[轉載] Japan and China Peace breaking out (溫家寶訪日)
Japan and China
Peace breaking out
Apr 4th 2007 | TOKYO AND BEIJING From The Economist print edition
A concerted effort to improve relations in the shadow of historical grudges
THE way the Chinese like to put it, the trip to Beijing last October by Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, “broke the ice”. The two countries' relationship had been plunged into the chiller by the provocative visits of Mr Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to Yasukuni, the Tokyo war shrine that glorifies Japan's militarist past. Now, the trip that Wen Jiabao will make to Tokyo and Kyoto on April 11th-13th, the first visit to Japan in more than six years by a Chinese prime minister, will be the “ice-melter”. Optimism abounds on both sides. But it is wishful thinking to expect the problems between Asia's two biggest powers to be reduced to a few puddles of warm water.
For now, China is determined to do everything to make Mr Wen's trip a success. Take the issue of the so-called “comfort women”. Mr Abe has in the past month caught himself up in an uncalled-for furore by refusing to admit that the Japanese imperial army coerced Korean, Chinese and other women to work in brothels in the second world war. This managed to offend even Japan's staunch ally, the United States. Yet the Chinese government, usually quick to take historical offence, has studiously ignored the fuss. Indeed, over more recent abductions that Mr Abe cares very deeply about—of ordinary Japanese kidnapped by North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s—Mr Wen himself expresses sympathy for Japanese concerns.
As for the Yasukuni shrine, to which Mr Abe has traditionally been a more committed visitor than has Mr Koizumi, the Chinese believe that they have an understanding from him that he will not go while he is prime minister. Afterwards, says one Chinese policymaker, he can even go and live at Yasukuni, for all the Chinese will care.
If this minimum requirement—no prime ministerial visit, or at least no public one, to Yasukuni—is met, then the Chinese government seems determined to build a new “strategic partnership”. Japan seems inclined to reciprocate. In a surprisingly short time, a wide range of topics has come up: economic and environmental co-operation; mechanisms to ease territorial disputes in the East China Sea, complicated by possibly large deposits of gas and oil; even confidence-building measures between the two countries' armed forces.
Mr Wen's visit will formalise a new cabinet-level dialogue on economic co-operation. In addition, Japanese firms will be offered the chance to bid for nuclear-power projects, as well as for parts of proposed high-speed railway lines between Beijing and Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan, and Dalian and Harbin in Manchuria—whose railways imperial Japan once controlled. Japanese investment and know-how will be sought for environmental projects, including on energy efficiency.
The dispute in the East China Sea is potentially explosive. The hydrocarbon deposits fall on both sides of the median line between the two countries that Japan says should be the boundary between their respective exclusive economic zones. China does not recognise the boundary, and is already extracting gas from a field which straddles it. Progress over the dispute appears slow—a seventh round of bilateral talks ended last week in Tokyo. Yet participants say that understandings have been reached in important areas. In particular, China has accepted that the solution lies not in focusing on prickly issues of territoriality, but on joint development of the disputed fields. The haggling is now over precisely which areas should be developed. Meanwhile, Chinese officials say their vessels carefully avoid crossing the disputed boundary. There is talk of establishing a hotline between the Japan Coast Guard and the China National Oceanic Bureau, to co-ordinate search-and-rescue missions in an increasingly crowded sea.
Dates, damn dates
Military relations also appear to be warming. A similar hotline is expected between the two countries' navies, partly in order to prevent incidents such as accidental collisions at sea from escalating. Defence ministers plan reciprocal visits. The official Chinese press also reflects the new warmth. Nanfeng Chuang, a weekly magazine, reported on April 1st that Japan “naturally” had concerns about China's military expansion, given its territorial disputes with its neighbour—a departure in the press from the usual claims of a resurgent Japanese militarism. Now there is talk of an official visit to Japan later this year by the Chinese navy, with the prospect (hard, until recently, to imagine) of the five-starred red flag flying in Tokyo Bay.
In a rare honour, Mr Wen has been invited to address Japan's parliament, where he will suggest that China is rising, but along a peaceful incline; he will invite Japan to share it. As well as meeting politicians and Emperor Akihito, Mr Wen has asked to chat to students and farmers. He is also to meet the head of Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest Buddhist organisation, with 8m households. The charm offensive, says a Chinese diplomat, is meant to show people that China has a “new idea” about Japan. This is unlikely ever to extend to support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations' Security Council. But with so many other obstacles blocking UNSC reform, that can be overlooked.
China's push for better relations involves some political risk at home—and not least because Mr Abe, having opened to China, has to survive upper-house elections in the summer. The months ahead are studded with sensitive anniversaries related to Japan's wartime depredations in China. Any of these could rekindle the anti-Japanese sentiment that erupted into unruly demonstrations in 2005. China's state media emphasise that this year should be celebrated as the 35th anniversary of “normalised” relations with Japan. Yet ordinary people are more likely to note that July 7th will be the 70th anniversary of the start of Japan's all-out invasion, and December 13th that of Japan's worst atrocity in China, the Nanjing massacre. Last month an adviser to China's parliament proposed that September 18th be named as a “day of national calamity” because of Japan's occupation of Manchuria beginning on that day in 1931. The icebergs are melting, but historical issues still make up their underwater mass.