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Japan Must Reciprocate Goodwill

Two recent events signal a possible entente between China and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi performed well in the September 11 landmark Lower House poll, which he had called in order to overturn the political defeat he suffered in August when his postal reform bills were voted down by dissident members of his Liberal Democrat Party in the Upper House.

Koizumi was visibly surprised by the decisive mandate he obtained from the Japanese electorate, as he openly admitted after the official results were announced. In fact, something could be stirring in Japanese society as it shakes itself out of the current state of political immobilization and economic paralysis, which have important implications for Tokyo's foreign policy.

Two weeks into the new parliamentary session, with a confident Koizumi at the helm and a bolstered coalition to govern Japan, the impact of this victory on regional economics and security is beginning to emerge.

In an equally significant development in Beijing, before Koizumi's electoral victory, Chinese President Hu Jintao made a goodwill speech during China's ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. He pointed out that ties between China and Japan have mostly been friendly, and that "it was only a small group of Japanese militarists who planned and launched the war."

Hu stated that "by emphasizing the need to always remember the past, we do not mean to continue the hatred," but "instead, we want to draw lessons from history and be forward-looking."

This point was reiterated recently by Premier Wen Jiabao when he spoke to a Japanese business delegation visiting Beijing.

This pragmatic gesture should be appreciated in Tokyo, especially as Hu again expressed Beijing's goodwill to develop sound relations with Japan, with history guiding the future of ties.

Although these statements were a repetition of the five points Hu had previously made to Koizumi in Jakarta on the margins of the 50th anniversary Bandung celebrations, Hu nevertheless effectively confirmed Beijing's sincere overture towards the Japanese people.

China's diplomatic gesture towards Japan of "not continuing the hatred" is politically and diplomatically significant. It symbolized China's pragmatic diplomacy.

It is ardently hoped that Koizumi and other Japanese leaders will reciprocate Beijing's goodwill and work with Chinese leaders to build sound Sino-Japanese relations, based on mutual benefits, as was referred to by Koizumi in his maiden speech to parliament on September 26, when he emphasized his government's policy of building "future-oriented friendly ties with China and South Korea."

Although some political observers had feared that Sino-Japanese, and Korean-Japanese, relations may become "clouded" by Koizumi's overwhelming victory, the current boost in Japan's self-confidence and subsequent rise in nationalism, there is hope that the opposite may be true. Koizumi's confidence could in fact spur him to undertake a major and daring revision to Tokyo's foreign policy with regard to Beijing and Seoul.

Given that Koizumi has himself pledged not to carry on his premiership beyond autumn 2006, he could now effectively use his last year in office to effectuate a bold rapprochement with China and South Korea, thus sealing his own legacy in Japanese politics.

The Japanese public is indeed yearning for some kind of warming of relations with its neighbors, and Koizumi could use his overwhelming victory to put to rest the so-called ghosts of history, and once and for all secure the necessary entente with both Beijing and Seoul - as German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did in 1963 with France - thus stabilizing the whole Asia-Pacific region.

Koizumi would need to extend concrete gestures of friendship to Beijing, adopt a more reconciliatory posture - instead of openly labeling Beijing "a threat," as was the case in a recent defence plan leaked to the Asahi Shimbun.

It is also in the inherent interests of Washington to strongly encourage such a move by Koizumi, so as to improve relations in Northeast Asia. Tokyo and Washington will need Beijing's assistance and leadership to guide the six-party talks on Korean Peninsula nuclear issues towards a successful outcome, after an initial breakthrough in Beijing on September 19.

A reinvigorated and pragmatic foreign policy stance from Tokyo will be hugely beneficial in the coming year, as Koizumi attempts to normalize relations with Pyongyang.

(China Daily October 13, 2005)


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