History should be a lesson, not an obstacle

By Tao Wenzhao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-04-19 07:10

The verdict is in: Premier Wen Jiabao's recent Japan trip was a complete success. Leaders of the two countries reached consensus on developing a Sino-Japanese strategic relationship of mutual benefit and identified areas for bilateral cooperation. This constitutes a new start for Sino-Japanese relations.

Wen devoted much of his speech before the Japanese parliament to retracing the history of bilateral relations between China and Japan, with their profound implications.

The history of relations can be roughly divided into three periods some 2,000 years of friendly exchanges, about 50 years of unfortunate events in modern history, and the 60-plus years following World War II.

The relations date back to the Qin (211-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties. Friendly exchanges have been so broad-ranging with such profound impacts that few if any parallels are found in the history of world civilizations.

The War of Resistance against Japanese Aggrestion of 1931-45 through World War II was a period of painful relations as the Japanese militarists subjected China to the ravages of war. We must mark this chapter in our shared history as a mistake never to be repeated.

As the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai said when Sino-Japanese ties were normalized, "Lessons learned from the past can serve as a guide for the future." This history should be used as a lesson rather than an obstacle in developing friendly bilateral relations.

With the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, the main trend of bilateral ties has been cooperation despite various disputes and friction. The 28 years of economic reform in China have seen Japan as one of its major economic and trade partners.

Japan has also provided assistance to China in the form of low-interest yen-denominated loans. Japan has upheld the one-China policy. And the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping described Japan's position, spelled out in the Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration, as the "Japan format". It served as a model for the normalization of Sino-US relations.

When the US-led Western alliance pressured China after the Beijing incident of 1989, Japanese leaders opposed proposed sanctions against China at the G7 meetings in 1989 and 1990. They also opposed attempts to isolate China from the international community.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu was the first state leader from a major foreign country to step on Chinese soil in the 1990s when he visited Beijing in October 1991.

Five areas of the new China-Japanese strategic relationship of mutual benefit were spelled out in the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement signed during Premier Wen's Japan visit last week. Two of the major ones are strategic and economic.

As two major countries in East Asia, China and Japan's bilateral ties are of great significance in maintaining peace and stability in the region. The ties also serve the common interests of both China and Japan.

On the other hand, it goes without saying that the two nations are still suspicious of each other. China is very concerned about the updated Japan-US alliance and the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration, while Japan is worried about China's efforts to modernize its national defense. What is needed is a new security concept.

As we advance into the 21st century. the old no-peace game has become outdated and only win-win relations of mutual benefit will provide stability. Following the path of peace and development is a strategic decision China has made, not some stop-gap measure.

China and Japan need to strengthen communications to increase mutual trust. Significantly, dialogue and exchanges were placed ahead of defense matters in the joint statement signed during Wen's Japan trip.

In economic and trade relations, the two countries inter-dependence is now deep-rooted. Today, the total value of bilateral trade between China and Japan exceeds $200 billion while Japan's investment in China has topped $50 billion and is growing.

Seemingly both China and Japan have refrained from asking the question: Will Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit Yasukuni Shrine during his term in office? Because the freezing of Sino-Japanese ties in the past few years was caused by Abe's predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the war shrine in his official capacity, this issue must not be taken lightly.

In this author's opinion, people who doggedly cling to the position that the war of aggression never happened are just a tiny minority in Japan. But they can be so influential at certain moments that it appears they represent the majority view.

Politicians no doubt have their own beliefs, but votes are always more important than ideals. Whether Abe will visit the war shrine is not for him alone to decide. If efforts by both sides, including reciprocal high-level visits, exchanges between the two governments and peoples and the development of bilateral economic and trade ties, can convince the Japanese public that Sino-Japanese ties are very important, most Japanese voters will not approve of Abe's visit to the war shrine. Then he would be very unlikely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

A related point is that Sino-Japanese ties must be rooted in people's hearts.

Brief as Wen's Japan trip was, he managed to find time to make close contact with ordinary people. The chief goal of such contacts was to show the Japanese that the Chinese premier was visiting Japan with truly friendly intentions toward the Japanese people.

The leaders' joint statement also emphasizes exchanges to enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.

One high-level visit cannot resolve all issues between China and Japan, but Sino-Japanese relations will have a bright future if both sides nurture their bilateral ties.

The author is a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

(China Daily 04/19/2007 page10)

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