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Signs of thaw appear in Sino-Japan relations ahead of Beijing visit

Envoys' visits are indications that neither Tokyo nor Beijing want all-out conflict, analyst says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 9:38am
 

China and Japan are showing signs of thawing relations, as the two Asian powers have resumed cultural exchanges after their long and heated row over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The former president of Japan's House of Councillors, Satsuki Eda, is to visit Beijing this month and meet with Chinese Education Minister Yuan Guiren and Culture Minister Cai Wu, the Kyodo News Agency reported yesterday.

Eda, who now heads the Japan-China Friendship Centre in Tokyo, was also planning to meet with newly appointed foreign minister, Wang Yi , a fluent-Japanese speaker, the report said.

The report came during a visit to Japan by Li Xiaolin, the president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the youngest daughter of former president Li Xiannian.

Li reportedly went to Japan on Sunday and planned to stay until Friday to "participate in cultural events". She was expected to give Japanese political figures a message from President Xi Jinping about bilateral ties.

A person familiar with her itinerary said Li would attend the opening of a Chinese book fair in Tokyo today. Yang Bojiang, director of Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, called the recent visits warm-ups for future meetings between the countries' leaders.

Neither side wants the overall trend of improving relations to be disrupted by the territorial dispute
Yang Bojiang, director of Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

"Neither side wants the overall trend of improving relations to be disrupted by the territorial dispute," Yang said, adding that cultural and non-governmental exchanges were of mutual interest to both countries.

Exchanges between the two countries have been significantly reduced since Japan's purchase last year of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are known to Beijing as the Diaoyus and to Japan as the Senkakus. The tensions have fuelled fears of a military confrontation between the countries.

Most recently, Japan's coastguard reported that three Chinese surveillance vessels were patrolling near the contested islands in a show of force. It was the 35th such incident since Japan moved to assert its control in the area.

Li Xiaolin, however, said in an interview with state broadcaster China Central Television before her departure that her duty as the president of the association was to assure other countries that China is not a threat.

Liang Yunxiang , an international relations specialist at Peking University, said the resumption of cultural exchanges were a sign that all-out war is not a possibility between China and Japan, and even that a small-scale conflict is unlikely.

"The two sides have had periodic deteriorations in bilateral ties in the past, but they usually find a way to work things out," Liang said.

 

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