Change in diplomatic strategy

Updated: 2014-08-05 08:03

By Zhou Yongsheng(China Daily)

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China Forum

China has taken the initiative in countering the provocations by Japan in order to bring relations back onto the correct track

In the face of the continuous provocations from some of its neighbors, China's diplomacy has become more active. This has been especially obvious in China's foreign policy toward Japan.

In general, Japan used to decide the state of relations with China. The relationship went well when Tokyo wanted to keep good ties with Beijing and chose not to make any provocative moves; it went sour when Japan intentionally made provocations, especially since 2012 when it nationalized the main islands at the heart of the territorial dispute between the two countries, which had been shelved for decades.

China, irrespective of its unilateral efforts to push for good bilateral ties, was previously always reactive in the face of such provocations. It was either forced to take counter acts or left to tolerate Japan's mischievous moves while waiting patiently for the next opportunity to mend bilateral ties.

As a result, many Japanese leaders, including the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, have become "spoiled teens". They have long taken Beijing's tolerance for granted and repeatedly challenged it by visiting the notorious Yasukuni Shrine or denying Japan's atrocities prior to and during World War II. Whether it was offended or not, China always failed to claim the moral high ground before Japan, which would always portray Beijing as the one unwilling to improve bilateral relationship once it refused Tokyo's disingenuous requests for high-level meetings.

Nonetheless, the situation has begun to change. Beijing has been playing a more active role in putting the bilateral relationship on the right track. Its Japan policy in the first seven months of this year has focused on both restoring mutual trust between both sides, as well as dealing a blow to the Japanese rightist forces.

First of all, by inviting influential senior officials in Japan, including former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama and chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono to visit China, Beijing has shown its respect to Japanese leaders who are not pursuing the right-wing agenda, and who can push for political rapprochement with their influence in Japanese society and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In return, Chinese high-ranking officials such as Tang Jiaxuan, China's former state councilor and current head of the China-Japan Friendship Association, have paid visits to Japan this year regardless of the rising tensions between both countries. Given that Beijing rarely sent senior officials to visit Tokyo during previous political stalemates, it is thus noteworthy that China has gone to considerable lengths to address the current impasse in relations more actively.

Besides, Beijing has made Dec 13 the official day to commemorate the victims of the 1937/38 Nanjing Massacre and Sept 3 as the Remembrance Day for the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The Japanese rightists, including Shinzo Abe, who brazenly disavow the country's invasions and crimes in Asia, including the Nanjing Massacre, should realize that China will not stand idly by and ignore such denials, and it will keep urging Tokyo to face up to its war crimes.

More importantly, numerous authentic historical archives recording Japan's atrocities during its invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s are being released by China's State Archives Administration and other local archives via various media outlets this year. The documents, many of which were originally kept by then Japanese troops in China and written in Japanese, provide irrefutable proof of Japan's heinous crimes, including those committed in Nanjing, then the capital of China under the name of Nanking, and against the "Comfort Women" who were forced by Japanese army to be their sex slaves.

Another highlight of China's present diplomatic stance is its dispassionate attitude toward Japan's preposterous accusations of Beijing's growing military might. Indeed, China has argued less with Tokyo regarding its increasing military expenditure than it has done in the past. For a peace-loving country like China, any allegations questioning its growing national defense capability are truly groundless.

On the contrary, Beijing prefers utilizing its might in the global economy as a way of preserving regional peace, which has become more self-evident with its recent endeavor to help establish the Asian and BRICS development banks and so forth.

Obviously, Beijing's "less talk, more action" attitude is a better response to Tokyo's ill-considered accusations and provocations. But undoubtedly China must improve the efficacy of its diplomatic strategies toward Japan, as the Abe administration has no intention of holding sincere talks with Beijing. Fortunately, Beijing is walking on the righteous path to better relations with Japan when it is no longer silent but acting on its own initiative.

The author is a professor of Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University.