Shrine visits lead to cold ties
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the country's Class-A World War II criminals are honoured, have stopped top leaders from China and Japan officially visiting each other.
Bilateral relations have since been bogged down in a deadlock of "political coldness."
The war criminals are worshipped as "heroes who died for their country."
This is accepted as Japan's perspective for its aggressive past and public sentiment.
Koizumi's ignorance to the international consensus on history is largely attributed to the rise of neo-nationalism and economic recession in Japan and its worries over China's rapid economic development.
Koizumi indicated on December 2 last year that, taking the overall Sino-Japanese relationship into consideration, he would make a "proper judgment" on the issue.
The pre-condition for Sino-Japanese ties to improve is Koizumi stopping shrine visits.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the victory of World War II.
If Koizumi insists on visiting the shrine, the sentiments of the Chinese people would certainly be stimulated and China's opinion toward Japan would deteriorate.
It will be more difficult for summit meeting to be resumed. The two countries would have to find other channels to exchange views.
They will continue their consultation this year on territorial disputes and the demarcation of the exclusive economic zone.
While doing so, both countries could put priority on seeking "joint development" of ocean resources while negotiating sovereignty, maritime interests and resource development.
Japan has accelerated its growth into a military power in terms of security strategy, related systems and weapons and equipment.
Attempting to pave the way for this goal, Japan tried hard in 2004 to stir up the so-called "China threat theory" and, on December 10, included it for the first time in its newly-approved "Defence Guidelines."
Under this circumstance, bilateral military exchanges were at their lowest ebb last year.
Koizumi's shrine visits led to the abortion of a plan for mutual visit by the warships of the two countries.
Strengthening mutual trust will become an important topic in bilateral ties this year. There is little possibility for the two to achieve breakthrough development in the security field, though it is more possible for them to achieve certain progress in some other areas.
The government institutions of the two countries will continue their talks and negotiations on mutual differences and co-operation, in fields such as demarcation and oil-and-gas-field development in the East China Sea, trade and economy, technology, energy and environmental protection.
The institutions of national defence will continue security dialogues and military exchanges at various levels.
But due to the high sensitivity of this field, this kind of dialogue and exchange will be influenced and restrained by bilateral political relations.
Under the circumstance of "political coldness," the vital basis for maintaining bilateral relations in recent years has relied on "economic warmth."
China replaced the United States to become Japan's biggest trading partner last year. The new trend of Japan's investment in China is on large-scale projects and high-tech projects.
Maybe the "economic warmth" can thaw the ice in the political arena this year.
However, the "political coldness" has already had a negative impact on the "economic warmth."
Japan fell to third on China's list of trading partners last year, after the European Union and the United States.
The economic players in Japan have also started to worry about the "political coldness," pointing out that "economic warmth" would cool down if there were no high-level political exchanges.
As far as Japan is concerned, it should make more effort in avoiding moves to stimulate China's public sentiment over sensitive issues.
The economic circles of Japan generally hope that Koizumi can create an atmosphere that is suitable for talks between the two leaderships.
If "economic warmth" could be maintained and developed this year, the bilateral trade value could reach a new high.
It means Japan's direct investment in China would also increase steadily, and Chinese enterprises could continue to look to Japan while attracting technology and capital.
Despite the prevailing suspense and challenges in relations, there are also opportunities during this year.
The two governments and various circles will continue their efforts to restrain the negative impact of the "political coldness" and expand the achievements of "economic warmth" and non-government exchanges.
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