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Japan can improve ties with China only if it is honest

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida began a three-day official visit to China yesterday at the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Given the bleakness of bilateral ties in recent years, his visit will be closely watched as it is the first

While delivering a speech on Sino-Japanese relations on Monday, Kishida mentioned his first visit to Beijing since Shinzo Abe took office as Japanese prime minister in December 2012. He said, “the only choice” for the two countries is to try to contribute to the world through friendship and cooperation, and urged both sides to expand cooperation and improve understanding and trust between their peoples.
Kishida’s proposal is not new, though, because similar attempts have been made in the past to improve relations between the two neighbors. But that Beijing-Tokyo ties still worsened has a lot to do with some inescapable yet game-changing disputes over, for example, the territorial status of the Diaoyu Islands, how Japan sees its militarist past, and its increasingly clear military ambitions.
On the one hand, these unsolved problems have dealt a major blow to the political trust between the two countries. On the other hand, the rigidness of the two countries’ stances could lead bilateral relationship further astray.
That the two governments think and act differently when it comes to defending their national interests is primarily responsible for the vicious diplomatic circle that continues. Basically, Tokyo refuses to compromise. Instead, Japan’s senior officials keep requesting to meet their foreign counterparts to reiterate Tokyo’s claim (and improve their approval ratings in the country), in the hope that the latter offer a compromise and save them from doing so.
Although open to bilateral meetings, China believes that both sides should take a step back before the negotiation falls into a game of pointing fingers. Finding it difficult to understand Japan’s refusal to compromise, the Chinese government has been questioning whether Tokyo is sincere in pushing for diplomatic dialogues and will fight back when it seeks to infringe on Beijing’s legal interests.
To put an end to the finger-pointing circle, Japan, first of all, must stop encroaching upon China’s strategic interests like it did before and during World War II, because China is willing to and well capable of safeguarding its sovereignty.
On its part, Beijing should neither shut the door to leadership meetings with Tokyo nor turn a blind eye to the significance of high-level communications, outcomes aside. When negotiating with an uncompromising state like Japan, it should not expect easy gains. Otherwise it may end up being forced to compromise due to the lack of patience.
That requires Chinese decision-makers to look squarely at the need to hold diplomatic talks with Japan. Regular high-level exchanges can be a small leap for both countries, too, as long as they are candid and honest.
The author is a professor on Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University.

Published : April 29, 2016

By : Zhou Yongsheng China Daily A