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China-Japan Relations at the Crossroads

China and Japan are "at the crossroads," facing a historic challenge over what direction their relationship will take, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan has said. 

Although the relationship has encountered difficulties in the past few years, the Chinese government has not changed its policy toward Japan, he said.


Tang made the remarks while meeting with Toyohiko Yamanouchi, president of Japan's Kyodo News Service on Tuesday, according to a press release from the Foreign Ministry on Friday. 


"I would like to candidly and responsibly tell Japan that the Chinese government pursues a friendly policy toward Japan, and has always attached great importance to developing a friendly and cooperative relationship with Japan," he said.


"Both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, while meeting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last year, said they hoped China and Japan could coexist peacefully, maintain friendship for generation after generation, cooperate for their mutual benefit and seek common development," he said.


"Based on these guiding principles, China hopes Japan can maintain prosperity and growth, and understands its wish to further play an important and active role in international communities," he said.


He recalled that Premier Wen, at a press conference held on March 14, right after the conclusion of the Third Session of the 10th National People's Congress, put forward "three principles" and "three proposals" for improving and developing the China-Japan relations.


"There is quite a big gap between the reality and prospect of the China-Japan relations," Tang said. "The situation is complicated and severe and is still going on," he said.


"The two major issues with which China and Japan are confronted -- history and Taiwan -- are concerned with the political basis between China and Japan. They are still gravely interfering in the sound and steady development of the bilateral ties," he said.


In addition, disputes of territory, ocean rights and interests are standing out, and national sentiment is declining, he said.


"All these issues bring obstructions and restrictions to the deepening of bilateral cooperation, and have the possibility of deteriorating the China-Japan relations," he said.


He said, though, that the relationship has opportunities of amelioration despite historic challenge, as the year 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of China's victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.


The Chinese government has the resolution and sincerity to improve and develop the relations with Japan, but that also demands goodwill and sincerity from the Japanese government, he said. "We need interaction of both sides."


He said China and Japan are close neighbors, and history has proven that in their relationship, "cooperation will benefit each other, while conflict will wound both."


"We hope Japanese people of insight can profoundly realized the difficulties for achieving the current progress in China-Japan relations," he said. "The two sides should always stick to the major direction of friendly ties, and truly treat each other as partners of cooperation, but not rivals.


"The two sides should properly handle the issues that exist between the two countries, and constantly deepen cooperation, expand common interests, and work jointly to promote peace and development in the region and the world at large," he said.


Japan's policies on Taiwan issue strongly opposed


China is strongly dissatisfied with "some negative tendencies" in Japan's recent policies concerning the Taiwan issue, and is especially concerned with deepening the Japan-Taiwan ties in security, Tang said.


He said the Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty, reunification and core interests of the country, adding: "We have taken notice of the Japanese government that has repeatedly stated that it will observe the principles in the China-Japan joint statement and not support 'Taiwan independence'."


Tang stressed that opposing "Taiwan independence" and containing the secessionist activities of "Taiwan independence" forces conform to the common interests of China, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


"We hope Japan will fully realize the complexity and sensitivity of the current situation across the Taiwan Straits and the serious harm of 'Taiwan independence'," he said.


Tang also expressed the hope that Japan will keep its promise by actions and demonstrate its clear objection to "Taiwanese independence" to maintain the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the region.


Shrine visits hinder ties


China considers Japanese leaders' Yasukuni Shrine visits the crux of the matter, hindering bilateral relations especially when the two Asian countries are at odds over history textbooks and East China Sea issues.


"The Japanese leaders' Yasukuni Shrine visits remain the most prominent issue hindering Sino-Japanese bilateral ties," Tang said.


"It is the crux of the matter that has resulted in a suspension of the exchange of high-level visits between the two countries," Tang said. "We cannot evade the question (of Yasukuni Shrine visits) if we want to improve bilateral relations."


The question should be dealt with properly and as soon as possible, said Tang, and the Japanese leaders themselves should make a political decision conductive to good overall bilateral relations.


The Asian neighbors are currently disagreeing on Japan's official adoption of a new edition of history textbooks, which China says gloss over its wartime atrocities.


"The essence of textbook issue is whether Japan can appropriately recognize and treat its militaristic history of aggression and instill into its young generation with a correct perception of that history," said Tang.


"Japan's stance on the textbook issue is directly related to Japan's future and Japan's image in the hearts of the people of its Asian neighboring countries and the world at large," he said.  


East China Sea issue


Shelving disputes and engaging in joint development are the sole correct choice for China and Japan in addressing the East China Sea issue, Tang said.


He expressed the hope that the two countries could narrow their differences on the issue through dialogue and consultations.


"China and Japan have disputes on boundary demarcations in the East China Sea, and this is an objective reality," Tang said, adding that China always stands for resolving the disputes through negotiation.


The Japanese government Wednesday initiated procedures to grant Japanese firms the right to conduct test drilling for potential gas and oil fields to the east of the so called "demarcation line" in the East China Sea.


Any unilateral action like this would make the situation more complex and acute and even lead to a fundamental change in the nature of the issue, said Tang.


Nevertheless, Tang said he was still convinced that cooperation with mutual benefits could be achieved provided both sides treat and handle the issue proceeding from an overall perspective.


"Challenges can be transformed into opportunities and mutual cooperation will be materialized, so that the East China Sea will be turned truly into a sea of friendship, and a sea of cooperation instead of a sea of conflicts," Tang said.


Japan urged to win political trust on UN Security Council bid 


China urged Japan to win political trust and popular support from its neighboring countries on its bid for a permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council.


"Japan's bid for UN Security Council permanent membership is not merely a question of voting, but a question of political trust and popular support," Tang said.


China understands Japan's aspiration to play a bigger role in the international community, but if Japan wants to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it should first of all do more to win the political trust and recognition from people of its neighboring countries, Tang acknowledged.


On enlargement of the UN Security Council, China perseveres in its position that consensus should be reached through consultations, said Tang, reminding if disputes and even splits are incurred thereafter in the world body, the image of the UN will be impaired and the role of the UN affected.


Acknowledging that the UN reform should be multi-dimensional as the world today is faced with various kinds of threats and challenges, Tang said the reform should not be confined to issues of interest only to a few nations and, in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ample attention should be given to the reasonable concern of the developing countries and therefore this should be focus of the reform.


Japanese reassured of security in China


Tang said that China has taken and will continue to take various measures to protect the security of Japanese diplomatic missions, enterprises and citizens in China in accordance with the law.


China-Japan relations have recently turned tense due to historical and territorial issues. Last week the Chinese public were infuriated by the approval of a controversial new version of history textbook by the Japanese government.


Thousands of Chinese, including college students, took to the streets in Beijing and several cities in south China last weekend to voice their anger over the new textbook.


"The Chinese government has attached great importance to the situation and has kept on urging the public to express their appeals in a calm, sane, law-abiding and orderly manner and to avoid extreme activities," Tang was quoted as saying.


Tang, China's former foreign minister, told Yamanouchi that China had made great efforts in preventing the issue from escalating. "A large number of police personnel have been deployed to secure the safety of Japanese agencies and citizens in China."


He said the Chinese government "didn't approve of" and "didn't want to see" the extreme activities that occurred sporadically during the process of public protests.


However, he pointed out that such incidents had reflected that China-Japan relations were faced with a "grave and complex situation" that deserved "sufficient attention from both sides."


"If we judge things out of context, the problems will only become more complicated, which will not benefit the long-term development of China-Japan relations," said Tang, calling on both sides to "find out the deep-rooted reasons" for such incidents in order to appropriately resolve the issue.


Tang said it was regrettable that some people in Japan alleged the extreme activities were supported by the Chinese government and had resulted from the so-called "anti-Japanese education" by the Chinese government.


"I have to point out here that such allegations are totally groundless and a serious distortion of truth," he said. "It is quite normal for any country in the world to carry out patriotic education on its people, but China's patriotic education is by no means an anti-Japanese education."


"China has never tried to instill such sentiments as repulsion or hatred toward Japan into its general public," said Tang. "We only ask our people not to forget historical lessons so as to avoid the recurrence of historical tragedies, and we have always emphasized that peoples of both countries should look forward into the future and be friends forever."


Tang said China had never viewed the broad masses of the Japanese people as the same as a few militarists who started the war of aggression against China 68 years ago, and had never held the opinion that the people in Japan today should be blamed for their country's history of invasion.


"This point was made clear a long time ago by the first generation of Chinese leaders," said Tang, citing the remarks of the late Premier Zhou Enlai, who said upon the normalization of Sino-Japanese ties in 1972 that both the Chinese and Japanese peoples were victims of the aggressive war launched by the Japanese militarists.


"For many years, China has been educating its people in this way, trying our best to make a correct guidance of the general public," he added.


Tang went on to say that the recent demonstrations by some people in China were actually triggered by the Japanese government's adoption of the new right-wing history textbooks, which "tampered with history and beautified aggression," and were aimed at preventing Japan from becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council.


Comparing Japan with Germany, Tang said that while Germany had promulgated laws to prohibit any reversal of the historical verdicts on Nazi fascism, Japan had allowed the publication of right-wing history textbooks to whitewash its history of invasion.


"In as early as the 1970s, former German Chancellor Willy Brandt got down on his knees before the Holocaust monument in Warsaw to show his country's repentance. But the Japanese prime minister is still visiting the Yasukuni Shrine (where 14 Class-A war criminals of World War II are honored) every year. How sharp the contrast is!" said Tang.


"The Chinese people really cannot understand how a nation that cannot honestly look at its aggressive history and cannot correctly understand the feelings of the people of the countries it victimized could be qualified to bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council," he said.


"This is not only the feeling of the Chinese people, but also a common feeling shared by the people of Japan's other neighboring countries," said Tang.


He said that Japan, which once showed an attitude of remorse and apology toward its aggression past and once expressed understanding of and respect for the feelings of the victims of war, now "tends to overemphasize the factor of internal politics while turning a blind eye to the feelings of its neighbors."


"Nowadays the Japanese government only stresses that the visit to the Yasukuni Shrine by its prime minister is a matter of national and cultural tradition, and that it has no power to intervene in the history textbook issue. It also pays no attention to the sentiments of the people in the neighboring countries, regarding them as so-called external interference," he noted.


"With such foreign policy, how could Japan win trust and support from its neighbors and from the international community?" asked Tang.


Media expected to contribute positively to improving ties


Tang hoped that the media can contribute positively to improving bilateral relations between China and Japan, demanding friendship and sincerity be underscored.


"Both the Chinese and Japanese media should pick up more positive information on bilateral relations so as to guide the national affections and feelings of the people of both nations and create a favorable environment for improving relations," he said.


"We cannot improve and develop Sino-Japanese relations without the media's correct guidance," acknowledged Tang. "There have been indeed many problems in Sino-Japanese relations in recent years, which drew much attention from the media."


Describing the friction and problems between the neighboring countries as unavoidable and normal, Tang urged the media to treat them properly and give more positive signals.


"The media is expected to always give priority to friendly cooperation between the two countries," Tang said.


(Xinhua News Agency April 16, 2005)

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