Japan, China to hold talks to narrow history gap
Updated: 2006-12-25 14:30
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (L) meets with
Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
October 8, 2006. [Reuters]
TOKYO - Japanese and Chinese
academics will start joint studies on their long and sometimes war-torn history
this week as part of the two countries' efforts to improve ties strained by
persistent disputes over the past.
relations were frosty for much of the past half-decade, largely because of
former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni
Shrine, seen by Beijing as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, moved to mend fences, visiting China in
October just weeks after he took office. At a meeting with Chinese President Hu
Jintao, the two leaders agreed on the need for joint history studies.
Twenty academics, 10 from each side, will meet for two days in Beijing
from Tuesday in the first round of what is expected to be twice-yearly
discussions that aim to conclude with a report sometime in 2008.
Shinichi Kitaoka, a political science professor at the University of
Tokyo who heads the Japanese group, said gaps between the Asian neighbours'
perceptions of history were too great at present, endangering the future of the
"At the moment, we're in a very unhealthy situation where
deadlock over history is preventing politicians from tackling present and future
issues," he told a recent news conference.
"The gap is too wide. I don't
intend to forcibly fill it altogether, but I intend to narrow it as much as
possible through academic debate," Kitaoka said.
Along with ancient and
mediaeval history, the academics will look into the contentious area of modern
history, when Japan invaded and occupied parts of China from 1931 to 1945.
Chinese state media have played down the initial phase of the talks,
suggesting that finding any common ground could take some time.
Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences and head of the Chinese delegation, said no specifics would be
discussed at the first meeting.
"Instead, it will concentrate on the
working process, principles and purposes," the newspaper said.
between the two countries hit a low with Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni
Koizumi had insisted that he went to the shrine to pay respects
to the 2.5 million Japanese war dead honoured there, but China protested because
the shrine also memorialises some convicted war criminals, including World War
Two Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Japanese government approval of a
textbook that critics said whitewashed Japan's wartime atrocities triggered
sometimes violent demonstrations across China in April of last year.
While Abe has made headway in repairing ties with Beijing by taking a
policy of "strategic ambiguity", not stating whether he would go to Yasukuni in
the future, some potential pitfalls remain.
Lawmakers in Abe's ruling
party have formed a group to review a 1993 government statement acknowledging
the Japanese Imperial Army's involvement in recruiting so-called comfort women
to work in brothels and serve Japanese soldiers.
China will be watching
to see whether Abe stays away from Yasukuni. Before he became prime minister Abe
had defended Koizumi's visits and had often gone to the shrine himself,
including as recently as last April.
The academics know the studies will
be no easy task.
"Results will not show up so easily," Kitaoka said.
A similar joint history study between Japan and South Korea took three
years and the final report released last year only highlighted their
differences, stating the views of both sides.
|Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours