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China-Japan Relations Face Challenge

Due to controversial shrine visits, history textbook distortion and unilateral oil field exploration, Japan has experienced chilly relations with China this year.

The relationship of the two countries in 2005 has reached the lowest level since bilateral ties were normalized in 1972.

The string of actions taken by Japanese prime minister and his government have severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and aggravated China-Japan relations, Chinese scholars said.

"China-Japan relationship deteriorated rather than improved over the year, and the deterioration trend will move on," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor with China's prestigious Qinghua University.

In fact, Sino-Japanese high-level contacts have been postponed or canceled. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura's October China trip was called off by the Chinese side, saying it was "inconvenient" for China to receive the guest given the "current gloomy situation." The scheduled meeting of leaders from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in early December was also postponed for the lack of "sound atmosphere and foundation."

Such cold political ties have caused a negative impact on the two Asian powers' trade cooperation. Japan, which used to be China's largest trade partner for 11 years, has been replaced by the European Union. The proportion of China-Japan trade in China's overall foreign trade decreased from 17.5 percent in 2000 to 14.5 percent in 2004.

"Some large economic cooperation projects between the two sides failed to be carried out due to cold political ties," said Yao Wenli, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Reciprocal cooperation is restricted and the further development of bilateral trade is harmed."

It is believed that Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro's repeated pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including a dozen major World War II criminals, is the main reason for the deterioration of China-Japan ties.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly stated the country's protest against Japanese leaders' visits to the shrine. During the meeting with Koizumi in April this year, Chinese President Hu Jintao made a five-point proposal on improving bilateral ties and reiterated China's stand on the historical issue.

"Despite China's request, Koizumi insisted on his visit to the shrine, which not only resulted in suspended high-level contacts but also brought new difficulties to the meeting between the two countries' leaders on multilateral occasions," Liu Jiangyong said.

Liu said Koizumi's wrongdoing has demolished the political foundation of China-Japan relations, run counter to the three Sino-Japanese political documents, and diverted bilateral ties away from the healthy development track.

Besides the Yasukuni Shrine, the Japanese government has also hurt Chinese people's feeling by making Taiwan a common strategic target with the United States, and approving history textbooks that distort historical facts and gloss over Japanese aggression.

Last month, Japan's newly-appointed Foreign Minister Taro Aso launched an outright attack on the protests by China and the ROK against the Yasukuni Shrine issue, saying the only countries in the world fussy about the shrine are China and the ROK. His remarks fueled up people's resent in China and the ROK.

It is generally believed that the Japanese side is blamed for causing the current stalemate of bilateral ties. Japanese leaders should accept the criticism from China and other countries with an open mind and put practice into real action, so as to bring China-Japan relationship back to a normal track at an early date.

The Yasukuni Shrine issue is a "dead knot" that hinders China-Japan friendship, said Chinese ambassador to Japan Wang Yi. "Only when this issue is resolved can the political obstacle between the two countries be removed."

(Xinhua News Agency December 20, 2005)


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