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China-Japan ties vital to regional peace
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10:30, September 12, 2007

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The joint announcement of "building a strategic relationship of mutual benefit" by Chinese and Japanese leaders last September is a summary of both positive and negative experiences since the two nations normalized bilateral ties. It is also an important milestone in the new period of bilateral relations with realistic and solid objectives. It has not come easily.

With economic globalization, China-Japan relations have to a certain extent reached a state of "interdependency" in many areas, though still far from the "do or die together" stage. Their common interests are expanding and mutual reliance deepening. To some degree they can be seen as "inseparable". One can find evidence in the following numbers.

Bilateral trade exceeded $20 billion in 2006; from 2001 to 2004, Japan's export to China increased by 142 percent; in those four years, Japan's investment in China grew by 9 percent. All this has not only benefited China but helped Japan's economic recovery as well. Besides, Japanese companies have profited a lot from its favorable balance of trade with China.

In politics, the two countries reached consensus on removing barriers between them after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office. Abe's first visit to China as Japanese prime minister turned out to be an "ice- breaking trip" as the two sides would strive to build a "strategic mutually beneficial relationship".

Premier Wen Jiabao's "ice-thawing visit" to Japan marked the start of interaction between senior government leaders and called on the Japanese public directly for harmonious coexistence and joint development.

All these moves are in tune with the spirit of the times - peace, development and cooperation. They are also an answer to both peoples' wishes.

Moreover, they will definitely play a positive role in advancing peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and particularly in Northeast Asia.

However, we must keep in mind we have a long way to go with many difficulties ahead. We must achieve the following in order to build up a bilateral "strategic relationship of mutual benefit" and work toward "harmonious coexistence" and joint development and prosperity.

First, we must resolutely eliminate the "Cold-War mentality". China and Japan enjoyed almost 20 years of close and friendly ties after the normalization of bilateral relations. How could these ties have fallen into more than 10 years of political wilderness? The root cause is no other than the Cold-War mentality.

Japan's neo-rightwing, like the neo-conservatives in the United States, believe their top enemy (or "main strategic rival") today is China after the collapse of their former arch enemy the Soviet Union. China belongs to "another type" of country with a different set of values from theirs; China's development will challenge and impact their international and strategic interests, which is why they have to gang up and work together, as well as on their own, to "contain" China.

They pretend they cannot see China's peaceful development (both in policy and practice), but insist on drawing the line of "ideology" and "social system" between themselves and China.

Second, we must abandon the unrealistic idea of "occupy and rule exclusively".

Japan's economic development used to be "the one to follow" in Asia. In a sense and to a certain extent it also played a positive role in China's economic development. Today China is developing fast, which is a good sign for the prosperity of Asia.

Theoretically, Japan should be happy about this, but regrettably the Japanese rightwing has been going all out to spread the view that "there is no room for both" as if China and Japan are destined to fight each other and only one can survive.

This is very unhealthy, harmful and unrealistic. How can any country stop China's development? An American expert said it well, "if you convince yourself that China is an enemy now, you will eventually make it an enemy". What he said was meant for the US government's ear, but this honest advice is also appropriate for the Japanese, too. I have always believed that China and Japan should truthfully see each other as "strategic partners in cooperation" or at least "partners in long-term cooperation" so as to prevent the rise of hostility toward each other and become real friends; the two nations "should be fine horses" that can gallop side by side toward prosperity rather than "tigers".

China is not interested in vying for "leadership power" with Japan. The so-called leadership power cannot be claimed by one country or seized by force. It grows naturally. It not only depends on comprehensive national strength but how well a country's policies are in tune with the times.

The Japanese rightwing really has no need to spend so much energy in imagining and spreading such ridiculous notions. They would be much better off working harder on world peace and development than they have so far. I expressed the same opinion at an international symposium held in Okinawa a few years ago and at a gathering of Chinese and Japanese diplomacy scholars as well. And I won applause and encouragement from many Japanese friends on both occasions.

I hope the Japanese media, experts and scholars join us in contributing as much as we can to Sino-Japanese friendship.

The third is the Taiwan issue. Japan's rightwing often warns that if China reunites with Taiwan it will take control of Japan's "life line", therefore Japan must join the US and make the Taiwan Straits their "common strategic focus".

The Japanese side must be clear about the following: First of all, Taiwan is China's territory, not Japan's. Second, what would Taiwan, which is Chinese territory, mean to China if Japan's claim that the island, which is not its territory, is its "life line"? The answer is all too obvious; third, the Taiwan issue touches on China's core interests, and no other country should even think about challenging it.

Both the US and Japan should have a clear mind on this issue, but Japan, for historical reasons, must keep itself out of any controversy in this regard. After all, if China and Japan remain on good terms with each other, what the Japanese rightwing calls a "life line" will be a non-issue unless, of course, Japan thinks this "life line" is more important than a friendly China.

The fourth concerns the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945) and "anti-Japan sentiment". Quite a few people in Japan, including some of our friends, have something against memorial sites of the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and movies on that theme made in China. (The official Chinese full name of the war has sometimes been shortened, and as such, been interpreted as "anti-Japanese war").

The Japanese rightwing has played a particularly despicable role in fanning this misguided sentiment.

This is in fact a colossal misunderstanding. The "anti-Japanese war" we sometimes hear people talk about refers to the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression or fighting the Japanese aggressors at a given historic period with the aim of "remembering past mistakes, and a lesson never to repeat again". It is totally different from what "anti-Japan" means.

China has always separated the majority of the Japanese people from those few militarists who launched the war of aggression on China and does not see Japan's rightwing today as the same kind of criminals. Teuneo Watanabe, chairman and editor in chief of Yomiuri Shimbum, recalled recently that he once asked the late Chinese senior leader Deng Xiaoping if the Japanese people were guilty (of the war of aggression). Deng replied unmistakably the Japanese government and a small number of militaristic imperialists of that time were guilty and the Japanese people were not.

Watanabe said he became a member of the "pro-China" camp from then on. In fact, this is part of China's national policy. The Chinese government has always been frank, and acts accordingly. The Japanese side thinks and does exactly the opposite.

Admittedly, there exists in both countries some kind of a nationalistic sentiment, which is rather harmful.

We should take a firm and objective view on this issue. First, the causes (of nationalistic sentiments in the two countries) are different; and, second, the two countries' policies are different. The Chinese government is always against nationalism and has always done its best to guide it toward correctness. There are plenty of facts to prove it. The Japanese rightwing, however, has always resorted to encouraging and even using nationalism.

Some rightwing media entities in Japan often deliberately misrepresent facts and distort truths to mislead the Japanese public. By doing so they are in fact creating and fanning anti-China sentiment.

My conclusion: A nation incapable of tolerance is not free; a nation that refuses to view correctly and own up to its past is one that others cannot trust. Two nations can only coexist harmoniously if they tolerate and respect each other and never repeat past mistakes. It is neither sensible nor reasonable for any country to expect tolerance and forgiveness from a nation it once victimized by a war of aggression but refuse to admit the historical facts of its crime.

The fifth issue concerns Prime Minister Abe's "betting big and small" on China.

When someone bets both, there are bound to be variables, major and minor, heavy and light. With this in mind, China is looking at Prime Minister Abe's betting big and small in a positive light. As far as our Japan-diplomacy is concerned, we continuously seek new consensus between the two countries and to resolve our differences patiently. China's philosophy of a "harmonious world" does not preclude differences, contradictions and certain conflicts of interest between one country and another but deals appropriately with them without hesitation or prejudice. Only by doing so can we achieve mutual understanding and a balance of interests, which will pave the way for "cooperation and a win-win situation" as well as "harmonious coexistence".

We hope Prime Minister Abe's cabinet "bets very big" on advancing "strategic mutually beneficial cooperation" between the two countries. The more "bets" placed on this endeavor, naturally, the less "bets" would be placed on negative developments. This would a great thing for both China and Japan as well as for Asia and Northeast Asia in particular. Do not let any such opportunity pass, because it will not come back.

Source: China Daily; By Wang Yusheng, the author is a Beijing-based researcher on international relations.

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