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
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
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
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
His tour can also be regarded as a "turning point" in terms of
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
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
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
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
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
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
The author is a council member of the China Foundation of
(China Daily October 10, 2006)