China-Japan relations have seen several signs of positive change recently. Besides the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping
and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Bandung Conference in April, a delegation of 3,000 Japanese visitors, led by Toshihiro Nikai, head of the General Council of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, were received by Xi on May 23 in Beijing.
Despite this, the bilateral relationship remains complicated. The announcement by Japan that it plans to invest $100 billion in Asian infrastructure was widely interpreted as a tussle for influence in the region with the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Moreover, Abe sent his wife to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, which displays his stubborn stance over the issue of history.
The China-Japan relationship is one of the most difficult bilateral relationships for Beijing to tackle. Given the fact that Japan is a powerful neighbor, contention between the two countries is bound to affect China's national interests. Limited by various contradictory elements, it's hard to make a breakthrough. But neither side should allow relations to keep nosediving. Although sentiment toward each other has reached a low point, both Chinese and Japanese societies are clearly aware of the significance of the other side.
China is rising rapidly. Japan cannot afford to have long-term strategic confrontation with China. For China, the more tense Sino-Japanese bilateral relations are, the more active Japan is to cement its alliance with the US. Japan's moves between China and the US will influence geopolitical competition in the Asia-Pacific region, and China's strategic initiative in front of the US.
The Japan issue is a hard nut to crack. Even if Beijing and Tokyo have the willingness to mend fences, rapprochement won't be an easy thing. Currently, Chinese and Japanese public opinion emotionally provokes each other. Japan committed atrocities in China during WWII. The "damage" Japanese suffered was mainly from the US. However, Japanese public opinion appears to be more hostile to China. Nonetheless, there is room for change. The 3,000-person delegation seemingly demonstrates that there is foundation to distinguish Japanese peace-loving people from the right-wing forces and treat them differently.
Both Beijing and Tokyo have the strong willingness to avoid military conflicts. Unfortunately, as populism plays a relatively influential role in both societies, hawkish voices are not rare on either side. However, since both hold the other side as important, they shouldn't conceal the intention to seek a breakthrough. China as a big power should feel no shame to display its goodwill toward Japan. Doing so can only display our strength and confidence while winning more respect from the outside.