Bitter history between China and Japan sets stage for fiery showdown
BEIJING: From territorial claims, to war atrocities and outrage over sex orgies, tensions between China and Japan are never far from bubbling to the surface.
And now there's the boo boys at the Asian Cup, whose antics threaten to escalate into yet another diplomatic spat between the Asian giants.
The old adage that sport and politics don't mix falls on deaf ears in China, where niggling its neighbour about the past is jumped on at every opportunity.
When China and Japan meet in the final of Asia's most prestigious football tournament in Beijing on tomorrow, there will be more at stake that lifting the silverware – national pride will be in play.
Japan defeating China on home soil may not go down well with the hordes of rowdy fans who have heckled Japan throughout the tournament, booing their players and national anthem, still incensed over World War II atrocities.
Many Chinese believe Japan has never fully faced up to its wartime past and its brutal occupation of Chinese territory before and during World War II.
It is not just the war that riles Chinese.
The two sides routinely bicker over who owns a disputed chain of islands rich in oil resources in the East China Sea.
Relations, meanwhile, took a dive last year when hundreds of Japanese tourists were involved in an orgy with Chinese prostitutes in a south China hotel.
The three-day romp ignited a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment as it culminated on the eve of the anniversary of the start of Japan's World War II occupation of China on September 18, 1931.
Many people were convinced it was timed to humiliate China.
The depth of feeling is so great that in Chongqing, Japan's team bus was rushed by an angry mob while Japanese fans had to be escorted out of the stadium by riot police.
Politicians in Tokyo have become so irked by the antics that they've issued a formal complaint to their Chinese counterparts at the highest levels, calling on them to remove politics from sport.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi reportedly called the booing “deplorable”.
“I want Chinese soccer fans to reflect a little more on their anti-Japanese actions ... it is not conducive to advancing Japan-China relations,” Japanese media quoted him as saying.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi added: “It's a sports event. Why can't we just enjoy it?”
Despite pleas to bring the fans under control, the Chinese government has taken no action so far, and has refused comment on the issue.
With the final being broadcast live around the world, the Asian Football Confederation is conscious the fans' behaviour does not bode well for the image of the game.
“I hope the Chinese team will be well supported but at the same time, I am hoping that the China fans give the Japanese the same sort of treatment,” said AFC general secretary Peter Velappan.
“We all know Japan's fans were not the most welcomed in Chongqing but we are advocating fair play at the Asian Cup. Every team has the right to compete on common ground so let's finish the tournament on a real high.”
Security around the Workers' Stadium, already tight, is set to be stepped up on Saturday.
Japan's captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has no doubt that anti-Japanese feelings will be running high in Beijing.
“They booed only at the start of our national anthem this time,” said Miyamoto after their semi-final against Bahrain in Jinan.
“However, they were still against us and I did feel the same sort of atmosphere as we had in Chongqing.
But it will be nothing compared to that if we play against China in Beijing.” – AFP