National / Politics

Ambassador cites European Union as example for Japan-China reconciliation


Hans Carl von Werthern, Germany’s ambassador to Japan, calls himself a “trained mediator.” Having served in Beijing prior to his posting in Tokyo, von Werthern has witnessed the turbulent relationship between China and Japan up close. And he is convinced that Japan’s reconciliation with China and South Korea is possible through “discussion and negotiation.”

In the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has been an experiment in the notion of a borderless world.

War-torn Germany, through its efforts at reconciliation with neighboring countries such as France and Poland, has now become the engine of the European Union and its leader, Angela Merkel, has been hailed as the strongest leader in Europe.

It was on the night of Nov. 9, 1989, that von Werthern telephoned his father and learned that the Berlin Wall was coming down, he said in a recent interview. He was in Hanoi at the time, serving as deputy head of the West German Embassy.

“My father said that they were sitting in front of the TV and crying their eyes out,” von Werthern recalls. “I asked, ‘Father, what’s happening?’ He said, “Haven’t you heard that the wall is open?”

A few days later, he was in Indonesia for a conference of German diplomats. He was shown a special edition of a German magazine with a picture of Trabant cars from East Germany driving through gaps in the wall. “That’s when I started crying. That was the first time I became emotional” over the dramatic development.

As he sees it, “the fall of the Berlin Wall was the result of one of the very few peaceful revolutions we have ever had in human history.”

Demonstrations in Leipzig and Berlin preceded the wall’s fall. The motto of the demonstrators was “No violence” and the regime responded in kind. “It was something very remarkable: peaceful revolution that brought about enormous change. And it was a complete change of the political situation in Germany and in Europe.”

Now things are a little different. Nationalism and separatist movements are on the rise around the world.

“I think we were too optimistic in 1989 and in the 1990s because we were so happy. Human nature, I’m afraid, is more ‘confrontative’ in the long run than we realized then.

“For my children, they cannot imagine going to France and crossing the border showing their passports, going to Spain and paying with a different currency. We are completely used to free movement of people and capital and so on. We take it for granted.

“So I think the people with nationalistic feelings are sort of mistaken because they don’t realize how well off they are by European unification.”

He contends that China and Japan can overcome their differences. “I don’t think there is a danger of China and Japan resolving the Senkaku issue by military means. So the only way to resolve it is through discussion and negotiation. Try to understand each other.”

The same is true with Japan’s relations with South Korea, he said. “For a European, it’s quite hard to understand why South Korea and Japan find it so difficult to approach each other. Of course, there are historical issues which stand in the way, but I personally think they are not insurmountable.”

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