China and Japan are "at the crossroads," facing a historic challenge over what direction their relationship will take, Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan has said.
Although the relationship has encountered difficulties in the past few years, the Chinese government has not changed its policy toward Japan, he said.
Tang made the remarks while meeting with Toyohiko Yamanouchi, President of Japan's Kyodo News Agency on Tuesday.
"I would like to candidly and responsibly tell Japan that the Chinese government pursues a friendly policy toward Japan, and has always attached great importance to developing a friendly and cooperative relationship with Japan," he said.
"Both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, while meeting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last year, said they hoped China and Japan could coexist peacefully, maintain friendship for generation after generation, cooperate for their mutual benefit and seek common development," he said.
"Based on these guiding principles, China hopes Japan can maintain prosperity and growth, and understands its wish to further play an important and active role in international communities," he said.
He recalled that Wen Jiabao, at a press conference held on March 14, right after the conclusion of the Third Annual Session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), put forward "three principles" and "three proposals" for improving and developing the China-Japan relations.
"There is quite a big gap between the reality and prospect of the China-Japan relations," Tang said. "The situation is complicated and severe and is still going on," he said.
"The two major issues with which China and Japan are confronted -- history and Taiwan -- are concerned with the political basis between China and Japan. They are still gravely interfering in the sound and steady development of the bilateral ties," he said.
In addition, disputes of territory, ocean rights and interests are standing out, and national sentiment is declining, he said.
"All these issues bring obstructions and restrictions to the deepening of bilateral cooperation, and have the possibility of deteriorating the China-Japan relations," he said.
He said, though, that the relationship has opportunities of amelioration in addition to historic challenge, as 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of China's victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
The Chinese government has the resolution and sincerity to improve and develop the relations with Japan, but that also demands goodwill and sincerity from the Japanese government, he said. "We need interaction of both sides."
He said China and Japan are close neighbors, and history has proven that in their relationship, "cooperation will benefit each other, while conflict will wound both."
"We hope Japanese people of insight can profoundly realized the difficulties for achieving the current progress in China-Japan relations," he said. "The two sides should always stick to the major direction of friendly ties, and truly treat each other as partners of cooperation, but not rivals.
"The two sides should properly handle the issues that exist between the two countries, and constantly deepen cooperation, expand common interests, and work jointly to promote peace and development in the region and the world at large," he said.