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 Geng Xin

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By Geng Xin Source:Global Times.

 

The four point agreement that China and Japan reached right before the leaders from the two sides met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders` Meeting on November 10 took many by surprise. Not long before the agreement, the Japanese government took a host of assertive actions, including denying the 1993 Kono Statement and claiming it has no agreement with China preventing the prime minister from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

 

Some observers have drawn parallels between the four point agreement and the four political documents the two sides had previously signed. China and Japan have already made a number of agreements, but the key to a sound bilateral relationship lies in keeping to letter of these words, something particularly true for Japan. However, taking an actual step forward will be far more important than signing several documents.

 

During Shinzo Abe`s first term as Japanese prime minister in 2006, he made a breakthrough in the then-frosty Sino-Japanese relations by promising not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. Yet he broke his promise seven years later.

 

Therefore, the stress is on whether the words on the agreement will be kept; otherwise signing any number of documents would be in vain. A sound basis on which to foster cooperation will not be reached if neighbors frequently fail to keep promises on major issues. 

 

Over the last decade, Sino-Japanese relations were often plunged into an icy situation. There are many underlying factors, including historical feuds, and territorial disputes as well as US interference, but underpinning it all is a mutual antagonism. 

 

There is an absence of basic reciprocal political trust. Tokyo considers China`s development a threat, which worsens as the gap in the two countries` strength widens. This in turn prompts China to respond while it already has doubts over Japan`s political direction. 

 

Although Beijing and Tokyo have promised not to view each other as enemies, once a vicious cycle is formed, it always tends to get worse, especially for such a sensitive relationship as that between China and Japan. It is this mutual mistrust that enables historical and territorial disputes to disturb the bilateral relationship from time to time.

 

Luckily after years of gaming, China and Japan have realized that cooperation benefits both sides while confrontation results in harm. The four point agreement and the handshake between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the APEC meeting serve as a good example. Tokyo is well aware that tensions in bilateral ties will bring more harm to Japan than China, so it seeks a thaw, despite its great reluctance.

 

History has taught Japan and the US that the China-Japan relationship is a special type that is sensitive and not easy to control. Undesirable outcomes would emerge if Chinese sentiment is inflamed and this may lead to irrational developments or even a breakdown in relations. The US seemed to be the first to notice such a risk and made adjustments accordingly to exert some pressure on Japan.

 

Tokyo has gradually realized the situation, but the Japanese public is divided. On one hand, they feel guilty about the country`s wartime history and know Chinese people are tolerant. On the other hand, they are unwilling to make a thorough reflection of the past.

 

Under some coercion, Japan has shifted its attitude, which may bring about two possible courses. It may go down the path of bettering ties with China under pressure, or larger conflicts may be triggered by new disputes as the underlying problems have not been properly addressed.

 

Abe has experienced both scenarios during his two tenures as prime minister. He should keep in mind the lessons learned in this process. It`s worth keeping a close watch on where Japan will head next. 

 

 

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