Sunday marked the passage of 40 years since Japan and China signed the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty.
During those decades, China has overtaken Japan in terms of gross domestic product, becoming the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States. In recent years, China has been pushing forward on its course of becoming a great power, continuing an opaque expansion of its military capability.
Japan has supported the “reform and open door” policy led by Deng Xiaoping and extended a huge amount of official development assistance. It is disappointing that such aid did not lead to China’s peaceful development.
The treaty stipulates that the two countries shall “settle all disputes by peaceful means”. China’s stance of ignoring international rules and trying to change the status quo by force in such areas as the East and South China seas clearly runs counter to this spirit of the treaty. The Japanese government should tenaciously work on China to restrain itself.
It can be welcomed that Japan-China relations have begun improving, after plunging to what can be considered their worst-ever level in the wake of Japan’s nationalisation of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in 2012. In May this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan, marking the first visit by a Chinese premier in seven years.
In light of its deteriorating relations with the United States, the Chinese administration led by President Xi Jinping is probably hurrying to mend its ties with neighbouring countries, including Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit China as early as October, a month that will mark the 40th anniversary of the treaty coming into effect. It is hoped that both countries will realise Xi’s visit to Japan next year and hold mutual visits by both countries’ leaders on a regular basis.
There will be limits to dealing with China, which has increased its influence tremendously in the spheres of economy and national security, as long as Japan merely advocates the peace and friendship that were stipulated in the treaty.
To help realise a “strategically reciprocal relationship”, which both countries have agreed to create, it is essential to continuously engage in practical cooperation with each other on international tasks as well as bilateral ones. Promoting joint projects in the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, led by China to create a huge economic zone, will be the touchstone.
Their cooperation over North Korean issues is also important. The Abe administration is trying to find a way to reach a comprehensive solution on the issues of abduction, nuclear and missile development through a Japan-North Korea summit. It is of no little significance to deepen communication with China, a supporter for North Korea.
According to public opinion surveys taken jointly by Japan and China, respondents who answered five years ago that they had “a bad impression” of the other country topped the 90 per cent mark on both sides. There was only a slight decline in this percentage among Japanese respondents last year, but it fell to as low as 67 per cent among the Chinese respondents. People who visited the other country tended to get a better impression of it.
It is good news that the number of Chinese visitors to Japan reached a record high of 7.35 million last year. Multilayered exchange should be invigorated between the two countries, centring on the young people who will lead the task of building up the next generation of ties between our countries.