By Wang Xiangwei on 04 March, 2014

March 12, 2014

“Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida urges dialogue with China to ease tensions”

China and Japan should resume talks on establishing a maritime defence communication mechanism and other practical issues, Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the South China Morning Post.

Resolving these issues would reduce the risk of an unintended escalation in territorial tensions in the East China Sea and pave the way for improved relations overall, Kishida said in an exclusive interview with the Post in Tokyo.

He urged China to continue "our candid exchange of views" and hoped the discussions would lead to high-level political talks between the two sides.

His appeal came at time when bilateral ties have been severely strained by disputes over the Diaoyu Islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus, and the visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December to the Yasukuni Shrine that honours the country's war dead, including 14 leading war criminals.

Since that visit, Beijing has suspended most official exchanges with Tokyo and said Chinese leaders would refuse to meet Abe and other senior Japanese officials as the countries became locked in a global public relations battle.

In the latest move to ratchet up political pressure, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress approved two national remembrance days to commemorate the Nanking massacre and Japan's defeat in the second world war.

The tensions have stoked international concern over the chance of an accidental confrontation between the two countries - the world's second largest and third largest economies after the United States - as Japanese and Chinese fighter jets and patrol ships shadow each other around the Diaoyus.

Kishida said it was necessary and important for both countries to take concrete measures to reduce unnecessary misunderstanding and friction.

"It indeed serves no-one's interest - neither Japan's, China's or relevant countries - to have an accidental incident between the two countries," he said.

To avoid unintended consequences, he said both sides should move ahead to implement a bilateral maritime defence communication mechanism, which has already been agreed in principle.

He said: "Although the Japan-China relationship is at a difficult stage right now, it is important that we continue our candid exchange of views so that various dialogues, such as the maritime communication mechanism, lead to high-level political dialogue. I hope the Chinese side will respond from the same perspective to our call for dialogue."

Throughout the interview, Kishida repeatedly called for dialogue in a conciliatory tone, saying the bilateral relationship was one of the most important for Japan. He said he wanted to advance the mutually beneficial relationship based upon the common strategic interests of the two countries.

"China's peaceful development is a great benefit and opportunity not only for Japan but the entire region and the international community," Kishida said.

He added that Sino-Japanese relations were closer and more mutually dependent on each other than ever before, citing bilateral trade, Japanese investment in China and tourism figures showing that about five million people visited each other's country every year.

Asked if China had responded in any way to Japan's calls for dialogue, Kishida said there had been various talks between the two countries on working-level co-operation and exchanges in the private sector.

In an interesting development, even as Beijing ratcheted up political pressure on Japan, it has quietly begun easing controls over bilateral economic and cultural exchanges imposed since Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Last Monday, Japan announced that the three Chinese delegations representing young rural officials, journalists and middle-school students, which were originally scheduled to visit Japan in January, would resume their visits from later this month.

Kishida defended Abe's visit to the shrine, which drew condemnation from China and South Korea, who both see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism. The visit was even rebuked by Japan's most powerful ally, the United States.

Kishida said Japan's diplomatic policy and recognition of history had not changed at all. "With regard to our relationship with China and [South Korea], I believe it is important to develop a future-oriented, co-operative relationship."

The Chinese foreign ministry agreed with Kishida's suggestion that Sino-Japanese disputes should be resolved through dialogue, but said it had seen no support for such talks from Tokyo.

"China's position in the East China Sea and Diaoyu Islands is consistent," ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday during a daily press briefing .

"We think that both two sides should properly manage their disputes through dialogue and consultations.

"[However], the Japanese government recently stirred up trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue, and refuses to carry out real and sincere dialogue and negotiation with the Chinese side.

"That's why the two sides have disputes and differences on the Diaoyu Islands issue and issues in the East China Sea.

"We hope the Japanese side will respond sincerely to China's position, face up to facts and history and carry out real consultation with the Chinese side on relevant issues."

Transcript of South China Morning Post interview with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida

Q: What measures is Japan taking to relieve the diplomatic and military tensions between the two countries? In return, what gestures would you like to see from China?

A: It indeed serves no-one’s interest – neither Japan’s nor China’s interest – nor the interest of any other “relevant country” to have an accidental incident between the two countries. Therefore, I believe it is necessary to reduce unnecessary misunderstanding and friction, and it is also important to conduct a candid exchange of views to build mutual understanding and trust between the two countries. To avoid unintended contingencies, we believe that during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first term of administration, at the Japan-China summit we agreed in principle to establish a communication mechanism of defence between the two countries, to be more precise, Japan and China’s maritime defence communication mechanism. This is the concrete response we are making. But unfortunately, the Chinese side has not agreed to its implementation yet. We would like to approach the Chinese side so that they would agree to early implementation of this mechanism. Although the Japan-China relationship is in a difficult stage right now, it is important we must continue our candid exchange of views, so that various dialogues such as the maritime communication mechanism would lead to high-level political dialogue between the two countries. I hope that the Chinese side will respond from the same perspective to our call for dialogue.

Q: What are your most optimistic and most pessimistic estimates of how China-Japan relations will develop this year?

A: First of all, the bilateral relationship between the two countries is one of the most important bilateral relationships we have. China’s peaceful development is a great benefit and an opportunity, not only for Japan but the entire region and the international community. In view of Japan and China, we share important responsibilities for the peace and stability of the region and the international community, and relations are closer and more mutually dependent on each other than ever before. For example, China is Japan’s largest trading partner. Also, if you look at the number of Japanese companies operating in China, it is No 1 compared to other foreign companies operating in China. If you look at human exchanges, over five million people visit each other’s country every year. As well as exchange students, there are active exchanges between local cities between the two countries. As for your question about the most optimistic and most pessimistic scenarios [I could foresee], I feel it is inappropriate as Japan’s foreign minister to comment on the concrete scenarios of future relationships. As I mentioned earlier, the Japan-China relationship is one of the most important relationships we have. The relationship is very deep indeed and my job as foreign minister is to make progress on this relationship as far as possible. Therefore, I believe I want to make progress from a broad perspective to advance this mutually beneficial relationship based upon the common strategic interests between the two countries.

Q: There are suggestions among analysts in China and elsewhere that both Chinese and Japanese leaders should learn from Deng Xiaoping and Japanese leaders of his time who made the wise decision of setting aside the controversial issues and move forward [to forge] closer ties. On what occasions do you think a dialogue between China and Japan will be made possible? Have you seen any sign of willingness from China to improve ties?

A: Japan and China normalised relationship with a 1972 joint communiqué and also signed a treaty of peace and friendship in 1978. In 1998, we released a document called Japan-China Joint Declaration on building a partnership of co-operation for peace and development and in 2008, a joint statement between China and Japan on the comprehensive promotion of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests was released. As the government of Japan, we attached high importance to these four documents and we have developed our relations in various areas – including political, economic, cultural – based on the spirit and policy described in these four documents. Taking account of the policy and philosophy described in these four basic documents, we would like to make an effort to advance our relationship with China based upon strategic interests, so that individual issues could not affect overall bilateral relationships between the two countries. What we will be important for us to do from now on is to continue dialogue at various levels, deepen co-operation in a number of practical areas so as to ultimately lead to high-level political dialogue between the two countries. Regarding your question on whether China has shown any sign responding to our gestures, I believe that there are various dialogues between the two countries involving working-level co-operation and exchanges involving the private sector. We would like to continue to build on this co-operation and ... would also like to ask the Chinese to respond to our call for high-level political dialogue.

Q: How do you perceive the role of the United States in helping stabilise the situation in the region?

A: First of all, Japan-US alliance is the foundation of our diplomacy and also it is important for the peace and stability of the Asia-pacific region. To have a stable Japan-China relationship serves the interests of not only the United States but for the whole Asia-pacific region. For the region’s peace and stability, the United States’ role is vital. I recently visited the United States and met the Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss various issues on the Asia-pacific region. Japan will continue to solidify the Japan-US alliance and also with China, we would like to promote mutually beneficial relationship based upon common strategic interests from a broad perspective so that we will contribute to the Asia-pacific region’s peace and stability.

Q: Would Prime Minister Abe ever be willing to give up future visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in exchange for good will gestures from China and South Korea? What would it take for Abe to make such a decision?

A: In the Yasukuni Shrine, the shrine houses the souls of 2.47 million people who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for their country since 1853 – including the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Not only the souls of those who have lost lives in the second world war, but also those who lost their lives in world war one and other domestic struggles and battles. Those people are enshrined without any differentiation of class or gender. After the visit, Prime Minister Abe released a statement explaining the intent of his visit. In his statement, he expressed respect – as a leader of any country would – for those people who have made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for their country, and made a pledge never to wage a war again. This is the prime minister’s every intention and his views are expressed in that statement. As for Prime Minister Abe himself, he has not said a word if he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine in the future or not. As for myself as foreign minister, my job is to explain the prime minister’s views and thoughts on his visit expressed in the statement. One thing I would like to stress is that amid all this, Japan’s diplomatic policy and recognition of history have not changed at all. Japan after the war has consistently protected freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and has made concrete contributions to peace and stability in the region. We should continue to explain clearly that Japan’s past as a peace loving nation would not change in the future. With regard to relationship with China and the Republic of Korea, I believe it is important to develop future-oriented co-operative relationship and I would like to continue to do so. I would like to continue to explain this issue so that this it does not become a political or diplomatic issue.

Q: The Apec leaders’ meeting is coming up in Beijing. Do you have any plan to meet with your counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing?

A: At this point, I have no plans to schedule such a meeting. Even if difficult individual issues exist between the two countries, it is always important to have candid exchange of views between the two countries. If an opportunity arises, I would like to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials to speak to them directly and exchange views with them. I hope the Chinese side will respond in the same manner. It is also important that there should be no preconditions to the dialogue between the two sides and even if we specific issues, we should meet and speak frankly. I believe that is important for building trust between the two sides, too.

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