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Thursday, 2 September 2010

A Contradiction in Terms

This Tuesday saw the end of the 6th Beijing-Tokyo Forum, in which leading analysts and officials from both countries offer views on relations between the two nations, including their political and economic interaction. Yesterday, the state-run China Daily ran a report highlighting one of the conclusions of the Forum: that 'candid' exchanges are required if the continuing diplomatic tensions between China and Japan are to be resolved (for more on this, see this past Sino-Gist post). Interestingly, coverage of the event was limited on Japanese news websites, showing how much more important the Sino-Japanese dialogue is to the Chinese government. Japanese actions in China in the 20th century remain one of the main ways China can infuse its citizens with a sense of national pride- appealing to such feeling directly bolsters support for the CCP's leadership.

Since the close of the talks, Xinhua's online English-language website has already demonstrated a vigour for candidness. Reporting on the decision of Sunwu county (Heilongjiang province) authorities to build a World War Two memorial park commemorating Japan's invasion of the country and Russia's assistance to China in the conflict, Xinhua mentioned how the park will include (amongst other things) 'criminal evidence museums'. In addition, the article closes with a recap of a comment made by Hu Jintao in May when he went to visit Russian war veterans, which links the Japanese invasions with fascism.

There is no doubt that China suffered at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, the PRC has every right to remain suspicious of Japanese intentions in the region. However, it is questionable whether such frank speaking will in the long-run smooth over tensions between the two nations. While China continues to remind Japan of its involvement in China's modern history, the two nations will never be able to be equal partners in the Sino-Japanese relationship. This will serve as a hindrance to further meaningful interaction, as every exchange, treaty and dialogue will run the risk of breaking down if the issue of history flares up again. China might be inclined to argue that candid speaking allows for grievances to be laid on the table, making it easier to work around them. However, the course of relations between the two counties demonstrates that both sides are having trouble finding much common ground on the interpretation of past events- a fact that candid exchanges will only highlight rather than eliminate.

For further reports from the China Daily on the 6th Beijing Tokyo Forum, click here.

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