Reining in Japanese rightists

Updated: 2012-09-01 07:59

By Zhang Tuosheng (China Daily)

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Kakuei Tanaka, former Japanese prime minister, visited China in September 1972 and, on Sept 29 of that year, the Chinese and Japanese governments issued a joint statement which restored the countries' diplomatic relations. In the 40 years since then, Sino-Japanese relations have improved substantially and their economic ties have become stronger. Events this year, though, threaten to undo some of that progress.

The dispute over the islands was fanned after Shintaro Ishihara, governor of Tokyo, announced a plan in April to "purchase" the islets of the Diaoyu Islands from the self-proclaimed private owner of that land. Ishihara is a representative of Japanese rightists, who take every chance they can to sour the countries' relations.

The ire of the Chinese people recently was further raised by Japan's detention of Chinese activists after they had landed on the Diaoyu Islands and by a landing of Japanese rightists on the same islands. In response, anti-Japan protests have broken out in dozens of Chinese cities.

Various Japanese rightists, starting from before the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan and continuing throughout the ensuing four decades, have never ceased trying to glorify war criminals and whitewash the crimes Japan committed during World War II, thereby obstructing the normal development of Sino-Japanese relations. These rightists are the common enemies of the peoples of both countries.

Japanese rightists, the most obstructive thorn in Sino-Japanese ties over the decades, are now stirring up nationalism and even hatred over the islands by making proposals to "buy" the land and "nationalize" it. It's high time that both Japanese and Chinese people bring an end to these farces staged by rightists and work together to put the countries' relations back on a normal path.

In these matters, the blame falls squarely on the Japanese government. In the 1970s, the two countries recognized that they were unlikely to be able to settle the Diaoyu Islands issue in the near future, and leaders from both nations agreed to set aside the dispute and reach a resolution at a later date. Yet, since then, especially since the 1990s, Japan has gone back on its word. Tokyo has repeatedly denied the islands are disputable and insisted that a security treaty between Japan and the United States applies to the islands. Such assertions have only driven a wedge between the two countries and given rightists an opening to pursue their hawkish ends.

To settle a dispute, one must first acknowledge that the dispute exists. Tokyo now has the unshirkable responsibility of reining in the rightists' provocative actions. The incumbent Noda administration, which is already receiving low approval ratings, should recognize that conniving at the rightists' conspiracy will only weaken its already frayed relations with China.

The mounting tension between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands is not something the two countries can afford to overlook. Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, in the six years after he took office in 2001, paid several visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a reminder of Japan's militaristic past, thus managing to put a severe strain on Sino-Japanese political relations. The countries' economic ties, in contrast, have been little affected by such tensions, but will be more vulnerable to rupture if future political disputes break out amid the current economic downturn.

At such times, the two countries must keep their fundamental interests in mind and take concrete actions to avoid further damaging their relations. It is vitally important that they stand on common ground and try to solve the Diaoyu Islands dispute peacefully, relying on political means and not force. This is the principle enshrined in the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and China will see any violation of the principle as a sign of ill will.

Over the past four decades, Sino-Japanese relations had improved significantly, the fruit of the work of generations of leaders. And, despite the current setbacks, there is no need to lose confidence in the future of the relations. Both countries should understand that adhering to the established principles of peaceful coexistence, long-term friendship from generation to generation, mutually beneficial cooperation and common development is in line with the fundamental interests of their peoples.

More than that, China and Japan, neighbors separated by only a strip of water, can look to reconciliations that have been effected between former enemies such as France and Germany and use them as examples to guide their own friendship. If the two countries can manage that, they can also go far toward guaranteeing the rise of Asia.

The author is a research fellow with the China International Strategy Research Fund.

(China Daily 09/01/2012 page5)