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Firebreak Will Not Improve Ties

By Liu Junhong

In the wake of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's fifth visit on October 17 to the Yasukuni Shrine, where memorial tablets of some World War II war criminals are housed, the Sino-Japanese political climate has again plummeted to icy depths.

Against this backdrop, some Japanese experts have suggested that a firebreak be built between the two countries in the hope that China will treat the "cold political ties" and "hot economic relations" between the two sides separately. This is obviously an attempt to prevent problems left over by history from affecting economic matters.

This is only their wishful thinking. Moreover, what kind of materials are supposed to be used to build this wall? In what way will it be erected? Can it really be fireproof?

The United States, which has traditionally kept silent about Sino-Japanese feuds, uncharacteristically broke rank to urge that historical matters be kept separate from economics and that Chinese and Japanese experts discuss the situation with guidance from Washington.

This sounds like separating bad loans from bank accounts and subjecting bad loans to oversight by asset management firms.

It is a US version of the firebreak.

Differentiation may work, but the question remains: Can historical trauma, which, whenever conjured up, still hurts Chinese feelings, really be neutralized?

Even if it could be detached, isolated and put away, new "bad loans" are bound to keep cropping up because the question is merely shelved, not settled.

Could it prevent the Chinese from giving vent to their feelings?

Furthermore, what kind of firebreak would stop Koizumi from visiting the shrine again?

The firebreak as was designed by the Japanese Government is meant to make China develop bilateral economic ties despite the politics of the Japanese Government. What a smug calculation. But will it be accepted by the Chinese people?

It is obvious that only historical awareness based on respect for historical truth constitutes a prerequisite for the settlement of the "bad assets" between China and Japan.

From the point of view of reality, better Sino-Japanese political ties are of great significance to Japan. The platform of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan's 2005 election trumpeted the principle of basing the economy on monetary services. The vast Chinese market is naturally indispensable to this grand strategy. A warm political climate between the two countries is, in turn, called for.

China is set to open its monetary market by 2006, as is required by its World Trade Organization membership commitment. European and American banks have rushed to get a foothold in the Chinese banking market by becoming shareholders of Chinese commercial banks.

This kind of large-scale deal naturally needs the support of government policies, including politics-orientated policies.

This also offers a golden opportunity for Japanese banks, which are licking their wounds sustained when economic bubbles burst.

It is high time Japan gave up the mentality of leaving things to chance, invested some political capital and worked on the market principle of mutual benefits so that it can get a share of the cake.

It should not count on the visionary firebreak and live with the fantasy based on that of gaining benefits in both the economic and political arenas.

(China Daily November 7, 2005)


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