It's time China and Japan started to get along

Posted in China , Japan | 14-Aug-05 | Author: Jing-dong Yuan| Source: International Herald Tribune

Chinese war veterans share a light moment in an event to mark the 60th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War Two at Eighth Route Army Taihang Museum in Wuxiang county, north China's Shanxi province, August 15, 2005.
MONTEREY, California On Monday, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, many Asian nations will recall their struggle against the Japanese invasions. Time is supposed to have healed these wounds, but Asia's two great powers, China and Japan, still live in a state of cold peace.

The immediate postwar era set China and Japan on a course of hostility, as they found themselves on opposite sides of the Cold War. The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty was concluded without the participation of the People's Republic of China, and Tokyo's recognition of Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader of Taiwan, froze relations between China and Japan.

The resumption of diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Beijing in September 1972 marked the beginning of two decades of what Chinese and Japanese analysts call the golden age of the bilateral relationship. Economic, social and cultural contacts quickly expanded. Nurtured by the older generation of leaders, China and Japan also strengthened their political alignment against the perceived Soviet threats.

Since the mid-1990s, however, the bilateral relationship has come under increasing strain. History, territorial disputes, growing assertiveness and geopolitics seem destined to set Asia's two great powers on a collision course.

China is particularly incensed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 war criminals are buried, and by school textbooks that whitewash Japan's responsibilities in the Pacific War. Tokyo, on the other hand, is tired of making apologies and seeks to leave behind memories of Japanese militarism by presenting itself as a pacific and responsible member of the international community.

Bilateral territorial disputes have intensified in recent years: Beijing and Tokyo both lay claim to exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea and accuse each other of illicit incursions as they compete for energy resources.

China and Japan are also both becoming increasingly assertive: China because of its dynamic economic growth, its increasing political influence and its continuing military modernization; Japan prompted by its desires to be seen as a "normal" country and to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Mutual suspicions are as strong as they are palpable. Beijing eyes warily the Japanese Self-Defense Force's expanding role; Tokyo is no longer coy of publicly stating its concerns about Chinese military modernization programs.

Finally, China is concerned by the U.S.-Japanese security alliance and its impact on the regional geopolitical landscape.

An Asian version of the postwar French-German rapprochement would go a long way toward ensuring peace and prosperity and avoiding an adversarial relationship that would threaten the region's stability.

First, China and Japan must learn to live with each other. Each has to adapt to the other's rise, choosing accommodation rather than confrontation.

Second, Beijing and Tokyo should develop mechanisms for regular high-level exchanges on issues of bilateral concern. It is unfortunate that since October 2001, there have been no summit meetings between the two governments. This only results in situations where public opinion is allowed to dictate the terms of diplomatic dialogue.

In addition, lack of dialogue also allows worse-case scenario assessments to influence policy formulation, further heightening mutual suspicions and leading to acrimony over such issues such as the U.S.-Japan alliance, Taiwan and Chinese military modernization.

Third, the news media should make greater efforts in promoting mutual exchanges and understanding instead of stoking nationalism and fanning hatred.

Fourth, there needs to be more contact at the grass-root level. In the 1980s, people-to-people exchanges greatly promoted better understanding and friendship. Renewed efforts should be undertaken to deepen such ties, especially among the young.

Relations between China and Japan are at a crossroads. The two countries have developed close economic interdependence and are critical players in the region's development of stable financial institutions, free trade and greater integration. Returning the bilateral relationship to a positive trajectory is the greatest challenge now facing Beijing and Tokyo.

(Jing-dong Yuan is an associate professor of international policy studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.)