Partnership a goal worth pursuing
Japan's new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, is not a young man, nor is he likely to be an innovative policymaker in light of his being chosen as a 'safe pair of hands' after the disastrous premiership of Shinzo Abe. Nonetheless, his announcement yesterday of an 'equal partnership' with China comes as a breath of fresh air for a region longing for security and stability.
Such an approach makes sense given that Japan and China have Asia's biggest economies. Working together, they can create a peaceful environment that for too long has been filled with mistrust, suspicion and acrimony. Ties sank under nationalist prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, but Mr Abe gave hope of a shift by pushing relations with China forward at an unprecedented pace. Despite the progress, though, Mr Abe's own conservative credentials always left an element of doubt.
Mr Fukuda has none of that baggage. He is picking up the Asia-friendly policies that his father, Takeo Fukuda, adopted during his two-year stint as prime minister in the late 1970s. The crux of that approach is what Mr Fukuda described in his speech to parliament yesterday as 'peacemaking diplomacy'. He laid out this goal as being to seek out 'a responsible international role for our country that can win global faith and make diplomatic effort to contribute to world peace'.
In Asia, this means strengthening ties with nations that suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers before and during the second world war. Particular attention needs to be given to China. Premier Wen Jiabao made it clear on Friday after a phone conversation with Mr Fukuda that Beijing wants a stable relationship with Tokyo based on friendly co-operation. The Japanese leader has taken this on board and gone a step further in seeking partnership.
Whether Mr Fukuda can achieve this, given the domestic challenges he and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party face, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, every effort must be made towards realising this aspiration. Doing so will not only benefit China and Japan, but will also usher in a new era of calm and prosperity for Asia as a whole.