With Japanese new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to China, the year of 2006 witnessed a new starting point for the development of China-Japan relations.
Abe paid an official visit to China from Oct. 8 to 9, based on a consensus reached between China and Japan on overcoming the political obstacle to the bilateral relationship and promoting the sound development of bilateral friendly and cooperative relationship.
Experts described Abe's visit as the thaw of the deadlocked
China-Japan political relationship and thought it opened the window of hope for improving relations between the two neighbors.
During his first foreign trip since assuming the premiership and also the first visit to China by a Japanese prime minister in the past five years, Abe met with Chinese leaders Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo separately.
The two sides agreed to build mutually beneficial bilateral relations and to realize the lofty goals of peaceful co-existence, friendship from generation to generation, reciprocal cooperation and common development.
The two countries' leaders also reached consensus on enhancing the exchange of high-level visits and dialogues, paving the way for China and Japan to expand their exchanges and deepen their cooperation in various fields.
After Abe's China tour, President Hu and Abe met again during the 14th Economic Leaders' Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum last month in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam.
China and Japan now are preparing for meetings between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Abe in Philippines when they attend a series of meetings held in Cebu City from Dec. 11 to 14.
"The two countries have already broken the five-year-long political stalemate and brought bilateral ties to the normal track of development," Chinese state councilor Tang Jiaxuan said earlier this month, noting that China and Japan are standing at a "new starting point" of bilateral ties.
Sino-Japanese relations were soured by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead, including 14 class-A war criminals in WWII, are honored.
The leaders of the two countries had not met since Koizumi began visits to the war shrine in 2001.
Now with Abe's visit to China and the other high level exchanges, the political stalemate between China and Japan has been broken.
Gao Hong, a research fellow of Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the meetings between Chinese and Japanese leaders indicates that bilateral relations have enjoyed sound momentum of development.
"The resumption of China-Japan high level exchanges helped remove the political obstacles existing in Koizumi's regime, and was conducive to promoting bilateral cooperation in various fields," Gao said.
The improvement of political environment will provide powerful support to economic exchanges and cooperation between China and Japan, experts said.
When China and Japan established relations in 1972, their bilateral trade was only 1.1 billion U.S. dollars, but last year the figure had climbed to 184.4 billion dollars. Statistics showed that this year's bilateral trade volume is expected to reach 200 billion dollars.
Abe also attached importance to the economic cooperation between the two nations. He told Xinhua in an exclusive interview that the two economies were closely related.
"Japan gained great interests through investment in and exports to China, and China received 10 million more jobs through investment from Japan. China imports semi-manufactured goods from Japan and then exports them to other countries after processing," Abe said.
"It is necessary to forcefully push both the political and the economic wheels forward to promote Sino-Japanese relations," he said.
He also expressed the hope that bilateral cooperation on environment, energy, finance, IT and intellectual property rights could be further boosted.
Experts believe that with the warming of bilateral political relations and with the importance attached by leaders from both nations, economic cooperation will progress even further in the future.
Meanwhile, experts are still "prudently optimistic" about the prospects of China-Japan relations. Xu Dunxin, who was Chinese ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1998, said Abe's visit and the improvement of the political situation could not resolve all the problems in bilateral ties as they are complicated and protracted.
Since taking office, Abe has on various occasions made positive gestures on outstanding and sensitive historical issues. He admitted that Japan's colonial rule and aggression in the Second World War inflicted great pain and suffering on many countries, particularly Japan's Asian neighbors. He also said that Japan accepted and would not dispute the verdicts delivered by the Fareastern International Military Court of Justice.
According to a joint press communique issued by China and Japan on Oct. 8, scholars from the two countries will start joint research on the history of the two countries this year.
Abe told China that Japan would continue to deal with the Taiwan issue in accordance with the Sino-Japanese Joint Communique and this position would not change. He added that Japan is committed to the one-China policy and did not support "Taiwan independence."
Experts called for both sides to take practical action to implement their leaders' consensus on developing bilateral relations.
Xu Dunxin said as long as the two sides "take history as a mirror and look into the future," abide by the principles of the three political documents, and meet words with actions, China-Japan relations will develop deeply and widely.