In late December, as China's Ambassador to Japan Wang Yi spoke with China News Weekly at his home in the quiet residential area of Moto-Azabu in Tokyo, the tranquility was broken by the loudspeakers of right-wing demonstrators across the street.
There is no denying that the new ambassador was confronted with complex circumstances when he received his appointment last September. Besides Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's controversial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Wang's agenda has included such thorny issues as the dispute over the exploitation of gas fields in the East China Sea, Japan's claim that a Chinese submarine entered its waters on November 10, Japan's threat to end its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to China and former Taiwan leader Lee Teng-hui's visit.
But Wang believes that diplomacy does not stop with major events. It extends to all levels of society, and an important part of his job is to help build bridges between peoples.
On November 5, he invited over 300 nearby residents to visit the Chinese embassy.
"It was a real surprise for me to learn that all the invited neighbors, all with different occupations, have links with China one way or another," Wang said. He said that they had business or personal contacts with China, and that a number of them including a 70-year-old man were studying the language. "This indicates that since the two countries established diplomatic relations over 30 years ago, their friendship has been deeply rooted among the people."
On November 17, he invited some 190 Chinese students from Yokohama Yamate Chinese School to visit the embassy.
Wang noted that historically, unofficial diplomacy has played an important role in developing bilateral relations. Whenever the two countries have been at loggerheads, nongovernmental contacts have helped get their governments through the crisis.
"China has changed a lot. Not only diplomats but also people visiting Japan should take the responsibility to help Japanese people know more about China. For instance, there are over 70,000 Chinese students studying in Japan, accounting for 70 percent of the total foreign students in the country. Having dealings with Japanese every day, they can play a positive role in promoting people-to-people exchanges, which in turn will improve the two states' diplomatic ties."
In December, the Japanese cabinet issued a poll showing that just 38 percent of the Japanese people feel close to China. Wang said many Japanese still harbor misunderstandings about Chinese culture.
After World War II, over 1,000 Japanese war criminals were detained in northeast China. With a view toward furthering future bilateral relations, the Chinese government granted them amnesty and repatriated them to Japan. "This case demonstrates the Chinese people's magnanimity," Wang said.
The economic doldrums Japan has suffered for the past several years also have an impact. It is difficult for many Japanese to accept neighboring China's rapid growth, and some regard the country as a potential threat. Wang pointed out that the current situation reflects a relationship in transition, which requires both sides to handle existing problems in an objective and calm way.
In fact, China's development is crucial to the economic recovery of Japan. Last year, bilateral trade topped US$160 billion. China is the world's largest market, and its steadily growing demand has given impetus to Japan's exports and helped revitalize its fading industries, like steel and shipbuilding.
But politically, the two countries are becoming increasingly disconnected, and this phenomenon will harm economic ties if it is allowed to continue. Whether done out of neighborliness or simply for Japan's own interests, political barriers between the two must be eliminated soon, Wang said.
(China.org.cn by Shao Da, January 24, 2005)