Ties with Japan handled with care

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am

Sino-Japanese relations may be at their best in three decades, but neither side can afford to be complacent if those ties are to continue to improve, says Cui Tiankai, the new Chinese ambassador to Japan.

Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, Mr Cui identified several areas in which improvements had been made, including discussions over natural resources beneath the East China Sea and a joint examination of the two nations' history, and expressed the hope that bilateral ties could be further enhanced.

'Relations are improving, and I'm very happy about that, but as between any countries, there are still problems,' he said in response to a question about the Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of Japan's war dead are revered, and a rallying point for many on the far right of Japanese politics.

'But as long as we have a strong framework and political basis, by working together we can bridge whatever differences we might have, and on the whole, I am optimistic about our future relationship.'

Formerly an assistant minister of foreign affairs in Beijing, Mr Cui took up his post in Tokyo three months ago, his arrival coinciding with a steady warming of ties between the two countries after Yasuo Fukuda was named Japanese prime minister.

'I believe I have come to Japan at the right time,' Mr Cui said. 'Prime Minister Fukuda made a very successful visit to China, our two leaders had very substantive discussions and reached important agreements to further develop our relations.'

Proof of that will be underlined by the arrival of President Hu Jintao in Japan in the spring, the first visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade.

Turning to the thorny issue of gas and oil deposits beneath the East China Sea and the ongoing talks about the two nations' Exclusive Economic Zones, Mr Cui said that although the issue was 'difficult and sensitive', both sides were displaying the political will to solve the problem - and that an agreement might be reached before Mr Hu's arrival.

'What we are working on now is to have a formula for joint development of the resources,' he said. 'That is a very pragmatic approach, and we are making progress. Hopefully, in a short time, the two governments can reach a formula and we can progress.

'I think legal issues have to be solved in the future.'

He also pledged China's commitment to the six-party talks on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, emphasising that the issues were difficult, but had security implications for the entire world.

Mr Cui reiterated Beijing's position that Taiwan was an integral part of a single China, but said he did not expect any problems at the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games if Taiwanese athletes competed under the flag of Chinese Taipei, as they have in the past.

He also praised progress made by historians from both sides to draw up a historical record that took into account both nations' perceptions of the tumultuous early years of the 20th century, emphasising the purpose of examining history.

Commenting specifically on the Nanking Massacre, he said: 'What happened, happened. That is quite clear. The goal of the joint studies is to prevent the same thing from happening again.

'The most important thing to remember is that the massacre did take place in Nanjing , and I do not think it is useful to debate exactly how many died. A huge number did die, and I think it's enough that we know that.'