Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The state visit by China’s Prime Minister to Japan on April 11-13 represents a watershed in the relations between the two peoples marking a transition from enmity to dialogue. Prospects are good and there is talk about a possible trip to Tokyo by Chinese President Hu Jintao and a return visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Beijing. Only cloud on the horizon may be a possible Abe visit, even a private one, to Japan’s Yasukuni Temple, home to the remains of Japanese soldiers who died in war, including convicted World War Two war criminals.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the ‘Nanking Massacre’ (which Chinese sources put at 300,000) by Japan’s Imperial Army as well as the 35th anniversary of the normalisation of Sino-Japanese relations. Despite everything the second event has not bridged the gap created by the first.
Mr Wen said that it was good to have an opportunity to improve relations on the 35th anniversary of their normalisation. For Mr Abe the meeting was a “great step forward” towards more mature strategic relations.
The summit was designed especially to enhance friendly relations and improve co-operation. From this perspective it was a success as Mr Wen acknowledge in his farewell statement.
The 35-minute speech Mr Wen addressed to the Japanese Diet was the highlight of the visit, which The Japan Times editorial page called “historic”, reaching beyond the parliament building to touch millions of Japanese and Chinese. Indeed, back in China, people saw the speech live on giant screens placed in several locations in the country’s main cities.
In his address to Japan’s lawmakers Mr Wen began by praising Prime Minister Abe saying that his visit to Beijing in October was an “ice breaker” whilst his visit to Japan could be seen as an “ice thawer.”
In order to achieve his objective he had to deal with the history that created the ice. He did so by courting the Japanese public and restraining anti-Japanese feelings at home.
After noting that both peoples were victims of a handful of militarists, he said: “[T]he Japanese Government and leaders have on many occasions stated their position on the historical issue, admitted that Japan had committed aggression and expressed deep remorse and apology to the victimised countries. The Chinese Government and people appreciate the position they have taken.”
Even though he did not directly mention the two controversial issues that have divided the two countries, namely the visit to the Yasukuni Temple by Japanese politicians and various attempts to rewrite history textbooks, he did make a suggestion as to what to do. “We sincerely hope,” he said in fact, “that the Japanese side will act as it has stated and honour its commitment.” These words are clearly a veiled invitation to Japan’s leaders not to visit Yasukuni.
In his speech Premier Wen also thanked Japan for its (economic and technological) support which enabled China to achieve its current “modernisation drive,” which is “something the Chinese people will never forget.”
He also had the courage to acknowledge that “China remains a developing country [. . .] with a huge population, [a] weak foundation and [. . .] a long way to go before it can realise modernisation.”
“The speech was very interesting. (Wen) must have made the speech with very important and clear purposes,” said Prof Tomoyuki Kojima from Tokyo’s Keio University.
In Kojima’s view, Wen tried to stress to the Chinese people the importance of their economic relationship with Japan and the need to drop radical anti-Japanese sentiments. To the Japanese, Wen was probably trying to impress that China's stance toward Japan had changed.
Wen's speech “was very forward-looking and made positive remarks on a broad range of topics,” Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.
Chikage Ogi, president of Japan's upper house, said she was excited to hear Wen's speech, adding that she did not feel there was any "ice" left "to thaw" in the relationship between the two countries.
Wen’s success is undoubtedly due to China’s able leadership. However, Chinese leaders would not have dared as much if they were not aware of a large reservoir of sympathy towards Japan, especially in China’s coastal cities.
On his arrival at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Mr Wen was received by a large number of Chinese. Currently, some 90,000 are registered as students in the land of the Rising Sun.
Most Chinese who study in Japan don't hate the country, a survey published by Reuters shows, challenging a common view that they turn anti-Japanese due to discrimination and what many in China see as Japan's whitewashing of wartime atrocities.
“Feelings towards Japan are relatively positive and more positive than their feelings towards all the rest of the countries,” according to a survey conducted by Chinese Ministry of Education's Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange and its deputy director Shao Wei.
The results debunk the stereotype that Chinese educated in Japan are hostile towards their host country.
Prime Minister Abe told his Chinese counterpart that to improve mutual trust visits must take place more often. For this reason he said he would like to visit China before the end of the year, hoping that China’s President Hu Jintao might come to Japan early next year.
Although Abe’s wish is sincere it is also clear that he made the statement because the Chinese asked him.
Now the ball game is in Japan’s court. If Mr Abe visits Yakusuni, even on a private visit, the thawing of relations might come to an abrupt and worrisome stop.