Japanese Premier, Yasuo Fukuda, will visit China with the hope of boosting ties between the two economic giants of Asia from 27-30 December 2007, which was preceded by the many efforts undertaken by the two governments to lessen any negativity in the relationship since August 2007. One clear indication was the absence of apology seeking and critical remarks during the celebration of the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre recently.
Just two years ago in 2005, the relations were downed to its lowest level with political rhetoric ringing from both nations arising from past historical grievances, as the then hawkish Japanese Premier choose to visit a Shinto Shrine which was embroiled in the centre of controversy where 14 Class-1 war criminals were enshrined. China broke off all unnecessary political meetings with the Japanese Prime Minister and made him persona non grata. Japan’s open political discourse and pressures from the rightist camp in the Liberal Democratic Party prompted Fukuda’s predecessor, Mr.Abe, during his visits to India and Australia to call for an “arc of freedom” of democratic societies to try to contain China’s military growth and expansion.
Japan, a nation, which had surrendered to the US and its Allies, in 1945, is still very dependent on the US for its present economic well being and military protection. Hence, it is of no surprise that Japan stance on international issues was drawn along similar lines with the US’s foreign policy of engagement with China, possibly out of ideological differences and the integration of human rights into its core foreign diplomatic directions.
Mr. Fukuda is a pragmatic senior politician who clearly understands that though Japan’s future is tied to its relations with the US, maintaining a healthy and strong relationship with China is the key to stability in Greater Asia and beyond. The unproductive stand-off with China for the past 5 years had not only brought about criticisms from the Japanese business communities but also put on hold the bigger economic cooperation and integration needed for the prosperity of the whole of Asia. China is now Japan’s biggest export market and even though Japan promoted a diversification of its investments elsewhere over the last few years, China still remain the obvious number one choice of the many Japanese entrepreneurs due to China’s huge potential to eclipse the US as the largest consumer market. In addition, the many advantages are its competitive labor costs, the prevalent of skilled engineers and also, the many cultural similarities that exist between the two established societies with some Japanese workers’ liking it to another “home” away from home, unlike countries like India, Indonesia or even Vietnam.
Amid the warming of ties between the two countries, there are outstanding issues and differences which need to be resolved or accepted before the relationship can be moved to a stable footing. The East China Sea territorial rights, reportedly rich in oil and gas, are a major source of disagreement of which the many foreign minister-level dialogues between them have failed to find an amicable solution. Will there be a middle-path solution that is acceptable to both parties?
In the area of non governmental development, it was reported by a Chinese Daily that Japanese citizens visiting China in the first 10 months of this year increased by 7.9 percent, compared to the same period last year, while Chinese citizens visiting Japan surged by 14.8 percent. Joint research on historical facts affecting both countries is proceeding smoothly and there is also indication that the peoples’ perceptions of each other have improved to a certain extent. Therefore, it is important to continue to promote various people to people exchanges to raise the level of understanding and acceptance especially among youths of both countries, which is the key to enhancing bilateral relationship on a longer term basis.
Recently, China sent its destroyer, Shenzhen, to make a port call in Tokyo and is now awaiting a reciprocal port of call from the Japanese Navy. The success of these reciprocal visits of the Military of both countries is critical to ensure that the level of mistrust is reduced and to heighten cooperation, in times of emergency and terrorist attacks.
Certain influential parties within the Japanese ruling administration have not fully atoned to the sufferings and hardships the country afflicted on other countries during World War II. Some of them even attempt to change its own historical text to suit its own uncompromising stand. Mr. Fukuda will need to correctly push forward his more neutral stance in his own party in order to ensure that initiatives to promote diplomatic, military and non-governmental exchanges with countries like China is not hijacked ever so easily, simply by another visit to a controversial shrine by its leader.
China's growing international influence especially in Asia has prompted the Japanese to accelerate the pace of its bilateral and free trade agreements with neighboring countries. Jealously guarding its dwindling number one status in Asia, Japan artificially created a diplomatic shield jointly with the US to forge a strong bond with countries that shared the same human values. Such a concept will not work and it is impractical in a free society where everyone has the right to pick its own friends.
Japan's academicians have been in extensive discussions about "China's rise" in recent years and they find themselves shifting slowly from denial to acceptance. In a “win-win” situation both countries can stood to gain a lot if they work together to manage and accept each other growth strategies from a complementary perspective. We hope the intelligent people from both sides can sit down and draw future oriented plans for the continued prosperity of the two countries.
Next year, China and Japan will mark the 30th anniversary of their Peace and Friendship Treaty and Chinese President Hu Jintao will make an important visit to Japan. It will be the first by China's Head of State in 10 years. Hopefully, all these reciprocal visits between state leaders will help to steer Sino-Japanese relations toward strategic reconciliation and cooperation that will bring more benefits particular to the people of Asia.