The September collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and two Japanese patrol ships off the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture has caused Japan-China relations to greatly deteriorate. Placing Japan’s ties with its big neighbor on a stable path is a major diplomatic task that must be fulfilled this year.

In 2010, the Chinese navy expanded its activities beyond the line linking Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines into the western Pacific. China also has enhanced its surveying activities inside its exclusive economic zone and fisheries supervision around the Senkaku Islands.

Japan’s new National Defense Program, which was adopted in December and will serve as a guideline for the nation’s defense policy for the next 10 years, characterizes China’s rapid military buildup and modernization and naval actions as a “matter of concern for the region and the international community.”

It is logical that Japan improve its defense capabilities to cope with any emergency situation. But its defense efforts must be carried out carefully so that they will not unnecessarily provoke China. Given the security situation surrounding Japan, it is vital for Japan and China to take effective confidence building measures. The foreign and defense ministries of both countries should deepen dialogue to prevent friction in the seas around Japan and to avert any accidental crises. Tokyo and Beijing also should set up a hotline to prevent such emergencies.

It is also important for both countries to take the utmost care to keep nationalism from flaring up when a difficult bilateral issue, such as the Senkaku incident, crops up. In this regard, the mass media of both countries have a great responsibility.

China is an important market and production base for Japan, although it presents some risks as exemplified by Beijing’s restriction of the export of rare earth elements. To achieve mutual and peaceful prosperity, multi-level personnel exchanges should be promoted. More importantly, Japan and China must renew their pledge of not seeking hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region as stated in the 1978 Japan-China peace and friendship treaty.

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