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Home > Debates Last Updated: 16:19 06/25/2008
Comment (June 25, 2008)

Comment on Toshihiko Kinoshita's Article "Promoting Closer Japan-China Relations: Beyond Top-level Meetings"

Arbi Davondiansnobar (University of Southern California, USA)

Professor Toshihiko Kinoshita's recent article "Promoting Closer-Japan-China Relations: Beyond Top Level Meetings" highlights the importance of exchanging opinions and information between Japan and China, rather than focusing on highly politicized subjects. In the past, as Prof. Kinoshita points out, there has been the lack of correct analysis and understanding between the two countries despite their two thousand year old relationship; excessive patriotism and past history are the two main problems separating them. Now, Prof. Kinoshita believes that a new era is arriving, where Japan and China can work together on various issues toward a better future for the both of them. First, Japan's concept of "Mottainai" or "don't waste, reduce, re-use and recycle" is an effective tool to deal with China's worsening industrial and environmental problems. Secondly, Japan together with other global organizations should help China on a mechanism to find correct pricing for their overly cheap oil and power. Thirdly, in this article special consideration is given to Japan's medical and relief response to the Sichuan earthquake, showing that trust between the Japanese and Chinese leaders is starting to build up after Premier Hu Jintao's visit to Japan. Lastly, Prof. Kinoshita argues that Hu's visit and top level meetings could only be regarded as truly successful if "a majority of people in both countries share strong desire to build their future together from the bottom of their hearts."

While this article explains the efforts and sincerity of Japan to finally break the barriers between the two countries with emphasis on Japan's contributions to China in various respects, it does not explicitly indicate how Japan can benefit from their newly developing relationship, which is supposed to be "mutually beneficial." It would have been better if it had spelled out some key areas where Japan could definitely benefit from its close relations with China. One obvious point is to deal with North Korea, regarding not only the nuclear problem but also the abduction issue. There are other important problems such as the East China Sea's oil exploration issue, which could be handled effectively based on mutual trust, rather than distrust. In this connection, more efficient production and consumption of energy and natural resources in China, with Japan's assistance, might help alleviate the world's energy price hikes, which would in turn benefit Japan.

There is no significant discussion in this article of some potentially explosive topics such as different positions between Japan and China on the Tibet problem and the food poisoning problem as well as the so-called history issue. Prof. Kinoshita obviously tries to stay away from those problems, since he knows that they are nowhere near to be resolved, but hopes that a better relationship between the two countries now will help narrow their gaps in the future. Although I do not fully agree with his approach, Prof. Kinoshita's point is well taken as he says that any bilateral agreement between the two governments must have the popular support of the public in the both countries. On a public survey published last November 28 in Japan Business News that asked, "Which country does Japan most need to strengthen its relations with?", about 35 percent of respondents said China, compared with 33 percent who chose the U.S. This positive attitude of the Japanese towards China, seems to determine in which direction the Japan-China relationship is heading.

I understand that in a sense the Chinese premier's visit to Japan this time looks like a meeting between the CEOs of two rival companies, basically competing but at the same time sharing ideas for mutual benefit. In spite of some fundamental differences remaining in their minds, the reality leaves them with no choice but to engage and involve each other, at least for the time being. I assume that Prof. Kinoshita is well aware of this reality and tries to clarify it to the reader, rather than pointing out hidden, but potentially explosive issues between the two countries. In fact, the leaders of the two most powerful nations in the Asian region can agree on many issues without mentioning any disagreement on matters related to their respective values and beliefs. It is the economic power of the two countries and its implications on global issues that should matter for now. There are indeed so many issues on which Japan and China should sit down and discuss to make a difference. Hopefully, the two giants will be able to contribute hand in hand to the solution of such global issues as the environment, energy, food, poverty and other economic problems as well as peace, security and stability in the region and the world at large.

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