Cause for optimism in Abe's shrine offering
Making friends with former sworn enemies takes time, tolerance and understanding. Beijing has adopted this tried-and-tested formula by refraining from criticising Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent offering to a shrine viewed by its Asian neighbours as a symbol of past militarism. It is hoped that Mr Abe's move will not prevent both sides from pushing ahead with their pledge to improve relations.
The sending of a potted shrub to the Yasukuni war shrine last month by Mr Abe, which appears to be his first direct show of respect for the shrine since taking office, risked upsetting those delicate efforts. He sent the offering in the name of the prime minister, which made it potentially more offensive than if it had come from Mr Abe as an individual. However, he has still not gone so far as to visit the shrine, unlike his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. There is, therefore, some cause for optimism.
Beijing's response to Tuesday's revelation was measured: it was a far cry from the heated outbursts that have marked such nationalist gestures from Japan in the past. South Korea's reaction was as China's might have been had an agreement to work together for mutual gain not been signed during the visit by Premier Wen Jiabao to Tokyo last month. The foreign ministry in Seoul called the Japanese leader's decision 'very regrettable'.
Mr Abe is in a difficult position. A nationalist among a ruling elite that shares his views and facing parliamentary elections in the summer, he is torn between the need to mend ties with the rest of Asia and adhering to the views of those who chose him to be Japan's leader. His half-measure of appeasement with the shrine offering is, perhaps, understandable in the circumstances. But it would have been better if the offering had not been made. Beijing's restraint in not commenting directly is to be commended.
But much more understanding by both sides is needed. Japan must be more sensitive to Asian grievances. China, South Korea and other Asian nations, meanwhile, should show tolerance so that the process of improving relations can continue.