'Constructive ideas' on thorny issues needed

Updated: 2013-10-20 23:59

By Zhang Yunbi and Li Xiaokun in Beijing and Cai Hong in Tokyo (China Daily)

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Experts from China and Japan are calling for "constructive" grass-roots dialogues to inspire the two governments to repair strained relations.

They made the remarks before a cluster of public diplomatic activities following a yearlong political stagnation that developed after the Japanese government announced in September last year it would "nationalize" China's Diaoyu Islands.

The diplomatic impasse, focusing on territorial disputes and historical issues concerning Japan's wartime brutality, has been intensified by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's right-wing political and military policies.

The visits by more than 160 Japanese lawmakers and several Cabinet members last week to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine — which is seen as a symbol of Japan's militarism as it honors several Class-A war criminals — caused the latest friction.

Experts who will join the coming dialogues said semiofficial or grass-roots exchanges will help bridge the gap caused by freezing ties. However, they also said visits will help only when participants can raise "constructive" ideas on thorny territorial and historical issues.

The two countries should get their relationship out of its dangerous situation as soon as possible, said Kazuhiko Togo, director of the Institute for World Affairs of Kyoto Sangyo University.

The China-Japan Friendship Association is scheduled to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty in Beijing on Tuesday. Tokyo is sending envoys to the ceremony.

After that, the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, a high-end symposium sponsored by China Daily and Japanese think tank Genron NPO, will be held from Oct 25 to 27.

Senior figures are scheduled to attend.

On Oct 30, former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama is to arrive in Beijing. Hatoyama said in June that Japan should admit the existence of a sovereignty dispute on the Diaoyu Islands.

Leader of the Democratic Party of Japan Banri Kaieda, and the former president of Japan's House of Councilors Eda Satsuki also plan visits soon, according to Kyodo.

Satsuki has warned that Abe's recent remarks, which seek to change Japan's previous commitment to peace, will isolate Japan and destroy progress from past decades in Tokyo's relations with Beijing and Seoul.

More than 90 percent of the public in China and Japan have negative feelings toward each other, according to an earlier poll conducted by China Daily and the Japanese nonprofit organization Genron NPO.

Zhang Tuosheng, a researcher at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said "a lasting bilateral deadlock will end up in a lose-lose situation".

"The communication will only help if it focuses on constructive ideas to break the impasse," Zhang said.

China and Japan are the second- and third-largest world economies, and in the first three quarters of this year, bilateral trade witnessed a year-on-year drop of 7.9 percent.

Xu Dunxin, former vice-foreign minister and Chinese ambassador to Japan, said the upcoming forum will be an "excellent time to expand common ground" and a group discussion on fully implementing the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty should be on the agenda.

Signed in 1978, the milestone document outlines the obligations to peacefully handle disputes and sensitive issues.

Observers also suggest that public diplomacy may pave the way for deeper discussions between governments.

Noboru Yamaguchi, a retired lieutenant general in Japan's ground self-defense force and professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan, said academic and business people like him "can be more flexible than government officials" during the forum and can touch on territorial and historical issues".

"In such a circumstance, even government officials participating in the event can also be relaxed in the atmosphere. They can be more flexible than they are at meetings for ministers and political figures," Yamaguchi said.

"We share common interests in terms of economy and security. It is not a zero-sum game. We must strive for a win-win situation," Yamaguchi said.

Contact the writers at lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn and zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn