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Monday, 11 October 2010

Words of Encouragement?

The recent controversy with Japan over the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea caused a serious breakdown in Sino-Japanese relations, with the disagreement impacting at the most senior level of bilateral relations. However, after a couple of weeks since the affair was resolved, China has signalled a new desire to reach out to its neighbour again. Today, as Xinhua reports, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie had a conversation with his Japanese opposite number at the 1st ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus conference in Hanoi. Liang apparently stated the need for Japan to properly handle relations between Beijing and Tokyo, especially on sensitive issues. This was expressed in the hope of repairing the damage caused by the Diaoyu Islands incident.

Of course, China was always going to place the ball in Japan's court with regards to strengthening bilateral relations again. To do anything else would be to admit some share in the blame for the recent trouble- such sentiments will never be forthcoming from the Chinese government. Liang's comments today are nothing more to test the water, in the hope of finding out Japan's attitudes to the same problem. There is going to need to be extensive work by both sides in order to heal the divide between the two- a process that will take years rather than months. However, today's news is at least a sign that the PRC is thinking about making a step in the direction of reconciliation, even if its tone is still very cold. Why this is the case is not totally clear, but the situation can be read as China attempting to repair the damage to its international image. Extending a very partly open hand to Tokyo makes the PRC look fairer and less like its being obstinate for the sake of it. Whether Japan will reach out or shy away remains to be seen.

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