A chance to further boost mutual trust

China Plus Published: 2018-05-11 22:34:50
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By Su Yi

Premier Li Keqiang's trip to Japan could be historic to bilateral relations between China and Japan. The first visit by a Chinese premier in eight years comes at a time when both sides have been sending out clearer messages to show strong political will to come closer, both politically and economically. In a recent telephone conversation between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both sides said they were willing to take the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of a landmark peace and friendship treaty to further this pair of bilateral ties.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addresses a reception marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship in Tokyo, Japan, on May 10, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addresses a reception marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship in Tokyo, Japan, on May 10, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

This momentum of warming up did not come easily. As Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua put it, the twists and turns in the opening years of this decade, specifically those surrounding territorial and historical issues, seriously damaged the political mutual trust and practical interests of the two countries. The two countries ended up reaching a four-point principled agreement in late 2014 on the handling of those issues. Further improvement came as President Xi Jinping met with Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary-General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who led the Japanese delegation to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing a year ago.

It is hard-won momentum with convincing inner logic. After senior LDP officials attended the forum, the Japanese side repeatedly expressed interest in "Belt and Road" projects. Now it is being reported the two countries are planning to set up a dialogue mechanism, involving both government officials and the private sector to enhance cooperation in third-party markets along the "Belt and Road" routes. It is believed such an approach bears meaningful potential, since China and Japan are highly complementary on the global value chain.

Similar to those under the "Belt and Road Initiative," opportunities brought about by economic ties with China are hard to ignore, even by the political forces in Japan that are less enthusiastic toward a warmer relationship with China. Bilateral trade jumped to some 300 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, posing a 10 percent strong annual growth. While at the same time, 7.3 million Chinese people traveled to Japan last year, 15 percent more than the previous year.

For Japan, to beef up economic cooperation with China is becoming more of an apparent choice against the backdrop of an increasingly protectionist and unilateral approach by Washington. It is expected that during Premier Li's visit, China and Japan will sign a slew of deals on healthcare, medical science and social security. That is in addition to reintroducing bilateral currency swaps, which was suspended in 2013 when relations deteriorated over territorial disputes.

This is also the background story of the upcoming trilateral summit between leaders of China, South Korea and Japan, the first such meeting since 2015. At a time of rising trade protectionism, it could be a fine opportunity for the three countries to voice support for free trade. The meeting is also expected to accelerate the negotiations for China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Agreement and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which could help to pave the way for an FTA in the Asia-Pacific region eventually.

Although prioritizing economic agenda before political ties is being encouraged by both sides to further relations, now is the right time to better identify each other's strategic intentions in order to enhance mutual trust. President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China's commitment to opening-up at this year's Boao Forum for Asia. Premier Li said in a signed article in Japanese media ahead of the visit that China was committed to building peaceful and stable ties with Japan. Also on the strategic front, the two countries are accelerating preparations to launch a maritime and aerial communication mechanism, designed to try to avoid unexpected incidents surrounding territorial differences in the East China Sea. Moreover, on regional issues, in their telephone conversation, Prime Minister Abe told President Xi that Japan highly valued China's important role in solving the Korean Peninsula issue and hoped to enhance communication with China.

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect a single summit will put relations fully back on track. Although they do have a favorable situation in front of them regarding domestic politics, global economy and regional geopolitics, historical and territorial issues are still out there and require sincerity, wisdom and strategic thinking to solve. But as long as Japan can face history squarely and the two countries are able to maintain the current momentum of direct and candid communication, we have reason to be optimistic toward the future of China-Japan relations.

(Su Yi is a CRI English host and reporter)

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.