President Jiang's Visit to Japan: A Positive View

March 1999

Shiro Sadoshima, Director, China and Mongolia Division, Asian Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 Shiro Sadoshima graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in law. Since joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1977, he has served as assistant director of the China and Mongolia Division and the Treaties Division, deputy director of the Aid Policy Division, counsellor at the Japanese embassies in the United States and Viet Nam, and director of the Loan Aid Division. He has held his current post since September 1998.

Tomoyo Nonaka, freelance journalist

 Tomoyo Nonaka pursued undergraduate and graduate studies in literature at Sophia University; she also studied at Columbia University Graduate School. She has worked as a TV news anchor for the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) and Television Tokyo Channel 12 (TV Tokyo). She is now a visiting professor at Chukyo Women's University and a director of the Tokyo International Foundation.

Tomoyo Nonaka

 President Jiang Zemin's recent visit to Japan [November 25-30, 1998] was the first ever by a Chinese president, wasn't it?

Shiro Sadoshima

 That's right. In 1992 the Emperor and Empress visited China on the twentieth anniversary of the normalization of relations; President Jiang's visit, which was indeed the first ever by a Chinese head of state, was in return for this.

Nonaka

 But within Japan we hear talk of it having involved unpleasantness of a sort not experienced on the diplomatic scene in recent years, such as the two sides' differences over historical views, the fact that President Jiang wore a Mao jacket to the state banquet at the imperial palace, and the decision not to sign the Joint Declaration.

Sadoshima

 Media reports have led to various misunderstandings about those two particular matters, to which I'll return later, but first we need to consider what the visit was originally intended to accomplish.
 The quarter century after the normalization of relations was a period of laying a solid foundation. During that time, both sides shared the idea of minimizing the negative elements. The starting point for normalization in 1972 was that the two countries wanted to transcend the unhappy past and the differences in their political and social systems and minimize the destabilizing elements between themselves as important neighbors to each other. This is why the stress was on Japan-China "friendship."
 This time the objective was to make a starting point to maximize the positive elements, building on this foundation with a view to the twenty-first century. From that perspective the policy contents set forth in the Joint Declaration and the Joint Press Announcement represented a major accomplishment.

Agreement on numerous items

Nonaka

 It's true that the Joint Declaration gives a sense of looking to the future. Still, there's no mention of a "strategic partnership" with Japan as was referred to in China's recent summits with the United States and with Russia. Furthermore, during his 1997 visit to the United States, President Jiang made a reference to "fascism in Asia," criticizing a third country, one that was not even a party to the meetings. What the Chinese seem to be saying in effect is, "Japan is no strategic partner for us. The countries that move the world are China, the United States, and Russia. For Japan to try to exercise leadership in Asia is presumptuous." Not only that, but in the talks with Japan I have the impression that there was more of a focus on the past than on working together to open up the twenty-first century, that the Chinese made highly annoying comments and took a stubborn attitude.

Sadoshima

 Under the Joint Declaration, Japan and China have reached agreement on concrete policy cooperation covering thirty-three items. Never before in history have the Chinese agreed on such long and detailed written documents with another country on policy cooperation. If they were really uninterested in their relations with Japan, it wouldn't have been possible to reach agreement on this sort of document. As for the idea of "strategic partnership," Japan has no desire to enter into that sort of relationship, which would encompass military affairs, with China. Japan's diplomatic orientation is one of maintaining a strictly defense-oriented posture as its fundamental policy and seeking a different sort of honored place for itself in international society.*

*This is a reference to the passage in the Preamble of the Constitution of Japan that declares, "We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, ...." - Trans.

Nonaka

 But from now on don't we need to modify our diplomatic stance from the one we took when we were achieving economic development in the context of the cold-war structure? What's at question is the specifics of a nonhegemonic "honored place." It seems to me that one can argue that there is no such thing as an "honored place" for a country that can't say yes or no clearly.

Sadoshima

 I think that when people consider the issue of how to interpret history, they tend to focus on it too narrowly; one might compare this to looking at a spot on a leopard and then declaring that the leopard is black. As for taking a stance different from that of the cold-war period, if we just consider Asia, for example, we need to start by noting that new institutions and systems are required -- and are in the process of being created. In this context China has the intention of maintaining and deepening its friendly relationship with Japan. The stance that Japan has developed in response to this is one of working for stability in relations with China and in Asia as a whole, not through the exercise of power but by implementing comprehensive cooperation involving economic, technological, and intellectual aspects. It's a work in progress, and some elements are subject to modification, but the basic line is unchanging.

Nonaka

 So is it correct to understand that Japan and China are moving along the same vector in the context of the post-cold-war paradigm shift that's now taking place around the world and throughout Asia?

Sadoshima

 Yes. This was confirmed by the Joint Declaration and the agreement on thirty-three items, and I think that the significance of this is great. Naturally we don't want the efforts directed at the twenty-first century to be limited to thirty-three items, but I believe that we've built a starting point for maximizing the positive elements.

Media overreaction

Nonaka

 But the general public inevitably looks more at the visible performance.

Sadoshima

 A summit meeting certainly does have a performance aspect, and it's in that connection that the problems you mentioned earlier were bandied about. On the issue of interpreting history, the Chinese do sometimes try to catch us out, but it's also clear that they aren't deliberately trying to emphasize the differences.
 The Chinese were probably surprised by the domestic response in Japan. What they are now working at above all is the building of a more affluent China through economic reform. For this purpose they want a stable diplomatic environment. We need to look at Japan-China relations as a whole in the context of this overall current.

Nonaka

 I think there are two aspects to Chinese politics. One is the aspect of the current leader making unilateral moves that cause sudden jolts, which can also produce major swings in foreign policy. But this is accompanied by another aspect, the steady base that makes it possible for the Chinese to deal with issues over an extremely long time span. It seems to me that President Jiang's pronouncements represented a sudden swing reflecting a decision made by the President himself, which also involved domestic political considerations.

Sadoshima

 In terms of overall direction, China is now seeking to achieve economic reform and the rule of law and to build stable mechanisms for this purpose. It's not the same as twenty years ago. No longer are there sudden sharp swings. Before the summit this time, the Chinese considered a variety of ideas gathered through think tanks and the like.
 As for the idea that there were domestic political considerations, that's something we have no way of checking. It may be true that there are destabilizing factors on the domestic scene, such as unemployment resulting from the reform of state-owned enterprises, but the overall course is unchanging. And as for the steady base, we naturally need to perceive what the bottom line is for the Chinese in our discussions with them, and it was quite clear this time that their bottom line was the building of mechanisms for economic reform and the rule of law aimed at creating a more affluent China. They didn't have the intention of provoking us needlessly on the issue of historical views, nor did they seem to be trying to get greater cooperation out of us by somehow creating a disturbance. On the contrary, they want to build a broad relationship of cooperation between the two countries involving not just the governments but the private sector as well. After the meeting, the Chinese were also pleased that it had been possible to achieve a policy orientation through the Joint Declaration and Joint Press Announcement, and moves have now started to achieve major strides in the bilateral relationship on the basis of these arrangements. In that sense there is no inconsistency of direction between the two sides.

Nonaka

 The reports of President Jiang wearing a Mao jacket at the state banquet tended to take it as sending some sort of message.

Sadoshima

 The heavy focus on the issue of historical views led to the formation of a particular mood in the context of which this produced a negative image. But that's formal attire for the Chinese, so there was no breach of etiquette whatsoever involved. President Jiang was similarly attired when he attended the October 1997 state dinner in his honor at the White House. And as for the fact that the Joint Declaration was not signed, we were actually surprised that outside observers saw this as such an issue. It wasn't left unsigned because the two sides failed to agree on the contents. Neither side had intended for it to be signed in the first place. It's quite normal for political declarations not to be signed, and whether they are signed or not has absolutely no bearing on their validity. I can only judge that the news media were applying their own speculation.

Increasing bilateral exchanges

Nonaka

 It's true that the Joint Declaration is addressed to the people of the two countries and, as you say, calls for the promotion of a broad cooperative relationship between them. Recently the Chinese Communist Party has improved its ties with the Japanese Communist Party, and we sense that efforts are being made to increase the bilateral channels of communication.

Sadoshima

 The number of people traveling between the two countries has increased dramatically, as has the volume of trade. Young people in Japan have become much more interested in Asia and in China, and similarly there's a growing interest in Japan among Chinese young people. Also, it's become essential for the private sector in Japan to include China in the picture when thinking about Japanese issues, and likewise there are many fields in which the Chinese private sector can't develop its business without considering Japan.
In the context of these trends, the agreements reached this time include a number of points on which it will be possible to quickly develop multifaceted people-to-people cooperation, such as environmental issues, tourism and the protection of the historical sites of the Silk Road, youth exchange, and distribution systems. So I think it's important that we act promptly to implement these agreements. This will lead to a clearing up of the misunderstandings that have emerged.

Nonaka

 But we see senior Chinese officials getting jobs for their sons in U.S.-affiliated financial institutions and exchanges of personnel with the United States and Europe in fields like digital networking, suggesting that the Chinese are bypassing Japan and looking mainly at personnel exchanges with Europe and North America.

Sadoshima

 I don't think we should be overly concerned about that. Japan also turned its gaze to Europe and North America in the past when it was modernizing itself. We should see what's happening in China as part of a process of broadening international contacts and developing more areas in common with Japan. Only twenty years ago, when we would discuss economic cooperation, for example, there was no common ground between their Marxist ideology and our Keynesian theories. But now we can talk meaningfully to each other about such matters. We should focus on this progress.

Nonaka

 Does that mean that it's now possible for the two sides to sit down at the same table and exchange fresh opinions without the maneuvering that used to arise from the difference between the two countries' political and social systems?

Sadoshima

 Yes. For example, on the topic of yen loans, we can now discuss not just amounts but also ideas involving the strategic concepts on both sides, such as the possibility of government-business-academic consortia for market development. And we can have discussions of this sort at every level. Naturally these discussions include some arguments. But that's not something that's limited to our relations with the Chinese. I think we should actually be pleased that it has become possible for us to argue with each other on a common plane.
 In fact, for example, the construction of a new airport in Shanghai was based on a new approach under the direction of young engineers, using virtually no human labor but instead tapping the forces of the river current and the tides to create a sandbar and then planting reeds to dry it out. There are all sorts of new developments like this going on in China, and the summit meeting this time set the course for Japan to become involved with them in a concrete fashion.

Taiwan and the Koreas

Nonaka

 When President Clinton was in China last autumn, he declared "three nos" regarding Taiwan, namely, no support for Taiwanese independence, no support for either the "one China, one Taiwan" position or the "two Chinas" position, and no support for membership for Taiwan in international organizations with a statehood requirement. How was this matter handled between Japan and China this time?

Sadoshima

 That was something that occurred in the context of U.S.-China relations. Our basic stance is naturally one of setting the direction for Japan's relations with China on our own terms, not those of the U.S.-China relationship. Our country's position on Taiwan was made clear in the Joint Communique of 1972 in line with various earlier developments; I don't think it's appropriate for us to express it in simple terms, such as "three nos" or the like. The Chinese recognize this. And the issue of Taiwan, as the Chinese themselves say, is basically a problem between Chinese people. The Chinese are fundamentally seeking a peaceful resolution of the matter, and as long as this is the case, there is no posture on the Chinese side, at least for now, of trying to modify the existing Japan-China framework in connection with this issue. So the "three nos" issue was not raised by the Chinese side.

Nonaka

 Was there no discussion of working for a shift in communication with North Korea in the wake of its recent launching of a Taepodong missile across Japan?

Sadoshima

 China's prime goal for the Korean Peninsula is stability. The Chinese are cautious about applying pressure on North Korea, but it is true that they are taking various steps to stabilize the situation in the peninsula with a view to their own national interest. Japan is naturally continuing to direct requests at China in this connection. And in the Joint Press Announcement this time the two countries stressed the importance to both of them of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and declared their support for the positive efforts made by all parties concerned in this regard.

Nonaka

 The visit by President Jiang seems to have had major significance and fruits in areas other than those that the media focused on. I hope that this will serve as a starting point for the implementation of a series of action plans that will breathe new air into Japan-China relations, like the prevailing westerlies blowing from the continent.

 Translated from "Ko Takumin shuseki rai-Nichi no igi to seika," in Gaiko Forum, March 1999, pp. 62-66.


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