In this 40th anniversary year of diplomatic normalization between Japan and China, the bilateral relationship has plummeted as demonstrations rage in many Chinese cities against the Japanese government’s purchase of three of the five islets comprising the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China.

It is imperative for both countries to communicate closely with each other through diplomatic and all other available channels to prevent the current situation from spiraling out of control.

There is the possibility that China misconstrues the Japanese government’s announced “nationalization” of the three islets as an attempt to step up Japan’s effective control of the Senkakus. Japan must explain that this is not the case and that the nationalization is aimed at controlling the islets quietly and at quashing Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s earlier plan to have the metro government purchase and perhaps partially develop the three islets. Mr. Ishihara is known for his anti-China sentiments.

Japan should strongly persuade Chinese leaders to understand that the deterioration of bilateral relations not only harms mutual interests but also could destabilize all of East Asia.

But the Japanese government should learn from its carelessness and take a cautious approach to China. It should make serious, long-term efforts to restore trustful dialogue between the two countries. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the nationalization plan on July 7, the 75th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The Cabinet decided on the nationalization a week before the 81st anniversary of the Liutiaohu Incident, in which Imperial Japanese Army soldiers dynamited tracks on the South Manchurian Railway near Mukden (now Shenyang), thus triggering the full invasion of Manchuria.

For their part, Japanese citizens should refrain from activity that could provoke China, such as trying to land on the Senkakus.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Liutiaohu Incident, anti-Japan demonstrations were held in more than 100 Chinese cities. A few days ago, some demonstrations turned into mobs that set fire to or looted Japanese businesses and shops.

On the same day, 12 Chinese surveillance ships arrived in seas adjacent to Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus and three of them violated Japan’s maritime border. China should realize that violent demonstrations and these kinds of maritime activities will only tarnish its international image. If China says that it is a country governed by law, it should exercise strict control over moblike demonstrators.

As China is likely to intensify its propaganda efforts to strengthen its claim over the Senkakus, Japan should consider how to present a strong case for its position on the diplomatic front. That should include presenting historical and legal proof of its sovereignty claim.

In this highly tense situation, both Japanese and Chinese leaders should adhere again to the coolheadedness and wisdom demonstrated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978 proposed shelving indefinitely the Senkaku issue for the benefit of both nations. This helped to pave the way for expansion of Japan-China relations in later years.

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