Skip to main content

Former Japanese prime minister slammed as 'traitor' at home

By Elizabeth Yuan, CNN
January 18, 2013 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visits the Nanjing Memorial for victims of the 1937 massacre in Nanjing, China, Thursday.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visits the Nanjing Memorial for victims of the 1937 massacre in Nanjing, China, Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hatoyama contradicts Japan's position of indisputable territorial sovereignty over islands
  • Japan calls disputed islands Senkaku; China claims them as "Diaoyu"
  • Hatoyama and his wife visited the Nanjing Memorial for victims of 1937 massacre
  • Chinese media covered extensively his "apology for Japan's wartime crimes"

(CNN) -- The Japanese government has criticized former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's acknowledgment of a "territorial dispute" with China over islands in the East China Sea, with the defense minister going so far as to use the word "traitor."

On his four-day private visit to China, Hatoyama told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday, "The Japanese government says there are no territorial disputes (between the two countries). But if you look at history, there is a dispute."

The remarks contradict his own government's position of indisputable territorial sovereignty over the islands that it calls Senkaku and that China calls Diaoyu.

"If his (Hatoyama's) remarks have been politically used by China, I'm unhappy," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on television Thursday. "At that moment, the word of 'traitor' arose in my mind."

Dangerous waters: Behind the islands dispute

Kickstarting Japan's economy

The day after his controversial remarks, Hatoyama, 66, and his wife visited the Nanjing Memorial, which is for the estimated 300,000 people killed in a 1937 massacre by Japanese forces.

He is the third former Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial, following predecessors Toshiki Kaifu and Tomiichi Murayama. The tribute for Chinese victims stands in contrast to visits by Japanese officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which is dedicated to Japan's war dead, including war criminals.

"In the eyes of the Chinese public, (Hatoyama's) visit is very valuable and undermines those in China who argue that all Japanese suffer from amnesia about wartime misdeeds," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan.

[Hatoyama's] visit is very valuable and undermines those in China who argue that all Japanese suffer from amnesia about wartime misdeeds.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan.

"I think this mission is an effort by him to introduce a different tenor into bilateral relations, to show it's not all about saber-rattling," he added.

Chinese media extensively covered Hatoyama's "apology for Japan's wartime crimes," with pictures of the Hatoyamas bowing and paying silent tribute at the site.

On social media, the visit triggered wide discussions. According to an online poll by Phoenix Online (iFeng), 80% of the more than 222,000 people who voted said Hatoyama's visit did not have much political significance, as compared with German Chancellor Willy Brandt's kneeling before the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in 1970.

In another question, nearly two-thirds of 140,000 people surveyed said the visit by a former leader wouldn't set an example for a fellow Japanese politician.

CCTV commentator Yang Yu, however, praised Hatoyama and urged the Chinese to "remember the unusual kindness due to its scarcity," saying via Weibo, the microblogging site, "We have reprimanded Japan too many times for not acknowledging the massacre."

The official account from Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, warned that the nationalism of people who "scold any Japanese they see ... is in fact leading the country to distress."

An editorial by the government-run Global Times said that "China shouldn't change its policy to Japan just because Hatoyama, a politician currently out of office, gave a few words of friendship."

Grievances over World War II atrocities added fuel to violent anti-Japanese protests in China in September, particularly on the anniversary of the 1931 Japanese invasion of China.

And it is not a coincidence, Kingston said, that a Chinese plane entered airspace over the disputed islands -- prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets -- on December 13, the 75th anniversary of the massacre. It was the first time that the territorial dispute involved planes.

"The next day on the front page of the newspapers were the images of the (Nanjing) Memorial ceremony and the planes," Kingston said.

The dispute over the islands stems from 1895, when, at the end of the Sino-Japanese war, Japan annexed them. China has said that the islands have been its territory for the last five centuries.

CNN's Steven Jiang and Dayu Zhang in Beijing and Junko Ogura in Tokyo contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 0518 GMT (1318 HKT)
A top retired general has confessed to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
A group in China escapes from a stuck elevator thanks to one man and his trusty hammer. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Facebook's founder says he taught himself Mandarin and tested his skills with students in China.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0133 GMT (0933 HKT)
China launched an experimental spacecraft that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Full marks for ingenuity: This was a truly high-tech scam.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0526 GMT (1326 HKT)
The rationale behind Confucius Institutes -- an international chain of academic centers run by an arm of the Chinese government -- is understandable.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT)
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 0511 GMT (1311 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
ADVERTISEMENT