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Abe Visit a Nod to Wider Perspective
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By Huang Qing

Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited China between October 8 and 9, having talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, National People's Congress Standing Committee Chairman Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao.

This was the first formal meeting between top Chinese and Japanese leaders in five years. It also marked a precedent, with a new Japanese prime minister choosing China as the destination of his first overseas visit.

Direct exchanges between top Chinese and Japanese authorities had been cut off and political relations between the two countries plummeted to a freezing point, which was attributed to former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's obstinately going his own way in paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class A war criminals among Japan's war dead. This naturally stung the feelings of the Chinese who fell victim to Japanese aggression in history.

The deteriorating bilateral relations have aroused great concerns among people across a wide spectrum of Japanese society. In view of Japan and China's already heavy economic interdependence, people in Japan's economic circles strongly demand that the Japanese leaders take measures to improve bilateral ties.

In addition, Japanese public opinion is opposed to Koizumi's repeated visits to the war shrine, which turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the ruffled feathers of Japan's neighbors who were preyed upon by Japanese militarists. This body of opinion has become the mainstream in Japan at present.

Having become the new prime minister against this backdrop, Abe now puts the improvement of relations with China and the Republic of Korea at the top of his diplomatic agenda. With regard to history, he reiterated former Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama's attitude of "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" towards the victimized nations.

All this has helped create a favorable climate for the resumption of exchanges and communications between top Chinese and Japanese authorities.

The Japanese media calls Abe's China visit an "ice-breaking journey." Indeed, China-Japan ties entered a freezing period in the last five years. Short of war and conflicts, things could not be worse. So in this sense, Abe's China visit lives up to the media's claims.

His tour can also be regarded as a "turning point" in terms of Chinese-Japanese relations.

But in what margin can Sino-Japanese ties "turn up?" This depends on whether the new Japanese leadership has enough sincerity and benign bilateral interaction can be brought into play, and the unfolding of the international situations.

Yasukuni and history are still the two most sensitive points that could trigger tensions in bilateral relations. On the matters of history, Abe's reiteration of Murayama's "deep remorse" is conducive to consolidating the political foundations of the China-Japan ties. On the Yasukuni question, Abe, however, remains ambiguous, refraining from either committing to paying tribute at the war shrine or disavowing the shrine visit.

During his two-day China visit, Abe made clear that he will handle the questions left over by history according to the common understanding that the two countries should overcome the political barriers that are negatively affecting bilateral ties, for the sake of the healthy and steady development of Sino-Japanese relations.

It is unrealistic to expect that Abe shares an identical historical outlook with the Chinese. However, there should be a basis for consensus with regard to history. This is a must. And Abe has actually made a positive response to this requirement of Japan's Asian neighbors and the international community, which helps create a favorable climate necessary for the warming-up of the Sino-Japanese ties.

The two sides have decided to launch historical studies in which both Chinese and Japanese academics will be involved. Promoting common understanding by verifying historical facts may turn out to be a good attempt at untying the "historical fast knot."

In the China-Japan joint communique, the Chinese side emphasizes that China's development is peaceful and the Japanese side stresses that Japan will stick to the peaceful-nation road.

The statement is directed at dissolving the misgivings harbored by each side and, therefore, will facilitate the introduction of a favorable atmosphere for the improvement of bilateral relations.

The Taiwan question is the most sensitive and important one in China's foreign policy. Abe, during his China tour, stated again that Japan will stick to the "one-China policy" and will not go in for "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan." He also made it clear that Japan will not support "Taiwan independence" and is opposed to unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Straits. Abe's policy reaffirmation is expected to play a crisis-prevention role.

The disputes over the division of the exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea constitute another crisis-triggering factor between China and Japan. In the joint communique issued during Abe's China visit, the two sides emphasized that the two parties will adhere to dialogue and negotiations in settling the disputes. This approach of turning a conflict into a negotiating situation benefits both sides. Conflicts, clashes and war are much too expensive for the parties involved in this era of accelerated economic globalization, because all would emerge losers from such conflicts.

On the issue of North Korea's nuclear bid, both China and Japan confirm that they are committed to promoting the six-party talks and to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Both parties vow to maintain peace and stability in the Northeast Asian region.

The two sides have decided to promote mutual trust in the security area through China-Japan security dialogue and military exchanges. This is a new dimension in Chinese-Japanese relations.

In recent years, a body of opinion in Japan has expressed worries about China's fast development, which reflects the fact that some Japanese are hard to adapt to the reality of China's quick-pace progress. As a result, these people need to readjust themselves psychologically and look at China's development with peace of mind, realizing that China has the needs as well as the right to develop.

The late chairman Mao Zedong and premier Zhou Enlai time and again pointed out that friendly exchanges are the mainstream in the history of China-Japan relations over the last millennium, and this should be known to both peoples.

In all, China and Japan shared many common interests and the need for co-operation, despite having many disputes. The principle of seeking advantage and avoiding disadvantage should be applied in decision-making.

The author is a council member of the China Foundation of International Studies.

(China Daily October 10, 2006)

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