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Former ambassador shares his views on Sino-Japan relations

Updated: 2015-03-31 08:13
(China Daily)

Japan's former ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, has urged Japan and China to make moves to improve relations. The crux of the matter of Japan-China ties is that the two neighbors should make gestures to improve their relations, he said in an exclusive interview with China Daily. Here are excerpts:

What are your thoughts on your ambassadorship in China, as the first ambassador to the country from a nondiplomatic background?

When I was assigned as the first ambassador to China from the private sector, I was intent on lending an ear to people in China. My words had displeased some politicians because we differed about politics. Actually, the bureaucrats in Japan's Foreign Ministry had no idea of, and were hesitant about addressing, the opinions of people in China. So I failed to relay enough thoughts of Chinese people to Japan's government. I have always proposed that people from the private sector serve as ambassador to China. But the government does not take to this idea. I hope Japan's ambassadors after me will avail themselves of local opinions.

The Sino-Japanese relationship, which has ups and downs, is now taking a turn for the better. What are the thorns in the ties?

Relations are taking a favorable turn mainly because of China's gestures. The Chinese government under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is thinking about dealing with Japan from a long-term strategic perspective. Now the ball is in Japan's court. Japan needs to respond to China's moves.

Two reasons underpin China's subtle approach to Japan. US President Barack Obama has invited President Xi to visit the United States, and China has invited leaders of Asian countries to observe its ceremonies on Sept 3 commemorating the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, including a military parade. China is more confident when coping with Japan.

The world will observe the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year. Unfortunately, the war still haunts East Asia, now and then sabotaging Japan's relations with its neighbors and others. How do you perceive the history issue?

The history issue has already been debated. The crux of the matter of Japan-China relations is that the two countries should make gestures to improve their ties. By treating the other side as an enemy, they tend to provoke each other and always cast the other side in the worst possible light. They should not have dealt with one another in this way. During the era of (late Chinese leaders) Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, they proposed avoiding conflict in the interests of common development. This mindset is the one Japan and China should have had for handling ties with more ardor and passion. The history issue is only a part of the problem the two countries have rather than the whole problem.

Surveys show fewer people in China and Japan have favorable opinions of the other side. But a large number of Chinese tourists are visiting Japan, and quite a few Japanese are touring China. What kind of people-to-people exchanges should take place for a better relationship?

The large influx of Chinese tourists into Japan is due to a weaker yen. Surveys found that only 2 to 3 percent of Chinese people have visited Japan or have knowledge of Japan. Some 20 percent of people in Japan have an understanding of China. In other words, 20 to 30 million people combined in the two countries have had a direct exchange.

Japan and China need to have more people-to-people exchanges. They should make efforts as best they can to expand the channels for exchange, including relaxing visa restrictions. They need to adjust their policies so that friendship among their citizens will come naturally. They should do their utmost to invite people from each other's country.

If 30 to 40 percent of people in the two countries have favorable opinions of the other side, those opinions will become contagious. Now a chill grips the people of both countries - only about 10 percent of them have favorable views of the other side. I hope that when the tenure of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang ends, the two countries will have endeared themselves to 90 percent of Japanese and Chinese people, respectively. That would be wonderful.

Most Japanese who have exchanges with people in China find the Chinese - compared with Americans and Europeans - are easier to get along with.

Since taking office in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made Japan-US relations the core of his foreign policy and has come up with almost nothing to improve Japan's ties with China and South Korea.

The Abe administration is always suspicious of the Chinese government. And the latter suspects that the Abe government is taking the path of militarism. Suspicions from the two sides breed distrust. Trust between leaders of the two countries is crucial to a better relationship. Their trust is contagious to the two peoples.

Some scholars in the two countries hold that China and Japan have few channels for crisis management. What do the two countries need to do when a crisis emerges?

It is true. Many Chinese students go to the United States to study. In 10 years, China and the US will build strong channels for exchange. Fewer Chinese students know Japan well. It is important for Japan and China to exchange students and government officials. Painstaking efforts should be made to train people who understand the other side.

Many countries, including China, are closely watching the Abe administration's move to revise Japan's constitution and military buildup. What is your view of the constitutional amendment?

China is not the only country anxious about the move. The whole world is. Even people in Japan are worrying about it. Japanese people will never allow Japan to grow into a militarist country again. Japan is a nation of constitutionalism, which boasts three principles, namely sovereignty of the people, democracy and pacifism. It is almost impossible to rewrite Japan's constitution. Japan is not an authoritarian country and can't ignore its people's opinions. But there is a political climate tilted toward revising the constitution against the wishes of Japanese people. Ultimately, I don't think the constitution could be rewritten.

Would you take up the offer if the Japanese government wished to send you to China again?

No. My age matters. It is a job for a younger person. But I'm willing to help them. A better relationship between Japan and China is in the interests of the two peoples who have a lot in common. People in the two countries can shed tears for or be moved by similar topics. They share more culturally than they do with Americans and Europeans. I quote Confucius and Mencius a lot. Japan and China are so close geographically that people can even swim to the other side.

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