Faced with deteriorating relations with major Asian countries,
Japanese new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid "ice-breaking" visits
to China and South Korea in October after assuming premiership,
signaling a significant shift in Japan's foreign policy toward
It's undoubtedly a wise decision for Abe to commit himself to
breaking Japan's diplomacy deadlock with China and South Korea left
by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. It not only serves Japan's
national interests, but also bears a significant impact on
Koizumi, in defiance of strong protests from both at home and
abroad, stubbornly made visits for six consecutive years to the
Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with
some 2 million Japanese war dead. The repeated shrine visits have
seriously undermined the political basis of the Sino-Japanese ties
and dragged Japan's political relations with China and South Korea
to a chilling point.
Furthermore, Koizumi preferred to forge special alliance with
the United States over the ties with its Asian neighbors, saying
the more intimate the ties with the United States are, the more
easily Japan could build friendly ties with China and South
Koizumi's unpopular foreign policy led to the suspension of
summit meetings with China and South Korea and put Japan's Asian
diplomacy in an awkward position.
Opinion polls showed most Japanese voiced their opposition to
Koizumi's visits to the war shrine, calling on the new prime
minister to make efforts to mend ties with Japan's Asian
Makoto Iokibe, president of the National Defense Academy of
Japan, said in an article that Koizumi's shrine visits not only led
to the worsening of Japan's foreign relations, but also damaged
Japan's state "credit," the precious "foreign policy assets."
During their visits to Tokyo in May, UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan and Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew also blamed
Koizumi's shrine visits, saying the visits had led to the
escalating tension in the region.
Assuming premiership in such a grave diplomatic situation, Abe
realized that it's urgent to mend ties with Asian neighbors.
At a press conference shortly after his inauguration, the new
premier made it clear that Japan, as an Asian country, attached
great importance to its Asian diplomacy and was willing to further
strengthen relations with neighbors such as China, South Korea and
Describing China as an important country for Japan, Abe stated
that China's peaceful development is conducive to Asia and he would
make efforts to further develop the bilateral relations.
In his following speeches on the parliamentary hearings, Abe
pointed out it was vital to reopen summit meetings with China and
South Korea and to conduct candid dialogue. He also pledged to
promote all-round exchanges and cooperation in all fields with
China and South Korea, in order to build up future-oriented
relations with the two countries on the basis of mutual
understanding and trust.
In a manner of wisdom, the new premier took a positive attitude
toward historical issues. He acknowledged that Japan's invasion and
colonization during World War II inflicted bitter sufferings and
heavy damages on the peoples of many countries, especially Asian
countries, and reaffirmed Japan's acceptance of the ruling of the
Far East Military Tribunal.
In the second week after assuming power, Abe made an official
visit to China, making himself the first postwar Japanese prime
minister who chose China for the maiden diplomatic tour.
Chinese President Hu Jintao described Abe's visit as "a turning
point in the China-Japan relations" and hoped it would also serve
as a new starting point for better relations.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also appreciated the visit, saying
that a "window of hope" had been opened.
In a joint communique issued during Abe's trip to China, the two
governments agreed to continue to abide by the principles of the
Sino-Japanese Joint Statement, the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace
and Friendship and the Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration. The two
sides also agreed to squarely face history and be oriented to the
According to the communique, the two countries would properly
deal with problems affecting the development of bilateral ties and
promote bilateral relations through expanding both political and
Both sides agreed to make efforts to build a mutually beneficial
relationship based on common strategic interests and to realize the
goals of peaceful coexistence, long-lasting friendship, mutually
beneficial cooperation and common development, the communique
Abe's China tour earned him credit at home. Akihiro Ota,
president of Japan's junior ruling coalition party the New Komeito,
spoke highly of Abe's visit to China, expressing the hope that two
countries will further strengthen the mutual understanding.
Mizuho Fukushima, secretary general of the Social Democratic
Party, said she hoped Abe's visit to China could become a turning
point in bilateral ties.
Abe's gesture was ardently welcomed by the Japanese economic
sector, which hope for sound political relations with China --
Japan's largest trade partner, so that Japanese firms can operate
under more favorable circumstances.
Kakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of the Japan Association of
Corporate Executive, hoped that the summits between the two
countries would be arranged on a regular basis and bilateral
economic relationship be further boosted.
Abe's visit to China reinvigorated the development of the
Sino-Japanese relationship. To sustain the hard-won amicable
atmosphere requires continued efforts from both sides.
Xu Dunxin, who was Chinese ambassador to Japan from 1993 to
1998, was "prudently optimistic" about the prospects of China-Japan
relations. He said Abe's visit cannot resolve all the problems in
bilateral ties as they are complicated and protracted.
But Abe's visit will open a channel for top leaders of the two
countries to communicate and exchange views, and lay groundwork for
further discussions, Xu said.
In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, Abe reiterated his
judgement that the Japan-China bilateral ties are of great
significance, and preserving and strengthening of friendship
between the two countries are vital to peace and development of the
region and the world at large.
More potential of the relations is yet to be exploited, Abe
said, adding that China's development means opportunities for Japan
and he is willing to make efforts to further promote the bilateral
(Xinhua News Agency December 15, 2006)