expected, our predecessors did a good thing.''

Mr. Aso, who is considered a hawk, angered China and South Korea last week when he said it would be appropriate for the emperor to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial that honors Japan's war dead as well as 14 Japanese war criminals.

Along with Shinzo Abe, another hawk who is the chief cabinet minister, Mr. Aso is considered one of the leading candidates to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after he retires in September.

China reacts acutely to any perceived foreign encroachment on Taiwanese affairs. Not surprisingly, the Chinese responded perhaps even more sharply than usual because those comments came from Japan.

''We are shocked by and express our strong indignation over the Japanese foreign minister's remark of overtly glorifying invasion history,'' said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, according to the official New China News Agency.

Japanese rule ''made Taiwan people suffer enslavement and brought grave disaster to the Chinese nation,'' Mr. Kong said. ''It is fact that everyone in the world knows.''

The exchange came as United States officials have been expressing more publicly their worries about rising tensions in East Asia and deteriorating relations between Japan and China. They have signaled their worries that Japan, its main ally in this region, has become increasingly isolated, especially over Mr. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

''I believe there is a point of tension here,'' said Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick in a recent news conference here, ''and what I have tried to suggest is that one way to defuse some of the tension on both sides is to have what is called in diplomatic parlance a 'track two' effort, perhaps have historians of China and Japan, perhaps the United States, too, examine the historical situation in World War II and perhaps other periods as well.''

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