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China-Japan ties should tap wisdom, courage of five decades

By Yang Bojiang | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-08 09:10
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, an opportunity for the two countries to revisit history and usher in a better future.

People on both sides are calling for staying true to and reaffirming the original aspiration of China-Japan ties.

In retrospect, the tortuous journey that China and Japan traversed to normalize bilateral ties was, in the first place, a demonstration of the great political courage and sense of historical responsibilities of leaders of the two countries. In the 1970s, against the background of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the normalization of Sino-Japanese ties brought the hostility between the two neighbors to an end and made contributions to preserving peace in Asia. It also paved the way for China to initiate its reform and opening-up policy and to promote its modernization drive in later years.

Back then, given the sufferings of the Chinese people in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), for which Japan owes a debt of blood to China, and the complex global political landscape and Japan's domestic political situation, it undoubtedly required enormous political courage and wisdom to overcome all the obstacles standing in the way of normalizing China-Japan relations, a mission that leaders of the two countries, with their broad and farsighted vision and strong sense of historical responsibility, successfully fulfilled.

Compared with the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, or those between the Soviet Union and Japan, the normalization of Sino-Japanese ties was realized in a different manner: It was a two-step process in which the two governments first issued a joint declaration before they signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan, which was approved by their respective legislatures. The special arrangement reflected the complexity of the situation at that time.

To follow the general principle of promoting peaceful cooperation and steer the bilateral relations on the right track, China and Japan have signed four political documents over the past half a century: the China-Japan Joint Statement, inked in 1972, which marked the normalization of the bilateral ties; the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan in 1978; the China-Japan Joint Declaration of 1998;and a joint statement, signed in 2008, on advancing strategic and mutually beneficial relations in a comprehensive way.

The four political documents constitute the cornerstone of the development of Sino-Japanese ties. China has urged Japan to honor the promises made on issues concerning China's core interests or sensitive areas such as the Taiwan question and historical issues.

Over the past half a century, the two-way exchanges between China and Japan have expanded constantly, which has benefited both countries and their peoples. Their economies are complementary in nature, and the two countries have pursued win-win cooperation. Bilateral trade has surged from less than $1 billion in 1971 to $370 billion in 2021, benefiting not only the two countries, but also the development of Asia and the whole world.

China and Japan should now seek to consolidate and expand their common ground. They should shelve their differences and properly deal with their contradictions and divergences.

China and Japan have different national conditions and social systems, and the development of the bilateral ties is beset by disputes over maritime territories and Japan's historical revisionism, among other issues. After the Cold War, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and Japan have had frictions over issues such as Japanese textbooks that whitewash its wartime acts, territorial rights in the East China Sea and Japanese politicians' visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

These conflicts and disputes will not disappear naturally or diminish over time. Instead, some of them might escalate or worsen in the future. One such flashpoint is Japan's meddling in the Taiwan question. Under such a grim situation, China and Japan should honor their commitments, safeguard the foundation for political mutual trust, and properly manage and control their differences and disputes.

Looking back at five decades of the development of Sino-Japanese ties, and against the background of the complex and uncertain international landscape, China and Japan should shoulder their historical responsibilities and stay true to their original aspiration of pursuing peaceful and friendly cooperation. The two sides should draw inspiration from the political wisdom that led to the establishing of diplomatic relations, and carry forward the sense of historical responsibility demonstrated by the older generation of leaders to guide Sino-Japanese relations on the right track.

The two sides should safeguard the political foundation of the stable and healthy development of China-Japan ties, adhere to the four political documents, and practice the consensus of being partners, "not posing a threat to the other" and "supporting each other for their peaceful development", so as to ensure long-term peaceful and friendly cooperation.

The author is director-general of the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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