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[China-opinion]Signs of good ties[Page:1]

China and Japan are working hard to redefine their relationship.
A large group of Japanese headed by Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa ended a four-day China visit yesterday. The delegation included more than 600 participants, including 143 DPJ lawmakers.
Vice-President Xi Jinping today begins a four-day visit to Japan, where he will meet with Japanese leaders including Japanese Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, reaffirming the building of a relationship that is strategically and mutually beneficial to both countries.
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The China visit by the Ozawa's group was the most eye-catching diplomatic move the Hatoyama government has made. Ozawa has positioned the "future Sino-Japanese relationship as the 21st century partnership in human history".
Ozawa's frequent visits to China is testament to the importance he and his party attach to Japan's relations with China. As early as 1989 when he headed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Ozawa hammered out the "Great Wall project", a program on increasing exchanges between his party and the Communist Party of China (CPC). The exchanges are now between the CPC and the DPJ after Ozawa joined the DPJ.
Whether China-Japan relations take a turn for the better depends on how the two handle thorny issues in bilateral relations. It is notable that the China-Japan ties are in a historical transition.
In the past, the various frictions between the two countries fell into two categories. One was related to matters hurting the feelings and dignity of the two peoples, such as Japanese politicians paying homage to the Yasukuni Shrine and rightist historical books. The second concerned the two countries' direct interests, such as East China Sea disputes.
In the past decade, historical issues pulled China-Japan relations back. Hatoyama pledged that neither he, nor anyone in his cabinet, would visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine to the war dead as long as war criminals are honored there. His belief that a correct understanding of history should help improve relations between the two countries makes the DPJ more sensible than the LDP.
So let's hope that the Yasukuni Shrine issue does not turn out to be a hindrance to bilateral relations in the near future. The issues of historical connotation hang over bilateral relations like ghostly shadows largely because the LDP is, in a way, connected to the pre-World War II political system. We believe the DPJ is able to distance itself from the past.
Visiting China with such a large group of high-ranking Japanese, Ozawa flexed his political muscles in Japan. He drove home the message that his country should pay more attention to its China strategy.
Also, the DPJ wanted to show the world, or to be more exact, the United States, its independent diplomacy. Japan's relationship with China seems to be as important as the Japan-US alliance for the Hatoyama government, which attaches particular importance to its relations with Asian neighbors.
"I'd like to nurture international relations based on a spirit of fraternity," Hatoyama was quoted as telling President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the United Nations Summit in New York in September when he referred to his East Asian Community plan.
The prime minister said that his government would adopt former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama's 1995 statement apologizing for Japan's wartime aggression against its Asian neighbors, and colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula. Hatoyama's declaration should be interpreted as a positive step that will likely help improve Japan's ties with China and the rest of the East Asia.
It is too early to say that Ozawa's China trip heralds the beginning of a honeymoon of the China-Japan relations but the complexity of the relationship merits attention.
(China Daily 12/14/2009 page4)
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