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Sino-Japanese ties have ‘opportunity’

Zhang Yunbi
Updated: Dec 4,2014 4:40 PM     China Daily

A former high-ranking Chinese official has suggested that relations between China and Japan could markedly improve as both countries prepare to commemorate next year’s 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Tang Jiaxuan, former state councilor and now president of the China-Japan Friendship Association, said on Dec 3 that “the Asian neighbors are paying a great deal of attention to how the Japanese government and leaders will handle next year and what kind of messages will be delivered”.

Tang made his remarks on Wednesday at a meeting of the 21st Century Committee, an advisory panel on Sino-Japanese relations. The two-day meeting began on Wednesday in Beijing. Tang and Tokyo Stock Exchange President Taizo Nishimuro-the two top members of the committee-are co-chairing the event.

Issues concerning Japan’s wartime history and territorial tensions have dogged relations between the two largest Asian economies, although a sign of improvement was seen last month when both governments agreed on an unprecedented four-point principled consensus that addresses contentious topics.

Policy insiders and analysts are still debating whether Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will again visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine if he maintains power after the upcoming lower house election. The shrine pays homage to convicted Class A war criminals of World War II.

If Japan rises to the challenge, 2015 “will definitely be a year of opportunity”, Tang said.

“The 70th anniversary grants Japan a crucial chance to have another look and rethink history, to unload burdens by facing up to them, to show remorse and achieve a real reconciliation with Asian neighbors,” Tang added.

Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he believes that Japan will “behave in a more restrained way” because domestic voters want improved relations with China.

But Yang is not optimistic about the revisionist impulses of the Japanese Cabinet, saying, “The lingering noises hampering the ties will not be terminated.”

China and Russia agreed earlier this year on their own plans to commemorate the major anniversary. Some leading Japanese media outlets have interpreted this as part of concerted efforts by Beijing and Moscow to show Tokyo in a bad light.

However, “the peoples of China and Japan are standing on the same front” when it comes to ensuring historical justice and world peace, Tang said.

Nishimuro, the Tokyo Stock Exchange president, said on Dec 3 that the relationship between China and Japan “tops all the two-way relations of Tokyo”, and a major turnaround of ties requires a lot of teamwork and wisdom.

Despite their differences, the two countries have maintained an annual bilateral trade above $300 billion dollars in the past years, and more than 5 million people in the two countries combined visit the other annually for business or pleasure.

Along with Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo are also pressing ahead with formulating a trilateral free-trade agreement.

Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the thorny issues between China and Japan are deep-seated and “will take quite a long time to deal with”.

Given the remarkable influence of the relationship on the region and world, both Beijing and Tokyo are expected to “take a mid- and long-term vision” and “outline their future”, said Nishimuro.

“Mutual distrust” is another catchphrase that worries observers from both sides, with public sentiment in both countries worsening toward the other in recent years partly because of Tokyo’s hostile policies against China.

Wang Xu contributed to this story.