Optimism over Sino-Japanese ties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am


Usually, meetings between the leaders of China and Japan have served as an occasion for grappling with bilateral concerns. However, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's first official visit to Beijing earlier this week was different, with the death of North Korea's Kim Jong-il shifting the focus away from economic issues and the looming 40th anniversary of their countries' diplomatic relations.

In place of promises to resolve thorny disputes was a desire for regional peace and stability and pledges of mutual trust and closer co-operation. Animosity and suspicions will not be easily laid to rest, but there can be no better opportunity than one offered by times such as these to put in place the foundations for friendly ties.

Premier Wen Jiabao put it best during talks with Noda on Sunday, when he stressed that the countries should be 'good neighbours and partners rather than opponents'. They are, after all, important regional and global players with a history of 2,000 years of interaction, friendly for most of that time. By working together on wider matters of joint concern, with peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula among the most pressing, conditions can be created to better deal with bilateral issues. President Hu Jintao set the right tone with his promise that China, North Korea's closest ally and the chair of stalled six-party talks on the nation's nuclear disarmament, was ready to negotiate a lasting solution to the issue.

The East China Sea, where there are disputes over sovereignty and maritime resources, is a less straight-forward matter. Japan's strong military alliance with the US adds challenges to any potential partnership, as do suspicions about the growing strength of China's navy. The suffering inflicted on the Chinese people by Japan during its invasion last century and the militaristic mindset still held by some Japanese politicians are daunting hurdles. But there is reason for optimism, as shown by both sides' efforts to repair the diplomatic damage caused by the collision last year between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels near the contested Diaoyu islands.

Deepening economic co-operation will hedge against the global uncertainties posed by the financial crises in Europe and the US. Japan is now China's second-biggest trading partner and China tops Japan's trade and export tables. Deals signed by Noda will strengthen the relationship further.

China and Japan, the world's second- and third-biggest economies, can help each other grow and aid a global financial recovery. In partnership, they can also encourage a peaceful transition of power in North Korea. There is every reason why co-operation between the two should improve.