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Japanese and Chinese scholars held their first meeting this week in Beijing on a joint project to study both countries’ ancient and modern history. Launch of the project had been agreed to in October by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao during their summit in Beijing.

The goal of the project is to promote mutual understanding through an objective approach to history. The project’s results are scheduled to be published in 2008, the 30th year after the normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

In recent years, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s war-related shrine, as well as mass anti-Japanese demonstrations in China had heightened tensions between the two countries.

For decades, the history of Japanese aggression on mainland China from 1931 to 1945 has strained bilateral relations. Chinese people’s memories and scars of the period remain vivid while the Japanese are not particularly conscious of what their soldiers did in China. Clearly a gap in the perception and interpretation of history exists between the two countries and peoples. To establish common ground, the Japanese side should understand with humility the suffering of the Chinese people. At the same time, the Chinese side should better understand how Japan has changed since the end of World War II. An encouraging outcome of the summit between Mr. Abe and Mr. Hu was that the Chinese leader adopted the historical view that Japan has walked a postwar path as a nation of peace.

Because the Chinese Communist Party exercises national ideological control, and Japan in principle lacks such a control, the scholars are likely to face difficulty in their joint work. For example, discussion between the two sides about the number of Chinese victims in the Nanjing Massacre may grow heated.

But nowadays Japan and China are interconnected with each other in various fields except politics. It is meaningful that both sides are set to have joint discussions on historical matters by looking at them objectively with open minds.

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