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Vision and forethought


China and Japan should work toward a more active and constructive relationship

China and Japan are set to mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral relations in September. The two nations signed a joint statement on establishing diplomatic relations during then Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka's historic visit to China in September 1972.

The normalizing of bilateral relations ushered in a new stage of East Asian politics after World War II. It was an era that marked the beginning of historical reconciliation, an era of cherishing cooperation and peace, and an era of East Asia beginning to cross the Cold War divide. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan, signed in August 1978, laid out a set of rules serving as the new foundation for bilateral relations.

However, China-Japan relations have now reached another historical turning point. From the Abe administration that came to power in 2012 to today's Kishida administration, the China orientation in Japan's security policy has become increasingly evident. Japan has clearly identified China as the "biggest threat" in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan has stressed that it should break through the constraints imposed by its postwar pacifist Constitution, build up its military to prepare for war, and substantially deploy long-range strike capabilities against China.

The "China factor" may bring an end to Japan's security system that has prioritized homeland defense and enable its shift toward a proactive role in the security of the Indo-Pacific region with the goal of containing China. What is even more disturbing is that Japan's Taiwan policy today is also hollowing out and obscuring its commitment to the one-China principle over the past 50 years, in an attempt to work with the United States on the Taiwan question to pose obstacles to China in curbing Taiwan separatist forces and achieving its strategic goal of national reunification.

There have been diverse reasons behind Japan's shift to an aggressive China policy. First of all, Japan, as the world's third-largest economy and a "democracy" in the US and Western camp, has always viewed China as being different in ideology and values. With the rise of China, Japan has increasingly rejected China in a simplistic and narrow-minded manner, refusing to face and accept the voice of a stronger China, especially China's vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind. Second, China's GDP surpassed that of Japan around 2010. With the growth in its national strength, China has begun to significantly narrow the gap with Japan, fueling its worries about a rising China. It has become a strategic choice for Japan to strengthen its unity with the United States to curb China. Japan has replaced its strategic ambiguity toward China's rise with a clear strategy aimed at counterbalancing China. Third, Japan has refused to recognize and accept the fact that there is a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, and stubbornly adheres to the confrontational policy of "no acceptance, no negotiation, and no compromise". The confrontation between the two sides in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands is indeed constantly inciting, misleading and intensifying anti-China nationalism in Japan.

How should China respond to such a confrontational policy? China's policy has always been clear and consistent. First of all, with kindness and patience, China expects Japan to reasonably and accurately judge and recognize China's rise. A strong China has never invaded and threatened Japan. The exchanges between China and Japan help promote the development of both countries. Second, China has never interfered with Japan's strategic choice of "Leave Asia, enter Europe". However, Japan should realize that China's reform and opening-up since the late 1970s and the economic cooperation between the two sides jointly heralded an era for East Asia on the global political and economic map. Third, China-Japan relations have stepped out from the history of Japanese aggression to China and they have jointly forged a 50-year history of bilateral diplomatic relations featuring mutual respect and cooperative development, which has deepened the emotional bonds between the two peoples and broadened the pattern of bilateral economic interdependence. This has been a blessing for the people of China and Japan, and served as one of the drivers for the rise of East Asia.

It is necessary for China and Japan to work toward a more active and constructive period of relations featuring dialogue, communication and exchanges. It must become the consensus in the Japanese political circles that actions that hollow out the one-China principle must be stopped and some Japanese politicians must be restrained from fueling tensions over the Taiwan question. This is a critical moment for Japan to demonstrate its strategic vision and sense of responsibility as a major country. In the joint statement signed by the two countries in 1972, the Japanese government clearly recognized that the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China. It also said that it understood and respected the Chinese government's position that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.

Differences in political systems, social systems, and ideologies should not stand in the way of state-to-state exchanges. Since the normalization of diplomatic relations, the two sides have reached agreement on four political documents and formed a series of key consensuses, establishing rules for handling historical issues, the Taiwan question and other sensitive issues such as the Diaoyu Islands. These are solemn commitments made between the two countries and have served as the fundamental guarantee for the stability and long-term development of China-Japan relations.

In 2021, the trade in goods between China and Japan reached a record high of $371.4 billion. China and Japan are both participants of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which took effect on Jan 1, marking the first time a tariff reduction arrangement has been reached between the two countries. The trade pact is expected to further benefit the economic and trade development of the two countries. In the face of political and economic turbulences caused by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, China and Japan should jointly shoulder the responsibility and demonstrate to the world the strategic vision of the two major countries.

The author is executive dean of the School of International Relations at Nanjing University. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn