Thirty-five years have passed since Japan and China took their first step toward building friendly relations as neighbors who stand on an equal footing and respect each other.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries came into effect on Oct. 23, 1978. A ceremony held in Tokyo for the exchange of instruments of ratification was attended by Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping.
There were two key factors that bound the two countries back then.
One was their diplomatic stance against the Soviet Union. During the negotiations for the treaty, China insisted a provision be included in the final document stating that the two countries are opposed to any attempts to establish hegemony in Asia. It was clearly aimed at the Soviet Union, and Japan accepted China’s demand.
The other factor behind the treaty was Japan’s economic aid to China. At that time, China’s gross domestic product was less than a quarter of Japan’s. Anticipating China’s future economic development, Japan offered financial assistance to the country. Over a period of years, Japan provided more than 3 trillion yen ($30 billion) in yen loans to China.
Times have changed. The Soviet Union is gone, while China’s GDP has surpassed Japan’s. The interests of both countries now are quite different from those that defined the relationship more than three decades ago.
Even so, some realities remain unchanged. Japan and China are major powers in Asia and both countries can benefit greatly from cooperation and mutual help.
Unfortunately, the two countries are at loggerheads over their conflicting claims to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. During the East Asia Summit earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, referring to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, called for the observation of international law by the countries involved. But China took umbrage at the comment and said no country other than those directly involved in the disputes should intervene.
On the other hand, exchanges between Japan and China, mostly suspended since last year because of the Senkakus dispute, are being resumed gradually. Last month, a 10-member Chinese trade mission visited Japan. The members included top executives of major companies. A Japanese economic organization is now gearing up for a visit to China. On Oct. 22, an event to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the bilateral peace and friendship treaty was held in Beijing.
China, of course, has not softened its hard-line stance toward Japan. Chinese people still harbor deep-rooted anti-Japan sentiment. China is trying to first revitalize private-sector exchanges and then apply pressure gradually in the political field.
It can at least be said that a consensus is emerging in both countries that slamming the door shut to bilateral exchanges is detrimental to the interests of both.
It is not uncommon in the world of diplomacy for two countries to seek to work closely together even though they have disagreements on certain issues. A country’s diplomatic prowess is tested by whether it can figure out an effective formula for cooperation. Even if there is no immediate prospect for progress toward a solution to the row over the Senkaku Islands, there is still much room for Japan and China to rebuild their ties through cooperation in tackling other challenges.
In China, for instance, the problem of air pollution is getting more serious. It has been estimated that the lifespans of Chinese affected by the pollution will be shortened by 5.5 years. There are concerns that the pollution could reach western Japan. There are other areas where Japan and China can cooperate in a way that is beneficial for both, such as policy responses to the problems of infectious diseases and an aging population.
On the day when the treaty came into force, Deng said, “This treaty may have far more profound implications than we now imagine.” He may have anticipated that the importance of cooperation between Japan and China would increase over time.
The treaty still contains many phrases and sentences that are germane to bilateral relations today, such as “settle all disputes by peaceful means” and “equality and mutual benefit.”
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 23
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