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Editorial: Japan and China should seek stable ties that can endure

A little over six years ago, violent anti-Japan protests in China inflicted serious damage on the manufacturing and commercial operations of Japanese companies that had long cooperated with Beijing’s reforms and open-door policy. Today, bilateral relations are finally recovering, and we hope the two countries continue to move ties in the right direction.


On Oct. 25 through 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the first official visit to China by a Japanese leader in seven years. In addition to holding summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Abe attended a ceremony to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty in Beijing, which was joined by many businesspeople and others from Japan.


At the summits, the countries agreed to cooperate on a broad range of matters. For starters, yen-yuan currency swaps between the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China have been revived after being halted for several years — a move that will no doubt be helpful for Japanese companies operating in China.


The governments also used Abe’s visit as an opportunity to hold a forum to promote corporate-led infrastructure development and other projects in third countries, such as in Southeast Asia. It should be noted, however, that China’s Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure across Europe and Asia has come under international criticism for leaving partner countries saddled with excessive debt on their infrastructure projects. As such, we urge those undertaking BRI projects to proceed with caution and adhere to international requirements and standards.


A factor driving the recent change of atmosphere between Japan and China is the intensifying U.S.-China trade war and their struggle for global hegemony. It is clear that Beijing, seemingly on the defensive in its standoff with Washington, is reaching out to Japan, seeking cooperation primarily in the economic field. While better bilateral ties are no doubt desirable, Japan cannot remain silent about Beijing’s inadequate protection of intellectual property and objectionable practice of forcing foreign companies to transfer advanced technologies to their Chinese business partners — issues that have garnered harsh criticism from the U.S. and Europe.


These matters were mentioned in the joint statement issued after Abe’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in New York in September. We therefore welcome the fact Japan and China have agreed to set up a new framework for talks on cooperating on innovative technologies and protecting intellectual property. This kind of dialogue can help pave the way for China to truly contribute to maintaining the free trade system.


Despite such progress, the two nations are still plagued by a huge and unresolved national security issue. Chinese official vessels are almost routinely found entering Japan-administered waters near the Senkaku Islands — known as the Diaoyu in China — in the East China Sea. The territorial row over the chain of small islands, which are claimed by both countries, has the potential to bring an abrupt end to the current momentum toward better bilateral relations. Abe told reporters that he wanted to see the two countries strive to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.” Turning his words into a reality could be the first step toward fostering mutual trust.


What these neighbors — the world’s second- and third-largest economies — need in their relationship is not a temporary surge of enthusiasm for better ties, which we are now seeing, but strategic communication and future-minded efforts to make their ties more stable.


Tokyo’s next task is to bring Xi Jinping to Japan for his first official visit as China’s president. That is most likely to happen in June next year, when Japan hosts the Group of 20 leaders’ summit and other related meetings in Osaka. It is this way, through the exchange of visits between their top leaders, that Japan and China can develop a stable relationship built on unshakable principles.

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