SCMP Saturday, April 21, 2001
Japan tense as visa approved
Japan last night braced for a severe backlash from China after it approved a travel visa for former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui, who has heart problems, to seek medical treatment in the country.
The decision came after a meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and outgoing Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori late in the evening.
"The Japanese Government has decided to proceed with issuing a visa for humanitarian reasons," Mr Kono said.
The minister was believed to be one of those opposed to the trip in what was a deeply divisive issue for the Japanese cabinet.
"I believe that former president Lee Teng-hui has a very strong political influence. We will have a difficult period in Sino-Japanese relations," Mr Kono said.
Almost immediately after he made the announcement, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi summoned Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami to the Foreign Ministry to lodge a strong protest.
Mr Wang told the ambassador the decision violated diplomatic agreements and "undermined the basis of bilateral relations", China Central Television reported.
"China has stated many times through diplomatic channels the grave political nature of Lee Teng-hui's visit to Japan and demanded that the Japanese Government . . . prevent the visit," Mr Wang was quoted as telling the ambassador.
Taiwanese online news portal ETtoday reported that China would recall Mr Chen from Japan and cancel all high-level visits to Japan in protest at the visa approval.
Xinhua last night said in a commentary the true aim of Mr Lee's proposed trip to Japan was to "make trouble for Sino-Japanese relations".
"Recently, at his first press conference after stepping down from power a year ago, Lee pretended to be very ill, despite the fact that he was described by some of his aides to be as strong as an ox," Xinhua said.
The former president is now expected to arrive in the western city of Osaka en route to Okayama prefecture for medical checks tomorrow at the start of a five-day visit.
"We presume Mr Lee will not conduct any political activities," Mr Kono said, indicating that Japan did not have a written pledge accepting such conditions.
In Taipei, Taiwan Vice-President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien said: "We hope the Japanese Government will continue to demonstrate moral courage and do the right thing."
Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catherine Chang confirmed last night that Mr Lee had received his visa.
"We are pleased that the Japanese Government is going to allow former president Lee Teng-hui to go to Japan to seek medical care," she said.
Earlier reports said Mr Lee, 78, planned to travel to Kurashiki, about 600km from Tokyo, for medical treatment.
Vilified by China for trying to break Taiwan out of diplomatic isolation during his rule, Mr Lee wants to visit Japan for a medical check-up after an operation in Taiwan last year to clear a clogged artery. He has said his trip has no political motive.
Mr Kono had earlier advised Mr Mori not to approve the visa request at a time when Sino-Japanese ties were already strained by disputes over trade and a Japanese school history textbook which critics say glosses over Japan's wartime aggression.
Japanese media have reported that Mr Mori's cabinet is deeply split on the issue, with some - including Mr Kono - worried about increasingly testy relations with China.
Japan's national Yomiuri newspaper said in an editorial yesterday that Japan should stand up to China to dispel any impression that it buckles under pressure from foreign countries.
"Excessive consideration to China will worsen Japanese people's feelings towards China and may cause a crack in friendly bilateral relations," the paper said. "The Japanese Government should take this occasion to review the way it deals with China."