Japanese, Chinese experts call for level-headed discussions

Kyodo

Japanese and Chinese experts released a joint statement Sunday stressing the urgent need for their governments to start dialogue aimed at easing tensions over conflicting claims to a cluster of tiny islets in the East China Sea.

About 80 experts, including former senior government and military officials, business executives, scholars and journalists, also called at a forum in Beijing for Japan and China to settle their disputes by peaceful means and to learn lessons from history in order to develop bilateral relations.

“It is imperative for the governments of the two countries to start dialogue” to address friction over the islets in the East China Sea, said the statement, following two days of discussions on territorial, historical and security issues.

“I believe that what have been reflected in the statement are not just the opinions of the forum’s participants, but also those of many citizens of the two countries,” Zhao Qizheng, a former minister of the State Council Information Office, told a joint news conference.

Yasushi Kudo, head of the Japanese nonprofit think tank Genron NPO, a co-organizer of the event, said it was “very difficult” to realize this kind of open public debate in China at a time of frosty ties between Tokyo and Beijing.

“Above all else, what we wanted to agree on was both countries’ pledge not to go to war under any circumstances,” Kudo said. “If this is felt by more and more people, I have no doubt that there will be an opportunity for relations of the two countries to change significantly, and today is the day the first step was taken.”

For more than a year now, there have been no formal talks between top political leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies. The stalemate mainly stems from their row over the uninhabited islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The forum was also once put off following a request from the Chinese side.

It had initially been scheduled for Aug. 12 to mark the 35th anniversary of the signing of a bilateral treaty of peace and friendship.

Among other points in the document, dubbed “Beijing Consensus,” they agreed that the stability and prosperity of not just Asia, but also the entire world, hinges on good relations between the two countries, while they urged their governments to “establish a long-term effective crisis-management mechanism” to avoid an accidental clash between the two countries.

In a special speech Sunday, former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told an audience of hundreds of people, including many students, that running a country and a company are similar in that neither can grow successfully if run in a self-righteous manner.

For Japan to be a more respected member of the international community, he said, it must “overcome historical problems” relating to its past aggression against other parts of Asia.

Given their mutual interests and the potential for areas of cooperation between Japan and China to increase dramatically in the years ahead, Fukuda said there is no more time to waste in resolving the current standoff.

“It all boils down to whether we have a strong will or not,” he said.