Improving chilly Japan-China ties

Since Japan nationalized three Senkaku islets in the East China Sea on Sept. 11, 2012, ties between Japan and China ties have remained chilly. In an effort to improve bilateral relations, both sides should make strenuous efforts to find a new way to shelve the Senkaku issue.

Japan and China signed a peace and friendship treaty in 1978. Polls carried out around 1980 showed that more than 70 percent of Chinese and Japanese felt affinity for each other’s country. In stark contrast, polls taken this June and July showed that more than 90 percent of Chinese and Japanese hold a bad impression of each other’s country. Japanese who visited China on business and for tourism in the first half of this year numbered 1,399,200, a 25.5 percent dip from the same period of 2012. The number of Chinese who visited Japan in the same period declined 27 percent to 536,200. According to the Japan External Trade Organization, two-way trade between Japan and China in the first half of this year fell 10.8 percent from a year before — the first drop in four years. Japan’s investment in China fell 31.2 percent in the same period.

While extremely regrettable, the downturn in bilateral relations is not surprising. In both countries, the actions of politicians, members of the media and even ordinary citizens have stirred ill feelings and nationalistic sentiment on both sides.

Since Japan nationalized the three islets, Chinese government ships have been entering Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands once every six days on average. China should refrain from trying to undermine Japan’s effective control of the islands. The islands have been part of Japan since 1895 in accordance with international law and that it is only in 1971, several years after the area’s potential for energy resources was discovered, that China began claiming sovereignty over them. Japan should ensure that this fact is known in the international community.

On Sept. 5, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping chatted briefly at the Group of 20 summit held in St. Petersburg. This is a tiny step forward. Both leaders should take a flexible approach so ties can improve to the point where a summit meeting can take place. Mr. Xi should stop insisting that Japan must accept the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkakus as a prerequisite to holding a summit. For his part, Mr. Abe must understand that a statement he made in reference to Japan’s war responsibilities — that no definition of aggression exists, academically and internationally — is hindering improvement of Japan-China relations. He should clearly admit that Japan waged a war of aggression on China and express official remorse over it.

Unless both sides stop antagonizing each other, relations will not improve. Japanese and Chinese leaders must work to prevent the Senkaku issue from harming broader, mutually important interests.

  • justice_first

    from this article, it is clear that Japan is still insisting that it has “effective control” over the islands from 1895. This is far far from the truth, not born by historic facts. This is a myth and a misrepresentation to the world.

    Japan’s annexation of the islands on 14 Janurary 1895 was secretive until 1969. China’s silence, or perceived acquiescence, has much to do with this anomalous secrecy, because China did not have constructive knowledge of this annexation. The annexation was therefore invalid in international law. From 1945 to 1972, Japan had no control over the islands because they were under the trusteeship of the US. After 1972, the dispute was shelved by a “tacit agreement” by both sides which Japan now denies.
    After 1972, Japan did not have “effective control” of the islands because of the tacit agreement mentioned, the US security agreement/support and China’s protest of the SFPT in which China was not a signatory. It is clear that effective control from 1895 to the present is only a myth.

    were the islands Terra Nullius before the annexation ? Japan was never able to prove this. We beg the question : why Japan is doing this to China now ? Is there a deeper reason to stir up so much hate and hostility now ? Yes, there is one.

    Japan wants to change the “peace” constitution, to rearm to become a strong pacific power. It is “using” the islands dispute to “persuade” the Japanese voters to back the above moves. Japan is creating a China threat for the selfish purpose. This is the truth behind its aggressive action toward China, thinking the US is behind as an ally. This is a dangerous game, and Japan is willing to risk it all to do it, to become a “great” power again. By denying the responsibilities of the second world war, Japan will never become a true great power. What Japan is doing now is wrong because it has not demonstrated any sincere remorse on its aggression and invasions to its neighbors from 1879, from the Ryukyu Kingdom to all over Asia. Do you think the world is blind to the past ?

    Japan believes in the sword, and that any problem can be solved with force, as in the past. This can only be a misjudgment, once again. Because the world has changed.

  • justice_first

    The world will surely find, and continue to find Japan’s “insistence” that there is no dispute a most bizarre behavior for a nation of such intelligence. Japan nearly always say that China did not protest after WW2 about the sovereignty of these islands, and thus China was acquiescing that the islands were Japanese. This is pure fancy because China had no need to protest because it had the right of sovereignty after the war, as stipulated in the various international treaties, including the instrument of surrender. It was only when this right was in doubt that the right holder nation needs to protest to confirm its sovereignty.

    The US was not laying any claim on the islands from 1945 to 1972, during the trusteeship, and China had no need to claim its sovereignty, but only to protest to the US ( not to Japan) for “handing over” the islands without China’s permission.

    I can’t see why China should agree, despite the obvious, that there is “no dispute” over the issue with Japan.

  • Ken5745

    It’s a no brainer. If Japan wishes to Improve the ‘chilly Japan-China ties’ and saves its 24% export to China, all it has to do is to respect the agreement made by Tanaka and Zhou Enlai in 1978 to ‘shelf’ the decision on the disputed islands to future generations of both nations to decide.

    Abe’s illogical stance that there is no dispute over the islands will lead to the revival of militarism in Japan, which could pave the way for another senseless war.

    Peace and prosperity are better options for Japan.

    • justice_first

      sometimes, I feel the omen, that Japan, under the leadership of the right wing government, is not really interested in peace with China. With Japan’s worship of the sword, in its hurry to rearm, on the road to militarism, history might just repeat itself. Of course a lot of what Abe is doing is completely illogical, contrary to Japan’s best interest.

      Can Japan become a great nation. I really doubt it.

    • Michiko

      I agree, but one thing you’re referring to is incorrect.
      “Shelving promise” was made in 1972, just before the Communique was standed.
      This is not for tolerating and it is not a tiny thing, you may correct it “by yourself” again, not by my pointing.
      And be careful from the next time you referred to something historical.

    • Christopher-trier

      Zhou Enlai died in 1976.

    • Ian

      If China wants to save its entire export-led economy then it should give up on the hegemonic islands issue. China’s grab for the islands is a precursor to attacking little Taiwan.

      Resultantly, the PLA is risking the ruin of Chinese economic strength. Investors require much confidence in a nation before they commit to investing their capital. Alienating Japanese investors has been a boon for Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, for example.

      Abe’s “illogical stance” is the stance of most sane nations: retain the status quo because conflict is bad for business.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    This is like the Arab – Isreali tension without the actual violence. Neither side trusts eachother and neither side thinks it is in the wrong.

    I can’t say that Japan is free from blame, but in the past 15 years that I have lived here, Japan has done NOTHING aggressive to stoke China to the point of invading Japan’s sea and airspace.

    As for the Senkaku islands, Japan has done enough to prove their ownership. and if China is using 8th century maps to show whose land it is, shouldnt all of Europe belong to Italy/Greece/Austria/Germany/or whoever else once ruled?

  • Eric Xin

    I find it funny this article spend its first few paragraphs telling its viewers about the illogical cost of all these hostility….then spend the rest of the article asking for Chinese concessions.

  • Justice1215

    Politicians are playing politic for its own interest and not for the people

    Many countries including Japan are manipulated by U.S. and still do not know. Or politicians are playing politic for its own interest and not for the people. During the last decade of 20th century,when U.S. was busy with Iraq and Afghanistan war. Asean plus three ( China,Korea and Japan ) were doing well with economic cooperation. China’s policy is to set aside territorial dispute and continue with economic cooperation and development. Every country was benefited from China’s economic development and cooperation. As China ,South Korea and Japan were about to sign trilateral FTA before signing Asean plus three FTA, U.S. pivot to Asia policy start on that very year. All of a sudden everything goes wrong among Asian countries. WHY ? Because U.S. cannot accept Asian countries becoming more and more prosperous and American empire is declining and falling.
    Limited war in Asia is good for America militarily,economically and politically. America is playing with fire because if war quickly escalate and spiral out of control WW3 is inevitable. So who is trouble maker is very clear.
    Being the one and only super power for many years,U.S. cannot accept multi-polar world. What U.S. doing now is just to delay the changing process.

    Let us hope that cooler heads prevail before things spin totally out of control.

  • 孫君

    I’m Chinese. This article has made some really good points. Thank you very much