Davos: China hits back over Japan WWI analogy

China has hit back at Japan's Prime Minister over a claim that current tensions in East Asia are akin to those between Britain and Germany on the eve of the First World War.

Davos: China hits back over Japan WWI analogy
Photo: UN/AFP

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he believed the analogy employed by Japanese premier Shinzo Abe was misplaced.

In the latest salvo in a simmering diplomatic spat, Wang also reiterated China's anger over Abe's recent visit to a shrine which honours the memory of 14 convicted war criminals along with millions of other Japanese war dead.

"It strikes me that his statement is a bit anachronistic because the current era is a world apart from the situation of 100 years ago," Wang told the annual gathering of business and political leaders.

"The forces for peace in the world, and they include China, are growing."

Abe's comparison of the current situation in East Asia with early 20th-century Europe was designed to make the point that Britain and Germany's developed economic relationship did not prevent them taking up arms, implying that something similar could happen between China and Japan in the modern era despite billions of dollars worth of trade and investment ties.

The Japanese leader's comments, made to journalists here on Thursday, were part of Tokyo's campaign to alert the world to what it sees as China's growing military assertiveness, which it views as an increasing threat to its own security at a time when US willingness to underwrite it is in increasing doubt.

Wang said a more relevant history lesson would involve recalling Japan's record of military aggression against China and other Asian states.

"Reviewing these episodes of history would clearly show who was the instigator of war and the troublemaker," the foreign minister said.

Wang said Beijing regarded Abe's December visit to the shrine as the biggest problem in the bilateral relationship, describing it as a memorial that glorifies militarism, justifies past aggressions and honours the 14 military and public officials who were either executed or died in prison after being convicted as Class A war criminals at the end of the Second World War.

"When a Japanese leader lays a wreath at such a shrine, he crosses a line — he is breaching the conscience of humanity and international justice. He is contesting the outcome of the second world war and the international order that emerged from it.

"The Class A war criminals of Japan were like the Nazis. Could you imagine a European leader could today lay a wreath at a memorial to Nazi war criminals? Would the European people accept such a move? No. And it would be illegal besides."

Britain and the United States both criticised Abe for visiting the shrine and it also prompted a furious reaction in South Korea.

Against that backdrop, analysts say it is in China's interests to keep the issue simmering because it has a bearing on how the rest of world sees territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbours, including one with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Japan currently controls the islands it calls the Senkakus. But China, which refers to them as the Diaoyus, believes they belong to them and there have been a string of flashpoints involving armed coastguards in recent years.

China blames Japan for upsetting a delicately balanced arrangement which prevented the status of the islands from being an issue for four decades by asserting its sovereignty over them.

"China had no choice but to react to the Japanese move," Wang said. "We have offered negotiations but the Japanese refuse to discuss the island because, in their view, they are not in dispute.

"Let me again make the offer: We should begin to have a bilateral negotiation over the island to establish a crisis management mechanism."

Before addressing issues related to Japan, Wang had outlined how he sees the Chinese Communist Party's commitment to a new wave of reform leading to the world's most populous nation playing a bigger role on the global stage.

He said China wanted to "shoulder more international responsibilities" by becoming more active in helping to defuse what he termed "hotspot issues" around the world.

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Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May

The World Economic Forum announced Wednesday that its postponed 2021 Davos summit, themed as "The Great Reset" in the coronavirus crisis, will take place in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 18 to 21.

Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May
Participants at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2020. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The annual gathering of the world's political, economic and business elite traditionally takes place in January against the idyllic snowy backdrop of the Swiss Alpine village of Davos.

But it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, charged with remodelling the world economy in the wake of the crisis, will now be held 125 kilometres (75 miles) away in the plush Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne.

“The meeting will take place as long as all conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of participants and the host community,” WEF spokesman Adrian Monck said in a statement.

“The meeting will focus on the solutions required to address the world's most pressing challenges. “Global leaders will come together to design a common recovery path, to shape 'The Great Reset' in the post-Covid-19 era and rebuild a more cohesive and sustainable society.”

Hybrid format

The WEF announced in June that the 51st edition of its annual meeting would take place in a hybrid format, then in August said it was being delayed for several months to reduce any risks to participants from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lucerne summit will combine both in-person and virtual elements, with participants linked to a network of around 400 hubs worldwide to incorporate dialogue with the WEF's “young global shapers, to ensure openness and inclusion”, said Monck.

The summit will be preceded during the week of January 25 by digitally-convened high-level “Davos Dialogues”, when global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 1.04 million people while at least 35.5 million infections have been recorded since the outbreak emerged in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

The pandemic has also triggered a global economic downturn, though the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that while it is far from over, it will not be as bad as originally feared thanks to a flood of government spending.

The World Trade Organization said likewise, forecasting a global trade contraction of 9.2 percent this year, rather than its previous “optimistic scenario” prediction of 12.9 percent.

But global trade will then grow by only 7.2 percent next year, rather than the previous 21.3-percent estimate issued in April, the WTO added.

Swiss cases rising

The WEF announcement comes as Switzerland announced Wednesday that daily coronavirus cases had jumped over the 1,000-mark for the first time since April 1, when the peak of the pandemic's initial wave began to recede.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset has urged the country to “get a grip” and be more rigorous in applying the basic measures to control the spread of the virus.

The 2020 edition of the WEF summit, hosted in January just as the world was beginning to become aware of the new coronavirus spreading in China, drew more than 50 heads of state and government to Davos.

It focused on themes of sustainability and finding a more inclusive model for capitalism. US President Donald Trump and Swedish teenage eco-warrior Greta Thunberg were among its top speakers.

The WEF said it aims to be back in Davos for 2022.