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Policy consistency matters

(China Daily)

10:02, August 31, 2011

China was quick to extend congratulations to Yoshihiko Noda after he won an inter-party election on Monday and became Japan's sixth prime minister in six years. This shows Beijing attaches great importance to its neighbor.

It is no exaggeration to say that Sino-Japanese ties are a constant victim of Japan's "revolving door" leadership. Each time, a new leader comes to power in Tokyo, Beijing has more often than not had to make policy adjustments.

The constant change in leadership has become an obstacle to the healthy and smooth growth of bilateral ties, as mutual political trust between the two countries gets little chance and time to deepen.

Though robust bilateral trade has made China Japan's largest trading partner since 2009, the two major powers in East Asia fail to see eye-to-eye on a number of sensitive issues. Disputes continue to break out from time to time, escalating tensions between them and threatening peace and stability in the region.

The blame for this can be laid on the inconsistency and incoherence of Japan's policy toward China. As head of the Japanese government, Noda has a responsibility to send out a clear signal that he will work to improve Sino-Japanese ties.

He should well understand that reviving the long tradition of Sino-Japanese friendship is the common aspiration of the two peoples and advancing bilateral ties in all fields is in the interests of both countries.

However, given that Noda is well-known for his hawkish remarks on Japan's history of aggression in World War II, many Asian countries, China included, have reasons to worry about Japan's foreign policy toward Asia under Noda's leadership.

Japan's often unrepentant attitude toward war-time events and its right-wing politicians' attempts to whitewash or distort history, remain major stumbling blocks whenever Japan tries to step up cooperation with Asian countries.

If Noda does not clarify his stance toward Japan's history of aggression or refrain from making rightist remarks, there will be little chance of a major breakthrough in foreign relations between Japan and its Asian neighbors.

Tokyo also repeatedly disregards China's core interests and presents a cold shoulder to Beijing's legitimate demand for development, trumpeting a "China threat" as an excuse for its military buildup.

To improve the relationship between the world's second and third largest economies, Noda's Cabinet has to muster political wisdom and seek to mend fences. It needs to acquire a correct attitude toward history and show due respect for China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China has always made it clear that it wants to settle its differences with Japan through candid dialogue.

The ball is in the Japanese court. Beijing will watch closely how Noda acts on bilateral ties.

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