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Premier Li Keqiang meets Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
THIS year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
As neighbors, China and Japan are geographically separated by a relatively narrow stretch of ocean. Since the Tang Dynasty (618-907), China has strongly influenced Japan with its language, writing system, architecture, culture, religion and law. In the past century, bilateral relations have been strained and marred from time to time by Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its war crimes and atrocities committed in China from 1931 to 1945, the attempt to annex China’s Diaoyu Islands and adjacent islets, its abolishment of a post-war pacifist constitution — which enables the country to send troops overseas — and joint military exercises with the United States near Chinese waters.
While meeting with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Jan. 29 this year, Premier Li Keqiang said the two countries agreed to take the anniversary as an opportunity to enhance exchanges at all levels and in fields such as culture, media, youth, trade, and maritime and air contact systems.
In recent years, China and Japan have already initiated some bilateral talks to help manage potential crises in the East China Sea and avoid possible misjudgments. Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe vowed to realize reciprocal visits between the leaders of the two countries as soon as possible. As for the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China, Abe recently also said that his government would cooperate with the Chinese side and “properly respond to” individual programs related to the initiative.
All the above-mentioned factors are positive signals for Sino-Japanese relations. Frankly speaking, the healthy and stable development of ties would surely align with the interests of both peoples and will promote regional peace and stability in Asia and even the world as a whole. However, if some sensitive historical and territorial issues between the two countries cannot be properly settled, these disputes will lead to political distrust and pose a great threat to bilateral relations.
Firstly, Japan should face its wartime history squarely. History is by no means an empty basket that accepts whatever the future throws into it, but something lived by those whose lives preceded us. Chinese are respecting our history and thus respecting ourselves and the future. Chinese people suffered the most in the 14-year war against Japanese aggression. The Nanjing Massacre, countless comfort women from China and some other undeniable historical truths are still being denied by Japan. If the Japanese Government cannot face the reality and reflect on its militarist past, mutual dislike, hatred and hostility between the two nations will enlarge.
Secondly, Japanese leaders’ visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on multiple occasions every year also mar diplomatic relations with China. The shrine honors 14 Class-A convicted war criminals from World War II and has long been regarded as a symbol of the past Japanese militarism. Visits to the infamous shrine by Japanese leaders have sparked strong criticism from China, South Korea and other Asian nations.
Thirdly, Japanese attempts to annex the Diaoyu Islands and affiliated islets in the East China Sea have further worsened bilateral relations. The Diaoyu Islands have a long history as part of China’s territory. In April 2012, the Japanese Government ignored strong protests and solemn warnings from the Chinese Government and conducted “nationalization” of the islands, seriously infringing upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Relations between the two countries have since turned from bad to worse.
Finally, as for Japan’s active response and positive attitude towards the Belt and Road Initiative, no formal proposal for joining the initiative nor signals of any further action have materialized from within the Japanese administration at present. So it is still too early to say whether Japan will really join the initiative, or just leave some remarks to ease tension with China.
(The author is editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)