Zhou Mingwei: Making efforts for smooth China-Japan relations in the key phase

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Zhou Mingwei, President of the China International Publishing Group

Xi-Abe meeting at G20 summit creates new opportunities for China-Japan relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the G20 Hangzhou summit in early September, the third time the two leaders had met. This opportunity for direct dialogue between the top leaders of the two countries was a key moment when the two sides could address problems in the bilateral relations and strive to bring these ties back onto a normal track.

During the meeting, President Xi said China and Japan should properly "manage historical issues, and prevent new issues from emerging", so as to reduce "stumbling blocks". This summarized the crux of current problems in China-Japan relations as well as offering a way out.

Historical issues between China and Japan, such as territorial disputes and interpretations of historical events have yet to be resolved; on the contrary, they continue to exert a negative impact on the bilateral relationship. Meanwhile, political, economic and people-to-people exchanges have faced regression and stagnation in recent years. This year, Japan's improper comments on the South China Sea issue on various occasions are a further complication. All these new issues impede improvement in bilateral ties. Additionally, the changes in Japan's defense policies and a number of moves that serve the U.S. "pivot to Asia" strategy will directly or indirectly become stumbling blocks in bilateral relations if not handled properly.

Against this backdrop, President Xi said China-Japan ties faced "a crucial uphill journey where no marching forward means sliding backwards." An uphill journey requires tremendous, concerted and coordinated efforts; only then can the two sides emerge from the low point and overcome the blockages standing in their way. If the current problems are not addressed, there will be more "sliding backwards" in China-Japan ties.

On the economic and trade front, bilateral trade will face more troubles if no solutions to current problems are found or reciprocal measures are not proposed. The same applies in people-to-people exchanges. The opinion poll carried out by the Beijing-Tokyo Forum found citizens' feelings toward the other country has been unfavorable for several years, and there seems to be no signs of improvement; however, the feelings of citizens are the most important foundation for both the long-term development of the bilateral ties and resolving current problems.

The two sides need to address the dire reality and properly handle issues revealed.

On the other hand, if China-Japan relations manage to surmount the uphill journey, they are likely to face a bright and wonderful sight and the two sides can expect a new phase of development since the bilateral ties were normalized more than 40 years ago. Northeast Asia, and Asia as a whole, have an increasingly important existence in current global affairs, and both China and Japan bear a heavy responsibility. If China-Japan ties keep moving forward, regional and global economic development will gain a positive momentum, international politics will be further stabilized, and new opportunities will emerge.

Both President Xi and Prime Minister Abe acknowledged at the G20 summit that the two countries are neighbors that cannot part ways. This means they have to deal with their problems in a more rational, pragmatic and strategic way. This meeting created a new asset adding up to the four political documents and four-point principled agreement they reached in late 2014.

Therefore, in my opinion, the meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Abe at the G20 summit is crucial for China-Japan relations. They identified the key phase and its features in regard to bilateral ties, and the pragmatic spirit reflected in the Hangzhou meeting will bring new opportunities in regard to future political, economic and people-to-people exchanges. This is the achievement made jointly by the two leaders, as well as the duty and opportunity bestowed on the two countries at a critical juncture.

The Beijing-Tokyo Forum's unique role in improving China-Japan relations

The essential role of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum is to offer advice and suggestions to facilitate the healthy development and improvement of China-Japan ties, and to contribute wisdom in "managing historical issues, preventing new issues from emerging and reducing stumbling blocks". The meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Abe provides a guide to the forum, as it has carefully analyzed the problems the forum needs to address and provided new ideas for experts who focus on China-Japan relations, Asia studies, and bilateral and multilateral ties. In addition, the two leaders have offered many new suggestions on the improvement of China-Japan ties, which will be implemented by many of those attending the forum. Therefore, the forum will be dedicated to motivating the active involvement of political elites from both sides, refocusing on the improvement of bilateral ties, and forming more effective mechanisms to resolve the problems in communication between the two sides.

We must be fully aware of the grave problems facing China-Japan ties and understand thoroughly the significance of the meeting between the two leaders, so as to contribute to the success of the "uphill journey" in promoting bilateral ties. This is indeed our mission.

I hope that participants and the organizers of the forum can set an example in improving bilateral ties, and that more insightful, well-connected, and patient people are ready to make pragmatic efforts and play an indispensable role in this regard.

This year marked the second time the Beijing-Tokyo Forum is being co-hosted by the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) and Japanese Genron NPO, and the first time the forum is being held in Tokyo since CIPG partnered with Genron NPO. It has a lot to offer as it has attracted great attention from incumbent and former political leaders of the two countries, and it boasts eminent participants and sound and orderly preparations. The Japanese side has made great preparations for the forum with their tremendous experience and effort. I believe the forum will be a huge success.

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