Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sino-Japan relations is at the threshold, to either remains stagnant or becomes warmer

By China Watcher

On Tuesday afternoon, Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived for a five-day visit to Japan, the first in nearly a decade, with the earnest hope to solidify relations between the two economic powers from Asia.

Outstanding disputes

Rare high level visits between heads of government of two countries in 10 years speak volume of the fragile, rocky and the topsy-turvy nature of the bilateral relationship. Ties became frosty when the then Japanese Premier, Junichiro Koizumi took over in 2001 and stubbornly ignored neighboring countries objections to his annual pilgrimage to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which many Chinese believes glorifies Japan’s militaristic pasts, until his departure from the Japanese government in 2006.

Areas of discontentment are the unresolved contaminated Chinese-made dumplings, the diplomatic clashes over disputed territory with likely gas fields in the East China Sea and the thorny historical legacy.

Regional Rivalry

Looking deeper into the above issues, the actual foundation of such disputes lies in the historical rivalry between the two countries. Japan has always regarded itself as the champion of Asia and it is proud and prideful that it was never invaded by any Chinese dynasties from the Middle Kingdom; the closest period was during the Mongol era when Chinese vessels were sunk by the so-called Japanese warriors in the 11th century. The rivalry can be translated into the present-day Japanese right wing groups and the nationalists who openly scorned at the rise of China and would do anything to deter or offset this particular eventuality, more so because China is a communist state though I would call it a one-party state. The majority of the Japanese has found this difficult to truthfully accommodate, and as long as this situation continues, the anti-China feelings and resentments will always be present.

On the other side, there is a huge majority of patriotic Chinese residents who felt that the Japanese had not repented adequately for its past military atrocities during the Second World War that have caused untold sufferings to the Chinese people. I believe that apology is one thing but the sincere actions that followed the words said were much more important and meaningful. The unresolved comfort women issue, the effects of the biological experiments in North-East China and the revision to Japanese historical textbooks to justify the Japanese Imperial Army actions during the War clearly contradict the sincere apology, which were totally unacceptable to the Chinese public. With all this outstanding historical issues, the Japanese government is really foolish to expect China’s support of its bid for a United Nations Security Council seat a few years ago. Anti-Japanese feelings are still very strong among the Chinese – about 60% of the Chinese residents generally have a dislike for Japanese from a survey conducted a year ago.

Over the past 20 years, the Chinese has become more confident and has shed the “sick man” of Asia tag, given by the Japanese during the War. The country has made inroads in its economy and demonstrated commendable achievements in sports, literary works, science and technology, cultures, political influence and education. The progress gap is slowly but surely closing in on the Japanese. Chinese population is growing (even with the one-child policy) whereas Japanese numbers are dwindling. Not a really encouraging outlook and every Japanese realizes that eventually they will be ranked much lower in terms of development in Asia – after China and India or even Indonesia in the years to come. The fear is further compounded because China is still not a democratic society. The resurgent Japanese nationalism with an aggressive foreign and defensive policy also does not help to bring the two countries closer together. The inert threat felt by the Japanese is very real and obvious if you are able to sample numerous comments from the mainly Japanese participants in forums and bulletins on those topics related to China in Japan.

Mending fences

So it’s hardly surprising that both sides are keen to mend fences. Trade between the two countries hit a high of US$253 billion, last year. China has overtaken the US as Japan’s most important trading partner. China wants Japanese technology and investment to help develop its economy further, while Japan wants to sell more of its products to the Chinese, particularly as demand in other important markets like the United States started to slow.

Tokyo said it hopes to repair what it calls fragile sentiments in both countries and Beijing hopes to promote people to people relations with emphasis on youth exchange programs. China also wishes to enhance what it calls current common interests and avoid contentious issues like the territorial disputes, which may need more time to resolve.

The Tibetan issue, of which the Japanese public has taken an interest since last month riots in the autonomous region, would likely not feature prominently in talks between the two nations.

Improve mutual trust and communication

The willingness of the two leaders to hold a summit is testimony to the fact that a strong Sino-Japan relation is in the mutual interest of both countries and also for world’s peace. This particular trip may bring about increase mutual trust and political communication between the senior leaders in each other government and, possibly lay the framework for platforms and avenues to resolve conflicts in the near future.

On the table, there will be an accord on the expansion of environment and energy conservation aid to China. As part of this agreement, China will agree to consider ways to help halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Both countries will also commit to actively participate in U.N.-led talks that would produce a new international agreement on climate change. In addition, China will also stress the importance of a sector-based approach to reducing emissions in the country.

Japan also hopes that it could discuss security and cooperation issues with China during the Summit.


According to a latest statistical survey, urban Chinese residents in bigger cities are willing to discard historical feuds for a forward looking Sino-Japan ties but the positive development unfortunately did not transcend to the many Japanese nationalists whose main agenda is to prevent China from taking its rightful place in Asia and the world. China should be cautious of these group of anti-Chinese activists, and its numbers are increasing.

Playing ping pong, offering a personal Olympic invitation’s to the Emperor and sending another panda to Japan are nice reciprocating gestures but the fact remains that the two governments must be able to view the relations from a bigger perspective, to seriously accept and address each other needs and willingness to make sacrifices, to chart a bright future for the many generations of Chinese and Japanese who have no choice but to live and work together in a globally competitive environment, more so if it they lived so close together separated by just a narrow sea.

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