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Fear of China Makes Japan Snub the Dalai Lama

November 29, 2007

By Catherine Makino
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40209

TOKYO, Nov 26 (IPS) - Ignoring the fact that Japan is an Asian country
with a sizeable Buddhist population, the government of Prime Minister
Yasuo Fukuda cold-shouldered the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama, during a ten-day visit that ended on Friday.

Not one government official met one of the world's best-known
personalities either at the airport or at his prayer sessions and
meetings where he confined speeches to spirituality.

The official ignore contrasted sharply with the Dalai Lama's visit in
October to the United States where he was awarded the Congressional Gold
Medal, the highest civilian award. U.S. President George W. Bush
attended the ceremony and personally handed over the medal.

Interestingly though, Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the
opposition Democratic Party, pointedly met the Dalai Lama before he left
the country and expressed support for the Tibetan’s leader’s concept of
‘greater autonomy’ for Tibet within China.

The 72-year-old Nobel peace prize laureate was in Japan, at the
invitation of a Buddhist group, to tour the famed Shinto shrine of Ise
Jingu, visit local schools and give speeches on spirituality. In fact,
he was allowed to visit the country on condition that he would not
engage in political activities.

China, which sent troops into Tibet in 1950, objects to the
international travels of the Dalai Lama. It accuses him of fomenting
Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama escaped from the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa, in 1959, after a failed uprising and crossed the border into
India after a 15-day journey on foot over the high Himalayan mountains.

Thanks to the official aloofness, most Japanese were not even aware of
the spiritual leader’s presence in their country. "I didn’t know the
Dalai Lama was in Japan," said the head priest of Ichijoji Buddhist
temple in Tokyo Jushoku Kaneko. "I don’t understand why the Japanese
government refuses to accept the Dalai Lama as a VIP."

He was rarely mentioned in the national newspapers or shown on
television. The reason, according to Koichi Nakano, an associate
professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, is that,
unlike in the West, there are no celebrities in Japan promoting the
Dalai Lama.

"Western stars often champion political causes, while Japanese
celebrities almost never take controversial political positions
publicly," Nakano says. "Nobody of prominence in Japan is drawing any
importance on the Dalai Lama, whereas in the U.S. there are celebrities
who are instrumental in raising public awareness about Tibet."

Human rights issues, particularly those in foreign countries, rarely
ever draw the attention of the ordinary Japanese. "Criticism of the
Burmese dictatorship, for example, has been very muted even when a
Japanese journalist was shot dead recently. Nobody goes about supporting
the human rights of the Tibetans at the risk of antagonising the
Chinese,’’ says Nakano.

But there was another reason for the indifference. The Japanese
government under Fukuda is strenuously trying to mend relations with
China, soured during the tenure of Fukuda's predecessors Shinzo Abe and,
before him, Junichiro Koizumi.

However, according to Gregory Clark, vice-president of Akita
International University in Akita prefecture, many observers make the
mistake of thinking that Abe wanted better relations with China because
he flew to Beijing soon after becoming prime minister. "They were wrong.
Abe was always anti-China. Like the hawks around him and on whose
ideologies he was raised, Abe has a virulent dislike of the Chinese
regime -- and North Korea -- and was relying on the U.S. to be equally
anti-China. He proved this with his hurried efforts to cement an
anti-China alliance with the U.S. (over Taiwan), Australia, India and
even NATO.’’

"The rushed China visit was simply to get rid of the damaging block to
any China relationship caused by Beijing's one-sided obsession with the
Yasukuni issue. The block was unpopular with both the electorate and
within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party,’’ Clark said. ‘’Fukuda
clearly wants to move to a more balanced U.S.-China policy.’’

China has expressed regret about Japan's decision to allow the Dalai
Lama to visit the country. "We expressed our regret over Japan's
permission of Dalai's entry into Japan and his visit to the country,’’
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was quoted as saying at
a regular press conference.

As he prayed at Ise Jingu, western Japan, the Dalai Lama said he only
wants "autonomy," not independence for Tibet and will not accept China's
allegation that he is a "separatist," local newspapers reported. "But
the Chinese government officials still continuously accuse me of being a
separatist,'' he was quoted as saying.

Lhakpa Tshoko, a representative of the Dalai Lama's liaison office in
Tokyo, said they understand the Japanese government's diplomatic
principle, but it was sad that the Dalai Lama was not given the respect
he deserved in an Asian country with a sizeable Buddhist population.
Japan has 93.5 million Buddhists, including a high percentage of
important people in education and public affairs.

Buddhism was brought to the country in the 6th century and has had a
profound influence on its intellectual, artistic, social and political
life. Most funerals are conducted by Buddhist priests, and many Japanese
visit family graves and Buddhist temples to pay respects to ancestors.

Unlike his previous trips, Japan did not offer him security this time.
The Dalai Lama’s liaison office was forced to hire private body bodyguards.

Fukuda, who succeeded Abe as prime minister in September, never talked
about the Dalai Lama's visit to his country. Instead, he often speaks of
improving Japan's ties with China and has already built a close
relationship with top Chinese politicians.

"Japan is too conscious of China’s reaction and it is losing its
solvency and independence," commented Pema Gyalpo, a former
representative of the Dalai Lama and professor at Torin University in
Yokohama. "Among the democratic nations Japan is the only one that
refused to meet His Holiness."

China replaced the U.S. as Japan's largest trading partner, which
signifies Beijing's growing economic influence and the role that the
flourishing Chinese market plays in the global economy.

In January 2005, Japan's finance ministry indicated that China had
surpassed the U.S. as its largest trade partner for the first time since
1947. This year, Japan’s trade with China stood at 25.4271 trillion yen
(230.61 billion dollars), while its trade with the US was about 25.1608
trillion yen (228.10 billion dollars).

Japan's relations with China deteriorated during the tenure of Abe’s
predecessor Koizumi. A major reason was Koizumi's insistence on making
regular visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 convicted
war criminals among Japan's 2.5 million war dead. Japan's neighbours see
the shrine and visits as glorification of the country's militaristic past.

Fukuda has said he would not visit the shrine. He has even suggested
removing the irritant of Yasukuni altogether by building a new memorial.

‘’Fukuda realises that Japan needs better relations with China not only
for its own sake but also for U.S.- Japan ties," says Robert Dujarric,
director of contemporary Japanese studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
"Bad relations with China make some Americans think Tokyo is responsible
for tensions in the region. Japanese officials worry the U.S. is making
China an important partner/stakeholder in Asia.

‘’For Japan to play a role in the region it now needs better ties with
China as well as good relations with the U.S,’’ Dujarric said. "Fukuda
historically has been more of a China guy than his immediate
predecessors.’’

(END/2007)
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