45 years on, Sino-Japanese ties eye a bright future

By Da Zhigang Source:Globaltimes.cn Published: 2017/9/30 9:38:42

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

This year marks the 45th anniversary of normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. Forty-five years ago, then Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka began his first visit to China when the two countries signed the Japan-China Joint Communiqué on September 29. Around the anniversary, one needs to give a thought to ways of developing ties between the neighbors. 

Since the older generation of politicians of China and Japan made a historic choice to normalize diplomatic relations, the two major East Asian powers have opened a new chapter to maintain the symbiotic relationship that prevailed over more than 40 years. Ties have entered a period in first half of which people-to-people exchanges followed the government initiative to improve ties under the theme of friendship and cooperation. Nonetheless, in the latter half, cooperation and competition co-existed, but conflicts cannot be avoided.

Though there are rivalries or even confrontations in the process, on the whole, the two countries saw cooperation in politics, economy, culture and tourism, a benign development period of the two countries reflecting complementarities and mutual benefits. Sino-Japanese trade value increased to $329.5 billion, a historic peak in 2013. The number of Chinese tourists to Japan stood at $6.37 million in 2016. 

In addition to bilateral cooperation, cooperation between China and Japan within multilateral frameworks in the Asia-Pacific region, such as the ASEAN "10 Plus 3" mechanism, China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement negotiations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, chronicles a more positive trend.

Looking back at the history of Sino-Japanese relations over the past 45 years, there is another backdrop behind the friendly ties. The US-Japan alliance system has been increasingly strengthened. Seeking to become a "normal country" and a military power, Japan cannot get rid of the mentality of a zero-sum game. Both the Japanese government and the public hold a deep mistrust or even a containment mind-set toward China. 

Since Meiji Restoration, Japan's social elites have been advocating a "division positioning" between the two neighbors - "industrial Japan and agricultural China; oceanic Japan and continental China." But In 2010, China outpaced Japan to become the world's second largest economy, a status Japan has kept for 42 years. 

Since then, conflicts centering on history and territorial disputes became apparent and intense. Japan tried to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, adopted an ambiguous attitude regarding Taiwan's status, lifted the ban on the right to collective self-defense and initiated discussion on the amendment of the pacifist constitution, the moves of which have all targeted China. Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated after experiencing a honeymoon period in the 1980s, a period of conflict in the 1990s and a frictional period in the early 21st century.

Objectively, since the strategic orientation and national interests of the two countries are different, we should not expect a quick end to the complexities of Sino-Japanese relations. Many of the contradictions will not easily disappear. Instead, some games may even become normal. 

But it is expected that Japan can grasp opportunities to improve bilateral ties. In fact, Japan indeed has made positive changes. For example, Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led a delegation to participate in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in May this year. Though the Abe government holds a hostile attitude toward China since he took office in 2012, he tweaked the attitude toward China due to changes in Japan's domestic and international environment. 

There is too much "history of today" related to Sino-Japanese relations in September. Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War falls on September 3. It's been five years since Japan tried to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands on September 11, 2012. 

September has seen crests and troughs in Sino-Japanese ties. Experience, if not forgotten, is a guide to the future. At this important juncture of history, the two countries should come together to improve relations. In particular, Japan should not let go of this opportunity. 

The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: After more than four decades, Sino-Japanese ties eye a bright future

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