Good idea for Japan to resume strategic dialogue after seven-year freeze

By Li Ruoyu Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/11 23:49:34 Last Updated: 2019/8/12 21:13:43

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng and his Japanese counterpart Takeo Akiba held a new round of China-Japan strategic dialogue on Saturday in the town of Karuizawa, north of Tokyo, the first such talk in seven years. According to a brief statement issued by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs afterward, the two sides had candid exchanges about bilateral and regional issues and reaffirmed their commitments to strive for building a relationship that would meet the requirement of a new era. 

Le arrived in Tokyo on Thursday ahead of Saturday's dialogue and met a number of Japanese officials. The China-Japan strategic dialogue was held at vice ministerial level. Based on the high-standard reception before the dialogue, it's obvious to see the Japanese side has attached great importance to the talks. Le met Japanese officials including Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and National Security Advisor Shotaro Yachi, foreign policy confidant of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It's believed messages brought by Le have been effectively delivered to Japan's leadership. 

The China-Japan strategic dialogue is a mechanism for communication between ministries of foreign affairs of the two countries. Its significance lies in sharing of information and avoiding strategic misjudgment caused by inadequate information. It became headlines because it symbolized the ups and downs of bilateral relations. 

The last round of the dialogue was held in June 2012. In December of the same year, Abe returned to the government's helm. That is to say, as soon as Abe took power as prime minister, China-Japan strategic dialogue was suspended. 

Diplomatic relations can easily fall into such a vicious circle: Souring relations lead to poor communication, which will cause misjudgment and further deepen differences between states. In a sense, China-Japan relations were locked in such a vicious spiral in the past few years. Because of that, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, an initiative for peaceful development and for the development of all mankind, was misinterpreted as a strategic uncertainty and even a threat. 

Fortunately, thanks to the political wisdom of leaders of both China and Japan, bilateral relations have been gradually thawing in recent years and various consultation and dialogue mechanisms have been resumed or launched accordingly. Amid warming ties, Abe twice sent his special envoy Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. 

The resumed China-Japan strategic dialogue is only one of a series of communication mechanisms between the two countries. Other communication channels include the China-Japan High-Level Economic Dialogue, which was restarted in April 2018 after an eight-year hiatus, China-Japan security dialogue and regular diplomatic consultation and China-Japan high-level political dialogue. 

Each mechanism has its own focus. China-Japan strategic dialogue specifically focuses on exchanging views on the current international situation and clarifying the principles for foreign policy decision-making. In addition to thawing bilateral ties, the changing international situation is also a factor that contributes to the resumption of the China-Japan strategic dialogue after a seven-year hiatus. 

The US under the presidency of Donald Trump has opted for trade protectionism, compelling all other countries around the world to mull over ways to deal with it. Strengthening economic cooperation is the best option to confront trade protection. Given an ongoing trade row between South Korea and Japan, it is unlikely that Japan will tap potential of cooperation with South Korea. Therefore, enhancing strategic mutual trust with China through dialogue has become a reasonable choice for Japan's neighborhood diplomacy.  

China-Japan strategic dialogue may not solve concrete problems, but there is no doubt that it could help deepen mutual understanding. When strategic mutual trust has accumulated to a certain degree, we may find that perceived threats are based on wrong assumptions.  

The author is an associate professor at the School of History and Cultures, Sichuan University.
Newspaper headline: Japan wise to resume strategic dialogue

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