April 21, 2014
EDITORIAL: Don’t miss the window of opportunity opening for Japan-China thaw
There have been some tentative signs of a thaw in the frosty relationship between Japan and China.
Japan and China are at loggerheads over a slew of thorny issues both in the past and at present. That’s exactly why it is so important for the two countries to repair their ties so that they can have a normal diplomatic dialogue.
Some notable exchanges have taken place recently between the two countries.
It has been revealed that Hu Deping, a Chinese pro-Japan advocate with close ties to President Xi Jinping, secretly met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo earlier this month.
Yohei Kono, the former Lower House speaker, met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang on April 15 in Beijing. During the meeting, Wang criticized Abe but nevertheless said, “We hope the Japanese business community will make efforts to overcome the difficulties (in the bilateral relationship) and contribute to improving the relationship.”
In addition, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe will visit Beijing from April 24 to 26. It is the first time in as many as 18 years that the chief of the Tokyo metropolitan government has been formally invited to visit Beijing, which has a friendship city agreement with the Japanese capital. China’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement welcoming Masuzoe’s visit.
The two countries, which are such close neighbors, should not remain estranged as they are now. If both sides are seeking to figure out a way to mend ties, that’s good news.
Some efforts were also made to improve the situation last year.
Even after China made a provocative move to suddenly establish an air defense identification zone in areas over the East China Sea including the disputed Senkaku Islands, diplomats from Tokyo and Beijing continued their exchanges to turn around bilateral ties.
But Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine the following month caused bilateral exchanges to come to a halt.
The Xi administration, which has been ratcheting up criticism of Japan over history-related issues, is unwilling to make an overt move to seek reconciliation with Tokyo unless Abe makes a concession.
Beijing has probably decided to limit its efforts to patch up the ties to economic and private-sector exchanges while taking a wait-and-see approach toward Abe.
But issues concerning views about history are not the only obstacles to improvement of the bilateral relations.
For many years, China has been dangerously expanding its military capacity in its efforts to enhance its influence in surrounding areas. China’s aggressive military buildup and increasingly assertive behavior have created tension in neighboring areas including Japan.
Dialogue between the defense officials of both countries is necessary for preventing unnecessary clashes.
The establishment of a system to ensure safety in actions in the sky and the sea taken by the two countries in states of alert would help improve the security environment in the region.
On the economic front, Japan and China have a strong complementary relationship. China still needs Japanese technologies, while Japan needs China’s market and labor.
Tokyo and Beijing should start talks to enhance their bilateral economic relations including efforts to accelerate the negotiations for a three-way free trade agreement among Japan, China and South Korea.
Concerns about China’s rapidly growing military power are widely shared by Pacific Rim countries.
But many countries in the region, including the United States, have been maintaining relations with China based on active bilateral talks on various issues instead of cutting off dialogue between the leaders.
Japan and China once agreed to promote mutually beneficial strategic relations between them. That means both sides should try to find a way to promote coexistence and co-prosperity even if there are serious disputes and disagreements.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 20