Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to Tokyo this month marked a turning point in Sino-Japanese relations, which have been strained for the past two years as a result of disagreements over wartime history. In a Tokyo news conference Oct. 16, Zhu said the Japanese people, as well as the Chinese, were “victims of Japanese militarism.” The Japanese people should not be held responsible for the war of aggression Japan waged against China, he added.

Zhu praised then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 statement in which he apologized for Japan’s aggression and colonial rule of Asian countries. “Our goal is not to demand an apology,” he said.

Zhu repeatedly said the two nations should move forward by learning from history. At the same time, he said, “We need to directly look at history, instead of hiding it.” This remark shows that China remains adamant in its position regarding wartime history.

During talks with Zhu, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori reaffirmed the importance of mutual trust between the two countries, and apparently failed to discuss a vision of 21st-century Sino-Japanese relations. Under these circumstances, is it possible to establish future-oriented bilateral relations?

In China, critics charge that Zhu is “soft on Japan.” In Japan, some lawmakers are vocal in their criticism of China. Many Japanese despise China and many Chinese hate Japan.

For Japan and China to establish a future-oriented partnership, Chinese must accept the Japanese, who have lived in peace for more than 50 years since World War II, as they are. At the same time, Japanese must have a correct understanding of the war of aggression that Japan waged against China. Both sides should make serious efforts to promote dialogue and exchanges.

Before leaving for Japan, Zhu said he hoped to establish mutual trust between the two countries, remove doubts they harbor toward each other and push economic cooperation.

Zhu’s conciliatory stance was in sharp contrast to Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s hardline posture during his 1998 Tokyo visit. Jiang’s obsession with Japan’s role during the war stirred strong resentment among the Japanese public. Later, Chinese oceanographic-research vessels conducted activities in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, further angering the Japanese. Some officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposed a cut in Japan’s official development assistance to China.

During a 1992 official visit to China, the Emperor admitted that Japan caused great suffering for the Chinese people during the war. Later, Prime Ministers Murayama and Morihiro Hosokawa offered apologies to China during their own visits to Beijing. Many Japanese felt exasperated by repeated apologies to China. Anti-China sentiment erupted whenever China criticized Japan.

An annual opinion poll conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office shows an interesting trend: In 1986, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that Sino-Japanese relations were good, while 14 percent disagreed. In 1995, those expressing disapproval of bilateral relations exceeded those expressing approval by a narrow margin. In 1999, 46 percent expressed approval, while 44 percent voiced disapproval.

Meanwhile, most Chinese are critical of Japan. A poll conducted recently by Newsweek magazine (Asian edition) on the Internet showed that 65 percent of Chinese youths polled disliked Japan most.

However, China has adopted a future-oriented foreign policy to improve relations with Japan. During his talks with Mori, Zhu quoted President Jiang as saying Sino-Japanese relations should be considered from a strategic perspective. Zhu said Jiang’s statement indicated that China was attaching great importance to Sino-Japanese ties. By improving Sino-Japanese relations, Zhu sought to secure more ODA from Japan and obtain assistance for the mammoth project to develop western China.

Many Japanese officials remain skeptical about the plan, citing the poor investment environment in the region. However, Japan recently decided to send a semigovernmental mission to inspect the project. In addition, the Japanese government announced just before Zhu’s arrival in Tokyo that it would provide, as part of ODA, a 17.2 billion yen special yen-based loan to China, which had been shelved as a result of opposition from parts of the LDP.

The Sino-Japan summit focused on bilateral issues and failed to address global issues such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East peace process, nuclear nonproliferation, acid rain and narcotics problems. Leaders of such influence in the region should have taken up those issues.

Instead, they only released a list of 33 issues on which the two countries are cooperating. It mentioned progress in the relaxation of tension on the Korean Peninsula, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation.

The two leaders also agreed on the need to enhance regional cooperation among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the three other key countries (Japan, China and South Korea). They also decided that the ASEAN+Three summit that includes Japan, China and South Korea should be continued.

Japan and China also agreed to promote dialogues on security and defense and exchange visits of warships. Continued dialogue between Japan and China on international issues will contribute to long-range stability in bilateral relations and regional security.

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