Easing tension over islands

Updated: 2012-12-25 07:50

(China Daily)

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Masato Kitera, Japan's new ambassador to China who arrives in Beijing on Tuesday, has a lot of weight on his shoulders.

Kitera, a career diplomat, said he is willing to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Uichiro Niwa, who traveled around China to get to know the country better.

Kitera's primary task is clearing up the mess caused by the Japanese government's "purchase" of China's Diaoyu Islands, which has triggered the worst bilateral tension in decades. Before leaving for Beijing, he did say the two countries could find the "desirable exit" from the strained relations.

But where his optimism leads depends on the new Japanese Cabinet's policy. Japan's prime minister-in-waiting Shinzo Abe, who leads the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, still refuses to make room for negotiations on the territorial dispute.

We will see the wisdom Kitera employs to pull the thorn out of China-Japan relations. He said that no matter how the next Cabinet turns out, its diplomatic policies toward China will involve people-to-people exchanges. "I expect measures to overcome the situation will emerge from such efforts."

However, the reality is that an increasing number of people on both sides entertain ill feeling toward the other. This means little solid ground is readily available for people-to-people exchanges to improve bilateral relations.

His predecessor sounded a strong warning following the flare-up of the dispute, saying the situation would be so dire that it could set back diplomacy to a time before the nations normalized relations 40 years ago. But Niwa's words fell on deaf ears, and instead he was reprimanded by the Yoshihiko Noda administration.

Niwa saw the omens of disaster when, disregarding what China thinks and stands for, the Noda administration insisted on putting some of the Diaoyu Islands under Japanese "state ownership". This has set back the bilateral relationship to such a level that the two countries could not celebrate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of their relations in late September. Also, the long-running territorial dispute has started to hurt the economic links between the world's second and third-largest economies.

Japan's new ambassador to China said the two countries should try hard to be friendly to each other as they are eternal neighbors.

His approach could work if he can find listeners back home in the new Cabinet, which is to be formed on Wednesday.

(China Daily 12/25/2012 page10)