The China-Japan relationship enjoyed almost 30 years of a "developing period" and a "win-win period" after the normalization of bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries. But that was followed by five years of a "freezing period" and a"lose-lose period". Fortunately, bilateral relations between China and Japan as a whole have increasingly shown signs of improvement in the past two years, thanks to joint efforts by people from all walks of life in both nations.
The then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official visit to China in October 2006, dubbed the "ice-breaking trip", ended a five-year frosty period, during which the two nations exchanged no visits by top government officials. During Abe's visit leaders of the two countries reached a consensus on establishing a strategic relationship of mutual benefit.
In April 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Japan proved to be a huge success. Its highlight was his speech in Japan's legislature, which won warm welcome and praise from opposition as well as ruling coalition members of the Japanese parliament. It showed Japan's political parties, ruling and opposition alike, largely shared the same stand on the issue of improving bilateral ties with China.
Premier Wen said in his speech: "The previous generation of Chinese leaders said more than once that only a small number of militarists at the time were responsible for the war of aggression (1937-1945) against China, when the majority of Japanese people were victimized as well, and the Chinese people wish to be friendly neighbors of the Japanese people. Up to 2,008 children left behind by their Japanese parents when the war ended became orphans. It was the Chinese people, who had barely survived the brutal war, pulled those children out of the grip of death and raised them to adulthood." At this moment the quiet audience burst into a round of heartfelt applause. The scene convinced this writer China and Japan can form and maintain a lasting and stable relationship of peaceful coexistence and forever friendly ties only if they resolve the issue of reckoning the history as it is, adhere to the principle of drawing lessons from past mistakes and making sure never to repeat them in the future, and spare posterities of the moral dilemma whether they should own up to or deny history.
Current Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's China visit last December was also successful. His trip to the birthplace of Confucius, whose teachings have had a deep and lasting influence on both cultures, is the first by a Japanese head of government and bears testimony to the profound humanitarian basis of bilateral relations between China and Japan.
He emphasized that the two nations hold some common values as well as common interests. That has convinced this writer that the Sino-Japanese relationship should not only be focused on seeking common interests but also on recognizing the similarity between the two nations in terms of values, such as the one of "peace being priceless," and of the "harmony between Man and Nature", which both nations treasure as part of the oriental culture.
The two countries have also made progress in defense-related exchanges. Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan paid a friendly visit to Japan in August 2007; the Chinese side for the first time invited representatives of Japan's Self-Defense Forces to attend the "Warrior - 2007" military exercise in China as observers in September that year; the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Symphony Orchestra made its historic debut in Tokyo the following month; and in November the missile destroyer Shenzhen of the PLA Navy became the very first Chinese warship to call at a port in Japan. The two sides also agreed on the first port-calling in China by a Japanese Naval Self-Defense warship.
Security is the issue the Chinese and the Japanese people are most concerned about. It is of special significance for further promotion of China-Japan bilateral ties to strengthen defense exchanges between the two countries and enhance mutual understanding over this issue.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan. It is also the "Year of Friendly Exchanges between Chinese and Japanese Youths". This presents a new opportunity for China-Japan relations. Against this backdrop, we sincerely wish President Hu Jintao's Japan visit a great success and hope it will go a long way in deepening and upgrading the bilateral strategic relationship of mutual benefit.
To deepen and upgrade the strategic relationship of mutual benefit means further advancing Sino-Japanese relations along the track of healthy and steady development. It is therefore necessary to go all out in ridding the bilateral ties of their weak and unstable points.
To deepen and upgrade the Sino-Japanese strategic relationship in the interest of both would require both to handle various sensitive issue in a serious and pragmatic manner. It would require them to produce specific plans for cooperation and think of actions to tide over the enormous impact of the US subprime crisis on the world economy and global financial market. Dealing with worldwide environmental crises and further advancing the economic integration in East Asia would also be major tasks.
Currently, some people with ulterior motives who do not want to see the improvement of China-Japan relations are working overtime to trash the bilateral strategic relationship of mutual benefit, saying this relationship is just an attractive slogan made of nice-sounding words. Leaders of the two governments must rebuff such ramblings with real and determined action.
One way to deepen and upgrade the bilateral strategic relationship is to fully adapt it to the trends in world affairs and make it responsible to the international community. Currently, environmental protection and efforts to save the earth determine whether the human race will survive the doomsday of its own making.
China is the most populous nation in the world with about one-fifth of the world's total population. As the country pushed toward industrialization, it also caused serious pollution and sharp increases in greenhouse gas emission. As a frontrunner in industrialization Japan has gained a wealth of experience, knowledge and technology, particularly in saving energy.
This is where China and Japan should greatly increase cooperation. It pays economically and politically for both countries to work together with one heart and one will.
The author is a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
(China Daily May 5, 2008)