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Sunday, April 22, 2001, updated at 11:17(GMT+8)

Japan Media Blast Mori for Diplomatic Clumsiness

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's eleventh-hour decision to grant a visa to former Taiwan "president" Lee Teng-hui drew criticism from the media on Saturday for the clumsiness of his diplomacy, and outrage from China.

The move to issue a visa to Lee following days of indecision came only after a late-night Friday meeting between Mori and his foreign minister, Yohei Kono, who had long opposed the visa fearing the damage to Japan's ties with its giant neighbour.

China reacted quickly by lodging a "strong protest" with Japan for allowing the visit by the former official of an island it claims as a renegade province -- and Japanese media said Beijing might even withdraw its ambassador.

In Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami Tokyo's decision violated diplomatic agreements and "undermined the basis of bilateral relations".

Lee is expected to arrive on Sunday in the western city of Osaka before proceeding to a hospital in Kurashiki, about 600 km (370 miles) west of Tokyo where he will undergo five days of medical checks.

Japan said it was issuing the visa for "humanitarian reasons". Tokyo is believed to have set conditions for his stay, including restricting Lee from travelling beyond the hospital and stipulating that he will not engage in any political activity.


Japanese media warned of trouble ahead.

"The Japanese government's decision... has broken the delicate balance of East Asian diplomacy involving the United States, Japan, China and Chinese Taiwan," the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily said in an editorial.

"Now the four-way relations have entered a new chapter that is likely to be shaped by conflicting interests and confrontations," it said.

The decision could hardly have come at a worse time in Tokyo's relations with China, never easy at the best of times, and which turned chilly this month when the Ministry of Education approved a new school history textbook that critics say glosses over Japanese wartime atrocities.

Trade spats over surging imports of cheap Chinese vegetables and textiles are exacerbating friction between Beijing and Tokyo.

"Allowing him to go to Japan will inevitably damage Sino-Japanese ties and further hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," said an editorial in the People's Daily, China's main Party newspaper.

"We hope the Japanese government can clearly recognise this point, respect the solemn and just stance of the Chinese government and take a clear and definite attitude to block Lee Teng-hui's trip to Japan as soon as possible."


Japanese newspaper editorials attacked unpopular Prime Minister Mori for the bumbling way he handled what is likely to be the last important decision of his administration.

Mori's decision took days, sparking increasing reports that the cabinet was split and Kono had threatened to resign.

Mori himself is set to step down on Thursday, leaving his successor to cope with the diplomatic fallout from his long, drawn-out decision that appears to have split his cabinet.

"Outstanding clumsiness," blared the headline over an editorial in the daily Tokyo Shimbun. It went on to urge that the government make all possible efforts to mend ties with China.

The left-leaning daily Asahi Shimbun joined the attack. "If the prime minister had reached a decision quickly, the question of whether or not to issue a visa would not have become such a big problem," it wrote in an editorial.

This will be Lee's first visit to Japan since 1985. The Japanese-speaking politician, who grew up in Taiwan that was still a colony of Japan, made a stopover on his way from a trip to Latin America when he was "vice president".

China was swift to single out Mori as a target of its anger.

"As a politician, Mori could not possibly be so ignorant of the fact that a sound relationship with China is in the interests of both countries," the China Daily said.

"By taking such an ill-considered stance over what is clearly a highly sensitive issue, he has apparently made a major political blunder which will be difficult for his successor to redress later," it said.

But China reserved its harshest words for Lee. "He is the chief representative of Taiwan separatism and the saboteur of stability in the Taiwan Strait," the Xinhua news agency said.

In This Section

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's eleventh-hour decision to grant a visa to former Taiwan "president" Lee Teng-hui drew criticism from the media on Saturday for the clumsiness of his diplomacy, and outrage from China.

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