Promoting global economic recovery and managing the consequences of climate change might officially top the agenda at this week’s Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels. But most international attention has been focused on something quite different—whether Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao would actually speak to each other.
The two did reportedly meet for almost half an hour after dinner last night, the kind of exchange that's essential if the two sides are going to start addressing lingering tensions over the September 8 incident in which a Chinese fishing trawler collided—the Japanese say deliberately—with two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats sent to escort the vessel from disputed islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islets (Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
The Japanese initially detained the crew before releasing most of them several days later. But they kept the captain for further questioning and possible trial. The Chinese government responded with increasingly vehement protests and warnings, with authorities eventually arresting four employees of Japan’s Fujita Corp, as well as an accompanying Chinese worker, on September 20. The Chinese accused them of supposedly entering and filming a restricted military zone in Shijiazhuang.
The Japanese have since released the captain, but the Chinese continue to detain one of the four Fujita employees. Yoshiro Sasaki, Hiroki Hashimoto and Junichi Iguchi returned home this weekend, but Sadamu Takahashi remains in custody pending further investigation.
Although the four Fujita employers were detained as possible Japanese spies, they were actually assessing whether to bid on a Japanese government project to construct a facility to dispose of chemical weapons the Imperial Japanese Army abandoned in China at the end of World War II. Ironically, then, the September 25 arrests have actually highlighted an area of past Sino-Japanese conflict in which the two countries are now cooperating—chemical weapons.
The Imperial Japanese Army, which brutally occupied much of China in the years leading up to 1945, left hundreds of thousands of chemical weapons shells on Chinese territory after Japan surrendered. But it’s only relatively recently that the two countries have begun eliminating these weapons, following years of delays.
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which took effect in 1997, requires its parties to destroy any chemical weapons they abandoned on the territory of another country. Japan has accordingly committed to paying all the costs associated with eliminating the former Imperial Japanese Army’s stockpile, including excavating the weapons, transporting them to a disposal point and eliminating them in an environmentally acceptable manner.