03/28/2006, 00.00
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China and Japan seek rapprochement

by Pino Cazzaniga

Following the controversy caused by Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, the Chinese government is turning to other figures in the political and economic spheres. At the end of March, a Japanese delegation is set to make a significant visit to Hu Jintao.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – A meeting set to be held on Friday, 31 March, in Beijing could be an important step ahead in the rapprochement between Japan and China. According to Chinese sources, the address of Chinese president, Hu Jintao, at the upcoming encounter with a delegation of seven Japanese groups that are friendly to China, is intended to be a message to the people of Japan. If the content of his address is faithful to the draft that the daily newspaper, Asahi, managed to get a copy of, it will not make direct reference to the problem of the Japanese prime minister's visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, where 14 notorious war criminals are honoured together with around two and a half million war dead. All the same, he will recall the joint statements of 1972 and 1998, in which the two nations commit to recognizing the historical truth with clarity and sincerity.

It is the difficulties prevailing between the two countries – and not a lack of ability of China and Japan to read the signs of the times – that have so far prevented Asia from taking up the road to integration, just as Europe set out to do in the post-war period. In December 1997, the leaders of ten members of the ASEAN group (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia), at the invitation of China, Japan and South Korea, created the "ASEAN forum plus three" while meeting in Beijing. The planned agreement appeared so promising that there was talk of developments like "the dawn of the East Asian Community" (EAC).

On 25 February this year, on the initiative of the Japan Foundation, a group of 50 politicians, journalists and researchers from Japan and South-East Asia, who met in Manila for a symposium on building the Asian community, did not hesitate to talk about regression. "The EAC," they confessed, "is still in the 'middle of the night'; we are far from the dawn." The unfriendly relations between Japan and China are the reason for this. From October 2001 to date, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, have never met in their respective countries. The leader of China refuses to welcome to Beijing a prime minister of Japan who has visited the Shintoist shrine of Yasukuni every year since coming to power.

All the same, while taking into account the gravity of the friction, it would be exaggeratedly pessimistic to maintain that the two governments have reached the point of breaking off ties. On the contrary, in recent months, there have been moves that make one suspect a reversal in China's policy about Japan. We can pinpoint three. First of all, there are people in Japan sympathizing with China at a number of levels; and in China, there are quite a considerable number of sympathizers for Japan. This is for economic and cultural reasons. Secondly, Chinese diplomacy, having noted that Koizumi will not be removed, has decided to avoid him and at the same time to multiply contacts with other members of the Japanese government and political world. For example, during a recent trip in Japan, the deputy foreign affairs minister of China, Dai Bingguo, visited not the prime minister, but Shinzo Abe, chief Cabinet secretary, most widely tipped as successor to Koizumi, who quits his post in September. The Chinese leadership is therefore operating with the post-Koizumi scenario in mind. Koizumi, meanwhile, although he has not renounced to his visits to Yasukuni, is not irresponsible and behind the scenes, he favours government contacts with Beijing. In the last cabinet reshuffle he appointed Toshihiro Nikai, known for his cordial relations with Chinese circles, as minister for industry and trade. Last month, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, meeting Nikai in Beijing, expressed his desire for a rapprochement between the two governments. Ultimately, the leaders of China urgently want to give a message of sympathy to the Japanese people, distinguishing them from their rulers.

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See also
Yasukuni still blocking reconciliation between Japan and China
Lowest point in Sino-Japanese relations since 1972
Tokyo-Seoul, dialogue on certain conditions
Legacy of Junichiro Koizumi, new overtures to China
Emperor Akihito pays homage to foreign dead of World War II


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