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Optimism ahead of Japanese election
By Peng Kuang and Zhang Xin and Reuters (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-28 07:51

An expected landslide victory for Japan's main opposition party in the parliamentary elections this weekend augurs well for China as the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is no longer burdened with a historical issue that time and again has disrupted Sino-Japanese relations, Chinese experts said Thursday.

Optimism ahead of Japanese election
Japan's main opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama punches his fist in the air during a stop yesterday in Osaka, Japan. The party may win two-thirds of the seats in parliament's lower house in Sunday's election, according to a newspaper. [Agencies]

A new poll shows that the DPJ will likely win 320 of the 480 seats in the powerful lower house being contested in Sunday's elections, according to Japan's Asahi newspaper.

An opposition victory would end more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule by Prime Minister Taro Aso's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama has said he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and added he "is willing to develop healthier and more positive relations with China", said Gao Hong, an expert on Japan studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The promise he made will definitely help enhance mutual trust," he said, adding that the DPJ will take a very "intelligent and forward-looking" approach.

China and other Asian countries see the shrine, which honors convicted war criminals from World War II, as a symbol of Japan's militarism.

Bilateral ties reached their nadir under Junichiro Koizumi, who repeatedly visited the shrine as prime minister from 2001 to 2006.

Koizumi's successors in the ruling party have avoided visiting Yasukuni.

Huo Jiangang, a scholar at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the DPJ will handle this historical issue much better than the LDP.

If the DPJ is in power, the Yasukuni Shrine "will no longer remain a major issue between China and Japan," Huo said.

Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japan at China Foreign Affairs University, said that the DPJ has made it a policy to build a new state-run memorial institution in place of the Yasukuni Shrine.

Optimism ahead of Japanese election

"Compared with the LDP, the Democrats are more concerned about improved relations with China," he said.

Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japan at Tsinghua University, said he believed problems and conflicts in China-Japan relations won't disappear, even if the DPJ comes to power.

"There are certainly different voices within the (Democratic) Party, and initially that could create some uncertainty. But overall they want better relations, and so do we," he said.

Among the issues that could undermine bilateral ties are China's Diaoyu Islands, the US-Japan security alliance and possible intervention in China's internal affairs such as human rights, Xinjiang and Tibet.

Zhou said there is no policy difference between the DPJ and the LDP on the Diaoyu Islands (also claimed by Japan), an issue "that concerns China's sovereignty and national interest".

So it will be extremely hard for China and Japan to find a solution to the issue, Gao said.

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But, as the world's second- and third-biggest economies, both countries are keen on avoiding distractions from their economic priorities, and both are going to focus on shoring up economic growth in the wake of the global slump.

With the US appetite for Japanese and Chinese exports unlikely to return to past levels even if the US economy begins reviving, neither China nor Japan wants to risk destabilizing relations, said Sun Cheng, an expert on Japanese politics at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

"Broader economic trends will shape the development of China-Japan relations," he said.

The DPJ's pledge to work more closely with Japan's neighbors may even open the way for closer cooperation with Beijing on the Korean nuclear issue, said Huang Dahui, a professor of Japanese politics at Renmin University of China.