March 8, 2014 8:00 pm JST

China's foreign minister to Japan: This is 2014, not 1894

KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei staff writer

BEIJING -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Japan's leadership that China today is not the same as China in 1894, when the Middle Kingdom fought, and the next year later lost, the First Sino-Japanese War.

     He stressed that properly handling history, Taiwan and the issue of the Senkaku Islands -- which China calls the Diaoyu -- was a precondition for the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1972, and said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's comments and actions "betrayed the spirit of 1972."

     "On the two issues of history and territory, there is no room for compromise" Wang said.

     At the annual press conference for the foreign minister held on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing, Wang was asked about Abe's comparison at the recent Davos Forum that current China-Japan relations resemble those of Germany-U.K. relations before the First World War. Although Abe's intention was to emphasize that a path like the one taken in 1914 must be avoided, Wang added his own spin to Abe's words to give the most memorable quote of the press conference.

     "2014 is not 1914, and still less 1894," he said.

     "I want to emphasize that instead of using Germany before the First World War as an object lesson, why not use Germany after the Second World War as a role model?" he added.

German restraint

Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Europe later this month. The Chinese side is said to be especially keen on pointing out that Germany managed to rebuild ties with its neighbors much better than Japan did after the war because Germany's apologies for its wartime behavior were more sincere than Japan's.

     Diplomatic sources have noted that Germany is uncomfortable with China continuously bringing up Germany's past and would prefer not to be dragged into Asia's controversies.

     China also suggested to France, which Xi will visit before he goes to Germany, that the visit should discuss "politics" and "history of the Second World War." France politely declined this idea, French sources say, and proposed that the visit focus on "politics" and "culture." Paris has lined up a series of events including restaurant tours and wine tastings during Xi's three-day visit.

No conflict with US 

At Saturday's press conference, Wang also talked about relations with the U.S. Here again, Wang evoked the past, back to the opening of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1978, saying, "Our experiences and lessons of these 35 years come down to one point: We need to respect each other"

     This was a reference to the "new model of major-country relationship" that the Chinese side is promoting. While the concept has not been entirely clarified, it is believed to mean that the U.S. and China should agree to "no conflict, no confrontation." The Chinese say that the key ingredient to such a commitment is that "the two sides truly respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and social systems."

     This is also a veiled way of saying that the U.S. should not interfere on issues such as Tibet and Communist Party rule.

     Wang said that Xi and President Barack Obama, when they met last year, reached a "consensus" of building a new model of major-country relationship. But diplomatic watchers point out that there may be differences in interpretation over this concept.

Toward more responsibility

With regards to North Korea, Wang said: "The Korean Peninsula is right on China's doorstep. We have a red line, that is, we will not allow war or instability on the Korean Peninsula." He also called for an early resumption of six-party talks.

     Signaling a departure from China's former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's axiom of "keeping a low profile and hiding one's brightness," Wang said: "China will give full play to the country's role as a major, responsible country in 2014. We will take an active part in international and regional affairs and play a bigger role in solving global and regional issues by offering China's own solutions."

     According to Wang, combined, President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang visited 22 countries, received 65 foreign heads of state and government in China and met more than 300 foreign dignitaries.