GLOCOM Platform
opinions debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Opinions Last Updated: 11:38 05/16/2008
May 16, 2008

Promoting Closer Japan-China Relations: Beyond Top-level Meetings

Toshihiko KINOSHITA (Professor, Waseda University)

Regarding Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan, the Chinese media invariably praised it as a great success, whereas the Japanese media tended to show some reservations, although they certainly considered Mr. Hu's attitude toward Japan far better than that of former president Jiang Zemin, who visited Japan about ten years ago. The Japanese media's reservations seem to be based on the lack of progress in substance this time at the top-level meetings in dealing with key issues between the two countries.

However, I myself would like to appreciate the fact, above all, that the Chinese president's visit to Japan has materialized for the first time in a decade. Needless to say, it was long overdue, as it was very unnatural that the top leaders of two major neighboring countries like Japan and China had not visited each other for ten years. There is always a problem arising in the relationship between any two neighboring countries. This is especially so between Japan and China, because of large differences in history interpretations, social systems and public perceptions between the two countries. Therefore, it is important to make it a rule for top leaders to visit each other frequently and discuss how to resolve difficult issues between them thoroughly.

Furthermore, in order to make such top-level efforts successful, a majority of people in both countries must share strong desire to build their future together from the bottom of their hearts. Without such public desire, any joint communiqués or mutual agreements between the top leaders of the two countries would result in mere formality. In order to foster such strong feelings and mutual trust among the general public, it is necessary for them to understand each other and actively exchange opinions and information between them. There seems to be more room for improvement in this regard.

As a matter of fact, even intellectuals and specialists in both Japan and China tend to lack the correct analysis and the deep understanding of each other. This is a shame, because the two major neighboring countries in Asia with a long history of mutual interactions should have known each other much more closely and precisely than any of the far distant Western countries whose relations with China are relatively new. But that is not the reality at all.

In the past, Japan has been experiencing a difficulty in terms of history issues pushed by China, but such a difficulty can be overcome by Japan's effort to learn more about the history of its own and the region as a whole. On the other hand, China should grow out of its tendency for history-long regional "mastership" and excessive "patriotism," and try its best to get along with people in other countries as truly equal partners. Some of the overseas Chinese reactions to protests over the "Tibet issue" during the Olympic torch relay were probably beyond comprehension, by the international standard, in most of the countries where such incidents occurred, and alienated not only most Westerners but also many Japanese and Koreans. Chinese leaders must learn a lesson from this episode, and try not to repeat such happenings.

The timing of president Hu Jintao's visit to Japan seemed less than ideal, because there were ambivalent feelings among Japanese people about the Olympic torch relay incidents in addition to their hard feelings about the "poisoned gyoza issue" still remaining at that time. It is said, however, that Mr. Hu himself made the decision on the timing of his visit and not to postpone it any further. His initiative, especially toward joint exploration of oil and natural gas resources in the East China Sea was quite significant, and it is also noteworthy that Mr. Hu agreed not to drop any item, even the "Tibet issue" and the "gyoza issue," among the agendas for the Japan-China ministerial meetings, and supported the "sectoral approach," a Japanese proposal to the world as a method for energy conservation in the post-Kyoto Protocol period. Furthermore, Mr. Hu delivered a future-oriented speech at Waseda University, explicitly referring to the important role that Japan has played in building world peace in the post-war period, acknowledging the great contribution of Japanese ODA to infrastructure investment in China in the past, praising the diligence and aspiration of Japanese people, and even pointing out the necessity of Chinese people to learn excellent environment-related technology from Japan. What was impressive, especially to young audience, was that he emphasized the importance of exchange and contacts of young people between Japan and China, derived from his own experience on his past two visits to Japan, His words and deeds during his five day stay in Japan may have been favorably viewed by a majority of Japanese. It should be noted, however, we should not overestimate the influence of such casual impressions on the Japanese public's overall perceptions about China.

As for economic cooperation between Japan and China in the future, it has been agreed that the main focus should be on technical cooperation in the environment, energy, and resource-related fields. In this regard, however, Japan's effort in technical terms alone is not enough to provide a complete solution of any problem in China, where the Chinese public's awareness of those problems and eagerness to solve them are essential for a successful approach. For that purpose, Japan should try to cooperate with China in "soft" terms so that Chinese people may wish to learn the importance of the spirit of "Mottainai," naturally leading to "3R," which means that "Don't waste-Reduce, Reuse and Recycle."At the same time, Japan, along with some international organizations, could advise China that the price mechanism be introduced so as to find correct pricing for water and electricity, which are currently wasted because their rates are too low.

Currently the global economy is stagnating rather significantly and, as a result, the Chinese economy will probably experience a mild slowdown period for the next couple of years. However, it is highly unlikely to see a chaotic situation due to the post-Olympic bubble-bursting recession that some people are predicting, because the Shanghei Expo will be held soon and the Chinese government is continuing massive infrastructure investment in the Western part of the country. Furthermore, the government could use fiscal, monetary and foreign exchange rate policies to control the economy to some extent, for example, to stimulate the economy by making a huge amount of public investment in rural areas. It is true that China is a high-risk economy in the sense that there appear to be a large number of problems with the economy, but on the other hand, there still exist good business opportunities that Japanese companies cannot pass up.

As a postscript, I wish to add that President Hu Jintao's initiative to improve the relationship with Japan is still apparent even after his return to China. As has been widely reported, a big earthquake with its energy 30 times as strong as the Kobe earthquake attacked Sichuan and nearby provinces on May 12th. Some fifty thousand lives were officially estimated to be lost and much more people are still missing as of now. Rescue activities have been strenuously conducted by many Chinese including the People's Army. In response to this disaster, the Japanese government instantly decided to provide emergency aid amounting to 500 million yen or some 5 million dollars, and announced that Japan was ready to send rescue experts if asked. Initially, the Chinese government answered that they would accept some materials like tents and other hardware, but not human assistance, which was somewhat disappointing to the Japanese. On May 15th, however, as a surprise to the Japanese and probably to most Chinese, the Chinese government decided to accept rescue experts from Japan as the first case on this affair. I suspect that this decision was made most likely due to the initiative of president Hu Jintao, who would be willing to take risk in doing so. Just a few hours after China's decision, a team of about 30 experts left Narita Airport for China, and another 30 experts will follow on May 16th. This earthquake is certainly a heartbreaking happening for China and also for the world. If, however, this unhappy incident provides an opportunity to improve China's relationship with Japan and the rest of the world, the history will note it as such.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications