World / Asia-Pacific

Beijing-Tokyo Forum

By Zhang Zhouxiang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-10 07:29

When the Beijing-Tokyo Forum first became reality in August 2005, relations between China and Japan were experiencing difficulties. Now, it is amid a new wave of tensions that the two sides are busy preparing for the tenth session of the forum, which will be held in Tokyo in September.

Actually, there have been tensions between the two countries for the past ten years. Historical problems, the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and strategic antagonism are all obstacles in the way of the two neighbors improving relations. With the right-wing Abe administration adopting a hardline stance against China, relations between the two countries are now at their lowest point since ties were normalized in 1972.

Worse, unlike previous years where their tensions involved only their own relations, the recent flareup in tensions has become an international affair with the United States reaffirming its support for its ally. It is not hard to conclude that with the US keen to use Japan as its proxy in its efforts to contain China, the differences between China and Japan are becoming an increasingly hard knot to untangle.

With the official channel of communication between China and Japan closed, the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, which is attended by many scholars and experts with official backgrounds, now acts as one of the few platforms for bilateral dialogue. The forum provides a precious platform for China and Japan to judge each other's strategic purposes. The results of all most opinion polls in the two countries shows people are against a war, the forum presents a good opportunity for a more official endorsement of the popular view.

Many experts are looking back to the days of improving Sino-Japanese relations and discussing what needs to be done to get relations back on track. Certainly it is better to look forward as the souring of relations has already occurred and none of causes has a quick solution. Talk about improving bilateral relations cannot ignore the problems, but it can look at ways in which relations can be prevented from souring to a point of no return.

In other words, without any quick solution to the problems affecting China-Japan ties, improvement of their relations will only be possible when decision-makers on both sides take a longer-term perspective and listen to suggestions on how to escape the current impasse.

In some sense, China and Japan have learned something from their worsening relations, as both sides have recognized the bottom line of each other. In the foreseeable future, that should help them remain rational.

To realize an upturn in relations, they need to promote cooperation and, while solving existing problems, prevent more problems from emerging. It is also necessary to address down negative elements, such as emotional media reports that stir up the public's animosity against each other.

This requires Beijing-Tokyo Forum to play its role well. Even amid tensions, the forum should insist on promoting an exchange of ideas, so that new avenues for toward better relations can be explored. Having persisted for 10 years amid all the ups and downs in their relations, the forum has already proved a success. It can build on the good momentum that has been achieved by being a platform for frank and open discussions that are necessary step toward building a healthier future for the bilateral relationship.

It is the shared wish of Chinese and Japanese people, as well as a necessary historical trend that the two countries improve relations. The Beijing-Tokyo Forum can play a key role in realizing this wish.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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