Japanese and Chinese opinion leaders shared views on the critical importance of good bilateral relations as they gathered in Tokyo for the 10th Tokyo-Beijing Forum, which started a two-day session Sept. 28.
About 80 politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, business executives, journalists and other influential opinion leaders from both countries attended the annual workshop to serve as panelists before an audience of some 700 people.
The gathering was held under the title "The Peace of East Asia, and the Responsibilities of Japan and China - Overcoming the Difficulties with the Strength of Dialogue" amid growing signs that Japan and China are finally on track to improve ties.
Both neighboring countries, however, remain divided over the territorial dispute involving a group of tiny islets in the East China Sea and the history issue, meaning the differences in historical perceptions.
As a special quest, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the plenary session that the government is striving in earnest to end the confrontation. Kishida said that he was able to have straightforward talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in New York on Sept. 26, following their meeting in Myanmar in August.
In another indication that things are showing signs of improving, the Foreign ministry referred to a meeting Sept. 24 between senior Japanese and Chinese government officials in the Chinese city of Qingdao on Sept. 23-24. At the meeting, Japan and China agreed to resume talks on launching a bilateral "maritime communication mechanism" designed to avoid accidental military confrontations.
The two countries reached basic agreement during working-level talks in June 2012 to set up such a bilateral mechanism, but no further talks were after Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in September the same year.
Kishida's remarks prompted many Japanese and Chinese panelists to voice strong hopes that a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be achieved on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting to be held in Beijing in November. If realized, it will be the first Japan-China summit since Sept. 9, 2012, when then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda briefly talked to then Chinese President Hu Jintao in Vladivostok, Russia, on the occasion of the APEC forum meeting there. A few days later, the Noda government announced its purchase of the disputed islands from the owners, devastating bilateral ties.
The plenary session of the 10th Tokyo-Beijing Forum got under way with an opening address by Yasushi Akashi, chairman of the Japanese organizing committee with Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO serving as MC.
Akashi praised the Japanese and Chinese organizers of the Tokyo-Beijing Forum - The Genron NPO of Japan and the China Daily of China, for their efforts to sustain dialogue for the past 10 years, noting that the fact that the forum has continued so long despite hardships itself is of great significance.
Akashi, the former U.N. undersecretary-general, proposed that both countries must take a more flexible and practical stance from a broader framework of reference and longer-term perspectives in rectifying the sour bilateral ties, the worst since the normalization of diplomatic relations more than 40 years ago.
Representing the Chinese organizers, Zhu Ling, publisher and editor in chief of China Daily, said that the forum has developed into one of the most effective platforms of public diplomacy between China and Japan.
Although bilateral relations are at their lowest ebb in 10 years, both peoples must have the political courage to find reasonable and practical solutions to the difficult problems facing the two countries, Zhu stressed.
Cai Mingzhao, director of the State Council Information Office, warned in his keynote speech that the primary factors hindering the sound development of China-Japan relations are the presence of "right-wing forces" in Japan and those who support them.
Cai thereby called on Japanese people to face up squarely to the historical facts with courage, to separate themselves from militarists or militarism, to preserve postwar international orders and rules, and finally to learn lessons from history.
As measures to deepen mutual understanding between the two countries, Cai offered three proposals. They are: 1) To continue the Tokyo-Beijing Forum dialogue for another 10 years to strengthen dialogue and exchanges; 2) to recognize the four key political documents signed between the two governments since the normalization of diplomatic relations as the basis of the bilateral relations of peace and friendship, and initiate public moves to transform the documents into social consensus; and 3) to promote exchanges between media organizations of the two countries as primary sources of information for both peoples to build up their image of the other country.
The four documents cited by Cai are the joint communique signed by then Premier Chou Enlai and then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1972 to normalize diplomatic relations, the treaty of peace and friendship signed in 1978, the joint declaration signed in 1998 between then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and the joint statement issued in 2008 by then Chinese leader Hu Jintao and then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda outlining the comprehensive promotion of a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.
Following Cai's speech, former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda delivered a keynote speech in which he regretted the fact that this part of the world is regarded as one of the world's "hot spots" due to the Japan-China confrontation. He expressed his strong hopes that Chinese President Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe will exercise strong political leadership to end the bilateral animosity.
Recalling Japan's failures in the past, Fukuda warned that China and its people must stop and think how their behavior is being viewed by their neighbors or by the rest of the world. "I would like to believe in your avowed policy of peaceful development, but there is no denying the fact that these days, China is being viewed with caution and apprehension.
Asia is indeed the growth center of the world, Fukuda continued, but at the same time, Asia is rapidly aging and Asia is notorious as a dog-eat-dog region. "There should not be a winner or a loser in diplomacy. In this century, public opinion has a heavy bearing on diplomatic initiatives. If such should be the case, the best policy is to reach accords with each side making certain concessions," Fukuda opined.
Fukuda was followed by Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua, who asked for more Japan efforts 1) to eradicate political impediments to the betterment of bilateral relations by finding solutions to the territorial dispute and the history issue from a broader perspective; 2) to improve public sentiment by educating the public on the importance of the four political documents; 3) to promote mutually beneficial relations, especially in economic and business areas; and 4) to strengthen a crisis management system to avoid accidental military clashes, especially at sea.
Following Foreign Minister Kishida's brief address, Zhao Qicheng, dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, and a founder of the Tokyo-Beijing Forum, told the plenary session that current Japan-China relations are the worst since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1972.
Noting that Japan-China confrontations are no longer a concern for both countries but for the rest of the world, Zhao emphasized the importance of the four key political documents as the basis for future bilateral relations. The documents are full of Oriental wisdom, he said.
Zhao said he is confident that China and Japan will be able to create a new relationship of peaceful coexistence as President Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed, after their lengthy talks at the White House last year, on the formation of a new superpower relationship between the United States and China.
He added that public opinion or sentiment will affect policy directions and public diplomacy like this forum is important in that the private sector makes up for the deficiencies of the public sector, or government.
THE 10TH TOKYO-BEIJING FORUM:Debates during 2nd half of plenary session
The second half of the first-day plenary session was devoted to discussions among panelists from both sides.
Yuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China, served as the moderator on the Japanese side, and Chen Jian, a former Chinese ambassador to Japan, as the moderator on the Chinese side.
The invited panelists were; from Japan, Makoto Iokibe, chairman of the board of directors at the Prefectural University of Kumamoto and a former president of the National Defense Academy, and Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman & CEO of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai); and from China, Zhu Chenguhu, a major general and professor of the College of Defense Studies of the National Defense University, and Wei Jianguo, a vice chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
Miyamoto candidly commented on Cai's keynote address and described his criticism of Japan as being "too much" for a majority of Japanese people. Against such a backdrop, China-Japan relations have been drifting aimlessly and are likely heading nowhere, Miyamoto regretted.
In a keynote report, Zhu said that there is no alternative for both countries but to opt for collaboration, instead of confrontation. "For the peace and security of this region, and for the creation of integrity in East Asia, Japan-China cooperation is indispensable," Zhu said.
"Any accidental incident might trigger nationalistic outcries (on both sides), leading to full-scale military conflict. It is quite regrettable that despite the end of the Cold War, Japan and the United States are heading toward a reinforcement of their military alliance with China as their potential enemy," the military expert warned.
As a historian, Iokibe opined that in the long history of mankind, a military conflict occurs when a big power newly emerges and attempts to break the status quo or the conventional order, especially militarily. To avoid it, a country with an advantage must behave circumspectly and act with restraint, he said.
Admitting that the advent of China as a superpower is a rare development of unprecedented proportions in human history, Iokibe urged China to be more sensitive to its neighbors' sentiments toward its behavior.
On economic issues, Wei pointed out that Japan's presence as China's trade partner continues to ebb. For 11 consecutive years till 2004, Japan was China's largest trade partner. Today, Japan is only No. 5 and will be surpassed by South Korea this year to fall to No. 6, according to Wei.
Due to the confrontation, Japan and China are suffering substantially in economic terms and someone is fishing in the troubled waters, Wei noted, adding he is pinning high hopes on the political decisions of the two countries' top leaders to end the impasse.
Wei's apprehension was duly shared by Hasegawa, who visited Beijing recently as a member of a high-level Japanese business mission. But all he was told in Beijing was "the ball is in your court," a political message, he said.
Japan-China relations were once dubbed as "politically cold and economically hot," but it is high time that we change the connotation of this metaphor to "politically cool-headed and economically hot," Hasegawa said in a message emphasizing that politics ought to be disengaged from business as much as possible.
"We have many, many tasks that could be addressed jointly, including collaboration in addressing the structural reforms of both economies, utilization of Japanese expertise and technologies to reduce environmental problems in China, and creation of a new social security system to cope with the aging populations, among others," he said.
At the end of the panel discussion, Iokibe and Chen exchanged views about the so-called differences in historic perceptions.
Iokibe said that the Japanese are fully aware and repentant about what Japan did to China before and during the last war. But Japan did do its best to help China rebuild its economy with massive economic and technological assistance, he said, mentioning also Japan's backing for China's entry in 2001 into the World Trade Organization and help in lifting the West's sanctions against China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989.
He thereby asked China to correctly recognize Japan's contribution to China in the postwar years and give Japan high marks for its postwar peaceful development.
Chen responded to Iokibe's remarks and said that despite the unhappy relations in the recent past, many Chinese are cognizant of Japan's path from the Meiji Restoration to the present. "We, Chinese, see Japan as our model," Chen said, adding that bilateral difficulties should be solved by any methods that come out of the particular relationship of the two countries. (END)