Since Japan nationalized three Senkaku islets in the East China Sea on Sept. 11, 2012, ties between Japan and China ties have remained chilly. In an effort to improve bilateral relations, both sides should make strenuous efforts to find a new way to shelve the Senkaku issue.

Japan and China signed a peace and friendship treaty in 1978. Polls carried out around 1980 showed that more than 70 percent of Chinese and Japanese felt affinity for each other’s country. In stark contrast, polls taken this June and July showed that more than 90 percent of Chinese and Japanese hold a bad impression of each other’s country. Japanese who visited China on business and for tourism in the first half of this year numbered 1,399,200, a 25.5 percent dip from the same period of 2012. The number of Chinese who visited Japan in the same period declined 27 percent to 536,200. According to the Japan External Trade Organization, two-way trade between Japan and China in the first half of this year fell 10.8 percent from a year before — the first drop in four years. Japan’s investment in China fell 31.2 percent in the same period.

While extremely regrettable, the downturn in bilateral relations is not surprising. In both countries, the actions of politicians, members of the media and even ordinary citizens have stirred ill feelings and nationalistic sentiment on both sides.

Since Japan nationalized the three islets, Chinese government ships have been entering Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands once every six days on average. China should refrain from trying to undermine Japan’s effective control of the islands. The islands have been part of Japan since 1895 in accordance with international law and that it is only in 1971, several years after the area’s potential for energy resources was discovered, that China began claiming sovereignty over them. Japan should ensure that this fact is known in the international community.

On Sept. 5, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping chatted briefly at the Group of 20 summit held in St. Petersburg. This is a tiny step forward. Both leaders should take a flexible approach so ties can improve to the point where a summit meeting can take place. Mr. Xi should stop insisting that Japan must accept the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkakus as a prerequisite to holding a summit. For his part, Mr. Abe must understand that a statement he made in reference to Japan’s war responsibilities — that no definition of aggression exists, academically and internationally — is hindering improvement of Japan-China relations. He should clearly admit that Japan waged a war of aggression on China and express official remorse over it.

Unless both sides stop antagonizing each other, relations will not improve. Japanese and Chinese leaders must work to prevent the Senkaku issue from harming broader, mutually important interests.

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