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China's rise an opportunity, not threat, for Japan

By Cui Shoufeng | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-14 07:41

Editor's Note: This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations. Three scholars share their views on the current state of Beijing-Tokyo ties with China Daily's Cui Shoufeng. Excerpts follow:

Contradictory Abe policy to blame for cold relations

For Beijing and Tokyo, the 45th anniversary of the normalization of their ties is an occasion worth celebrating, so long as Tokyo refrains from doing something similar to what it did on the eve of the 40th anniversary. As China was preparing a string of major celebrations in 2012, then Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda tacitly gave the green light to the audacious proposal to "purchase" and "nationalize" China's Diaoyu Islands.

Since then bilateral ties have deteriorated, because Japan's ambitious agenda seems aimed at harming China's strategic interests. There is hope, though, that the two sides will put their relations back on the right track. China remains Japan's largest trade partner with Japan being the second-largest trade partner of China.

Amid diplomatic and security tensions, trade exchanges at such a scale will keep acting as a stabilizing factor for China-Japan ties. People-to-people exchanges, too, remain relatively high thanks to China's surging demand for Japanese environmental protection facilities and many Chinese holidaymakers' preference for Japan as an overseas destination.

To some extent, this suggests notable potentials are yet to be tapped to cash in on the economic complementarity of the two neighbors.

Although known for its belligerent China policy, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration has been explicit about his pursuit of a meeting with President Xi Jinping and improved China-Japan ties. The contradiction between Abe's wish for better bilateral ties and his China-containing maneuvers is exactly what is wrong with his policies.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University

Tokyo's Indo-Pacific strategy is a problem

China-Japan ties have considerably ebbed since Tokyo "nationalized" China's Diaoyu Islands. The Shinzo Abe administration has not only approved the visits by some of its top officials to Yasukuni Shrine, which, among others, honors 14 Class-A World War II criminals, but also inched very close to getting Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense through constitutional revisions.

On the diplomatic front, Japan has worked hard to expand its overseas presence, so as to compete with and contain China. And its contradictory China policy makes it impossible for Beijing, which also favors better bilateral ties, to respond to the "friendly gestures" of Abe to improve Beijing-Tokyo relations.

The Abe administration's rightist stance and reluctance to face up to Japan's notorious wartime past are to blame for the cold political exchanges. Bilateral relations could improve if Abe sees China's rise as an opportunity for rather than a threat to Japan.

That Japan remains a popular overseas destination for Chinese tourists shows that despite the persisting political tensions, the citizens of the two countries are not ready to let bilateral ties to deteriorate further. And we hope such exchanges will eventually show the Japanese public how absurd some Japanese right-wing forces' competition-oriented theories are.

Constant trade competitions are a fact accepted by all countries. But China is set to promote a different approach to global trade through its Belt and Road Initiative and President Xi Jinping's vision of building a community of shared destiny, which have made early gains in Africa and Asia. In contrast, Japan's Indo-Pacific strategy is essentially for its own benefit with hostile implications for China's major-country diplomacy. Which is not good news for China-Japan relations.

Pang Zhongpeng, an associate researcher at the Japan Studies Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Reconciliation doesn't seem to be within reach

Japan's China policy may take an unexpected twist as its economic growth is yet to pick up and its population is aging. The rise of right-wing forces under Abe's watch also means historic issues, especially the Japanese leadership's refusal to atone for its war crimes, will continue to impede the development of China-Japan ties.

However, Japan remains a major player in the world arena. As for China-Japan relations, the old "pattern" of moderate ups and downs risks being broken, as tensions have kept escalating over the past five years. Moreover, opinion polls show the number of Japanese citizens that have a good impression of China has been declining over the years.

As such, the stable flow of Chinese tourists to Japan does not necessarily mean reconciliation is within reach. Rather, it has more to do with Chinese citizens' shopping preference given the reputation of Japanese products and the extra customs duty they have to pay for the same products in China, as well as the cultural proximity of the two nations.

Yu Qiang, a researcher of Japan studies at University of International Relations in Beijing

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