With relations between Beijing and Tokyo at their worst for quite some time, one would have thought that Japan would be looking to keep a low profile in the case of this year's Nobel peace prize winner. China's decision to lay blame for the giving of the award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at Norway's door has added an international relations dynamic to what is an independently judged honour. As the BBC has reported, Naoto Kan (the Japanese Prime Minister) supposedly told a parliamentary committee in Japan that he welcomed the Nobel committee's decision to recognise Liu's commitment to political reform. He also went on to describe the dissident's release as 'desirable'.
While no formal request for Liu Xiaobo to be freed has emanated from Tokyo, Kan's comments will not be welcomed by the Chinese. Making a comment about Liu's case in a legislature is almost akin to a diplomatic appeal for the same, especially as the Japanese Prime Minister must have known that his words would be picked out and transmitted by the world's media. Of course, Japan is not the only country to have expressed unhappiness with the Nobel winner's detention, with the United States and the European Union urging Beijing to release him.
However, it is likely that the People's Republic is going to take more offence over Naoto Kan's weighing into the affair than the protests of Western countries. The existing Sino-Japanese tensions means that Beijing will see his comments as an attempt to anger China further, and exact revenge for the recent Diaoyu Islands controversy. The PRC has an intense dislike of the United States intervening in its domestic affairs, but Japan doing this provokes even stronger feeling in both Chinese political and public life.
It doesn't seem probable that Prime Minister Kan was deliberately looking to derail attempts to improve relations between his government and China's- the disadvantages to Japan of adverse ties are huge. However, he clearly took a calculated risk in joining the international chorus of countries putting pressure on Beijing. The move will be popular in Japan itself, where national feelings also run high, and it also has the benefit of drawing Tokyo a little closer to other members of the supranational community. In a sense, China only has itself to blame for the increasing frequency of the calls for Liu Xiaobo's release. By deciding to politicise the Nobel issue and taking an unreasonable attitude to Norway, Beijing has opened the floodgates to criticism.