THE 45th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations was celebrated at the Great Hall of People in Beijing on September 8, according to the Kyodo News Agency.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations in 2012, the Yoshihiko Noda government “nationalized” the Diaoyu Islands, souring Sino-Japanese relations.
Although Shinzo Abe began serving as prime minister again at the end of 2012, he did not vigorously promote Sino-Japanese bilateral relations like what he had done when he took the position for the first time from 2006 to 2007. Instead, he actively cooperated with the US’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy and even repeatedly provoked China’s relationship with ASEAN countries regarding the South China Sea disputes.
Thus, room for improving Sino-Japanese relations remained limited. Against this backdrop, the high-profile commemorating ceremony held by China shows China’s expectation for a warm bilateral relationship in the future.
On September 29, 1972, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and his Japanese counterpart Kakuei Tanaka signed the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement to put an end to hostile bilateral relations.
Over the past 45 years, despite Sino-Japanese relations experiencing many bumps, they have generally made great progress. On the one hand, Sino-Japanese relations regressed from time to time due to the absurd remarks of Japanese right-wingers on historical cognition, territory and other sensitive issues, all of which deeply hurt Chinese people’s feelings. But on the other hand, China became Japan’s largest trading partner and Japan is China’s second largest trading partner.
Political documents like the Joint Statement on Advancing Strategic and Mutually Beneficial Relations signed in 2008 have consolidated the political foundation of the bilateral relations.
In terms of high-level interaction, 16 Japanese prime ministers have visited China, and previous Chinese top leaders have also officially visited Japan.
In addition, the recent increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Japan has become a new driving force for the development of Sino-Japanese relations. The number of Chinese visitors to Japan was about 440,000 in 2003 and rose to 6.3 million in 2016, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
Travelling to Japan helps more and more Chinese people understand a different Japan depicted in media reports and change their prejudice of the country. However, the number of Japanese visitors to China is declining. The difference in the number of visits between Chinese and Japanese tourists to each other’s country may explain why the Chinese people’s favorable impression of Japan is on the rise, while the Japanese people’s favorable impression of China is on the decline.
Indeed, apart from travel, the Chinese and Japanese people can understand each other’s country through social networks, smartphones and other new media. Nonetheless, although new media is simple and convenient, it cannot fully eliminate the cognitive gap between people of the two countries.
For example, mainstream public opinion in China maintained a high degree of vigilance toward the attempted amendments of the pacifist constitution by the Abe government, fearing that Japanese militarism would revive but neglecting the new problems of Japanese society that needed to be resolved through constitutional amendment.
At the same time, the “China threat” theory has long existed in Japan’s mainstream public opinion, provoking the Japanese people’s prejudice on the peaceful rise of China and making the Japanese people regard China’s normal actions in the East China Sea and on the Diaoyu Islands as “postwar revenge” on Japan.
On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan, it is hoped that more and more Chinese and Japanese will be able to go to each other’s country to experience another culture. Only the deepening of people-to-people exchanges can ensure the benign development of Sino-Japanese relations.
[The author is a PhD candidate at Tokyo-based Toyo University. [email protected]].