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Japan's New Komeito Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday. Kuang Linhua / China Daily
Editor's note: China-Japan relations have been frayed since last September. China invited several Japanese politicians to visit Beijing in January. Before Japan's New Komeito Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi's Beijing trip, China Daily Tokyo Bureau Chief Cai Hong interviewed Hiroshi Ishikawa, director of First China and Mongolia Division of Japan's Foreign Ministry.
Prime Minister Abe faces a state of China-Japan relations that is similar to when he first became premier in 2006 - a chilly bilateral relationship. Last time Mr Abe visited China as part of his first overseas trip, he successfully melted the ice and mended ties. This time he chose the United States at the beginning and then the ASEAN's three nations. What's your comment on the difference?
Diplomacy commands bilateral relations, which requires flexibility. After the Abe administration was sworn in, the first overseas destination Abe went to was not China but three member nations of the ASEAN. Japanese prime ministers of previous administrations visited different countries for their first overseas trip. There is no rule (for the arrangements). This time Abe chose the ASEAN nations, which Japan traditionally treasures in its foreign policy. I hope that China will not misunderstand Prime Minister Abe's first choice, which does not mean that we don't value our relations with China. We chose the Southeast Asian nations because this year will witness the 40th anniversary of our friendship and cooperation with the ASEAN. Its member nations are aimed to build their community in 2015. Under this circumstance, (Japan intends to) enhance its cooperation with the ASEAN on the fronts of economy, energy and security.
What do you think of the US factor in the China-Japan relations?
The United States can play a very big role in the Asia-Pacific region. It is Japan's ally as everyone knows. China is Japan's largest trade partner. Based on such a reality, Japan will adopt appropriate diplomacy as a matter of course. As for the US factor, Japan welcomes good China-US ties. I've seen that the two big powers have made efforts to build a brand-new relationship. We warmly welcome this. Also, I hope that China will welcome a good Japan-US relationship. The good, stable ties among the three countries in future will be of great significance to the Japan-China relations and the whole region.
The New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi announced he will visit Beijing this week. His party is part of the Japanese coalition government. What do you think Mr Yamaguchi's China visit means?
Mr Yamaguchi is leader of New Komeito, which is part of the ruling parties. So his China visit is very important. I hope that the Chinese side will take it seriously.
What China policy do you think Abe's government has?
The relationship with China is one of Japan's most important bilateral relations. Japan values its relations with China. We will, from a broad perspective, promote a mutually beneficial strategic relationship. During his (first) premiership Abe came up with the new concept on the "mutually beneficial strategic" relations (with China). After he took office for the second stint, he made it clear that he will bring the bilateral ties back to the mutually beneficial strategic relations and improve the Japan-China relations. I think this is the essence of the Abe administration's China policy.
We heard Mr Abe say that since Japan-China relations are extremely important, he would like to make efforts to return bilateral ties to the "initial point of mutually beneficial strategic relations". What does "strategic" mean for Japan?
For Japan, its relationship with China on a strategic level is of the significance beyond the two countries at present and in the long run. So I think the two countries are ready to have full-fledged cooperation on every area in the region and the world. To be more specific, the cooperation in East Asia is going on to deal with the regional issues such as the denuclearization on Korean Peninsula. (The cooperation also touches on) the global issues like environment and energy. So I hope that the mutually beneficial cooperation will improve (Japan's) relations with China.
Both China and Japan have a new leader. What do you expect of them in terms of China-Japan relations? What efforts do you think the two countries can do to put bilateral relations back on a normal path?
Both Japan and China have a new leader. Since last September, the two countries have got stuck in difficulties. So I hope that (the change of leaderships) will help mend the bilateral ties. I believe that the two can promote cooperation and exchange from a broad perspective to push forward the already accepted mutually beneficial strategic relations. To lift the ties out of the impasse, diplomatic departments and governments of the two countries should communicate. Along with the governmental level, it is important to improve the contacts and exchange at the non-government level like Mr Yamaguchi's China visit.
What is your comment on the older-generation Chinese and Japanese leaders' efforts to normalize the ties?
The two countries realized the normalization of the diplomatic relations in 1972 after overcoming many big obstacles. Our veteran leaders made tremendous efforts for this end. I admire these people. Though mounting pressure in Japan, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka visited China for normalization of the bilateral ties at risk of his life. These veteran politicians' courage and wisdom made the Japan-China relations possible. This relationship has done great benefit to people of the two countries. People like me who work for the Japan-China relations should keep in mind what these predecessors did and their bravery.
What's your comment on the people-to-people contacts between the two countries? And what programs has Japan been offering for this purpose? How about this year?
The people-to-people exchange is very important to increase understanding. Japan and China misunderstand each other now and then because they have little mutual understanding. Misunderstanding is always a main cause of worsening bilateral relations. This is the dangerous place where we are. I believe that the people-to-people exchanges that focus on teenagers help. Since last September most of the exchange programs have been called off. It is important to resume them at an early date. When the bilateral ties are stuck in a frayed situation, I think the people-to-people exchanges should continue to enhance mutual understanding. And they should be done in a straightforward manner. In the past few years 4,000 or 5,000 (Chinese and Japanese) teenagers were involved in these exchanges every year. I'm confident that these programs help improve mutual understanding. We need to continue the people-to-people exchange programs in the years ahead, including other areas like film, tourism, media and local governments.
Do you think the Treaty on Peace and Friendship is still relevant for the two countries?
The Treaty on Peace and Friendship is one of the four important documents the two countries signed. And it is the only one that is legally binding among the four documents. So it is of great importance. The veteran politicians made great efforts to conclude the treaty. The principles in the treaty are important for us. I hope that the bilateral ties can be mended so that (we'll have) the mood for observing the 35th anniversary of the treaty.
As the head of First China and Mongolia Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can you say something about your China experience?
China is my second motherland. I went to China in 1987 and studied at the Nanjing University. After that I worked as the second secretary and counselor at the Japanese embassy in Beijing. While staying in China, I made a lot of Chinese friends. I'm interested in Chinese culture. I've practiced calligraphy for half an hour every morning for nearly 10 years, copying writings by great figures like Confucius.
(China Daily 01/23/2013 page11)