Atmosphere must be improved first of all for better Japan-China relations: experts

March 10, 2014

Video: Japanese Only

Makoto IokibeMakoto Iokibe, Former President of the National Defense Academy of Japan

Yuji MiyamotoYuji Miyamoto, Chairman of Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, Former Ambassador to China

Akio TakaharaAkio Takahara, Professor of the Faculty of Law of the University of Tokyo

Yasushi KudoYasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO

At a time when Japan-China relations are unlikely to be repaired anytime soon, efforts must be made first of all to improve the political atmosphere between the two countries, according to foreign affairs experts.

Unless the bilateral atmosphere is improved, no specific action can be taken to find a way out of the situation, said Yuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China.

If people at the top do not move, lower-ranking officials cannot move, Miyamoto said. "This kind of structure exists in both countries, particularly in China," he said.

Miyamoto was a speaker at a Genron NPO-organized discussion on how to build a new political order in Asia. Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo served as the moderator at the discussion, which also included Makoto Iokibe, former president of the National Defense Academy of Japan, and Akio Takahara, a professor of the Faculty of Law of the University of Tokyo.

Miyamoto, currently chairman of the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, said that Japan and China should strive to create an environment in which they can send messages to each other expressing their intention of improving bilateral relations.

At present, there is a lot of fierce anti-Japanese propaganda in China, mainly targeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Takahara said.

Groundwork must be done to correct such an unfavorable situation, he said. To this end, it is vitally important that Chinese President Xi Jinping obtains accurate information about Japan, Takahara said. Japan should try harder to approach the Chinese leader by using or newly opening various channels between the two countries, he said.

Takahara, who is also a senior fellow of the Tokyo Foundation, made the remarks in a separate interview taped before the discussion.

According to Iokibe, longer-term factors, notably China's view about its status as a major power, should also be considered for mending fences between the two countries.

Major countries usually regard themselves as "exceptional states," Iokibe said. Calling attention to China's attempts to seize disputed islands in the South China Sea and its territorial claim to a group of Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea, he said that China's traditional stance is that neighboring countries should respect what Beijing hopes to gain and that if they adopt such an attitude, they will be able to have favorable relations with China.

In parallel with the tough stance, China also has a desire to be a country that is respected by its neighbors, and this was indicated by President Xi's speech at a meeting of Chinese leaders on neighborhood diplomacy in Beijing in October, Iokibe said.

China believes that it should prosper together with neighboring countries and therefore, peaceful and stable relations should be established with these countries, Miyamoto said. While hoping to be respected by its neighbors, China also understands that this can be realized only by respecting them.

"China no doubt likes this kind of aesthetics," but it has not discovered specifically how to deal with neighboring countries, particularly over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Miyamoto said.

China has two different faces - a very peaceful, ethical nature and an inclination toward strength as an actual means, he said. "What the international community can do from now is to try to persuade China to be a country that will be treated better by us and on good terms with neighboring countries," he said.

According to Iokibe, currently chancellor of the Prefectural University of Kumamoto, Chinese officials and experts whom he met on various occasions in the past were not necessarily clear about how China should define itself as a big power.

At a time when Chinese opinion represents various ideas, the country's leaders are having difficulty paraphrasing China's traditional values in the current perspective, Miyamoto said. China cannot exist with its historical and traditional background set aside, and therefore, China should consider how to regain its historical and traditional values, and maintain them in its current society, he said.

However, these traditional values will not be accommodated as long as China espouses Marxist-Leninist and other communist principles, Miyamoto said. "This is the biggest of their logical inconsistencies at present," he said.

Japan's government nationalized the disputed islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku Islands by Japan, in September 2012. This was a development on the part of Japan, not a fundamental move in Japan-China relations, but China does not see the move in such a context, Iokibe said.

China turned up the heat on the territorial issue as Japan's move came amid a difficult struggle within the Chinese leadership before the transition of power from President Hu Jintao to President Xi, he said. "China took the small change on the Japanese side to make a strategic change" in its policy toward the dispute with Japan, Iokibe said. Because this is an attempt by China that reflects an increase in its strength in this region, Japan should be careful not to easily compromise with China, he said.

While calmly addressing the situation, Japan should strengthen its alliance with the United States and try to be on good terms with Russia, and with countries in Southeast Asia and other regions, thereby forming forward-looking relations with every country, Iokibe said.

The United States is becoming even more aware that China is trying to change the status quo in East Asia by force, Miyamoto said. Washington is sending messages to the countries concerned that it will not tolerate such a move and in these circumstances, U.S.-China relations have become more strained, he said.

Should an unexpected incident occur in this part of the world, the United States will no doubt intervene in that event, Miyamoto said.

Japan should also calmly consider having a frank exchange of views with China about how to regard each other toward the future; whether they should see each other as eternal potential enemies or as partners in the future, he said.

Japan had to surrender at the end of the last war in 1945, and this was because Japan, an island country, took hostile actions against the big powers on both sides of the Pacific, the United States and China, Iokibe noted. In order to ensure a safe course for Japan in the 21st century, it must not be hostile toward these two countries, he said.

This does not necessarily mean that Japan should simultaneously have friendly relations with the big powers on both sides, Iokibe said. While maintaining its existing alliance with the United States, Japan should seek to have "entente," a diplomatic term that means mutually beneficial understanding, with China, Iokibe said.

Japan and China only need to have partial common interests, rather than entirely sharing their fortunes, and retain them by all means, he said. "The Japan-U.S. alliance plus a Japan-China entente will be indispensable for Japan's existence and prosperity in the 21st century," Iokibe said.

There are disagreements in China over the series of touchy diplomatic issues in this region and it is not that Chinese leaders are in complete agreement on changing the status quo in East Asia simply by force, Miyamoto said.

There are not a few people who oppose solving the regional problems by force, preferring to find a solution through international cooperation, he said. When Japan strives to improve the atmosphere with China, it should also be aware of the importance of facilitating these people in increasing their voices in China, he said.

Japan's government leaders, led by Prime Minister Abe, should send positive messages to China in an appropriate manner and obtain a response from the Chinese side, but on top of this, efforts must also be made to step up non-governmental interchanges, such as those between the business community, and cultural and youth organizations, Miyamoto said.

Should China move to strengthen its security policy militarily, Japan may demonstrate its readiness to counter such a move, but at the same time, Japan should also consider taking "a soft approach" toward China from now on while showing a willingness to "understand its pain," he said.

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