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The new leadership of China and Japan is likely to take steps to de-escalate tensions over the Diaoyu Islands and to prevent relations from spiraling further downward, leading experts said in Davos, Switzerland.
The leadership succession in the two countries could have the potential to "make a great deal of difference" over the islands issue as the new leaders may pursue a different approach than their predecessors, said Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation on the sideline of the World Economic Forum.
"I am cautiously optimistic that there is a chance for the political leaders to change the mode and the mood of tension in the region," he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent political envoy Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of the New Komeito Party, to Beijing on Tuesday with a letter to Xi Jinping, China's top political leader and head of the military.
The move was seen as a positive step toward breaking the ice and easing the tension between China and Japan since relations began to deteriorate in September when Japan announced that it would "purchase" part of the Diaoyu Islands, a move causing increased instability in the South China Sea.
Yamaguchi said earlier that he was in favor of the approach of leaving the issue to future generations to settle.
"I think this formula should be established between the two countries and should be the first step to calm the situation," Funabashi said.
Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, said that relations between China and Japan are likely to improve after March, as Abe's party is very likely to win the upper house election, which would help him consolidate his political base.
"The sense of urgency and a potential military crisis over the islands issue already has dissipated in the region. The tension will likely ease and relations can be improved after March if Abe successfully consolidates his power in the election," he said.
"The Japanese government knows that confrontation with China is not in the interest of Japan, and they will soon realize that economic interests will trump the islands issue," he added.
Meanwhile, the role of the United States in the region has attracted much attention as the US is seeking a strategic rebalance in the region, experts said.
While Japan is concerned about being marginalized in the region under the potential structure of bipolarity between China and the US, multilateralism may not work for regional stability either, Funabashi said.
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(China Daily 01/25/2013 page12)