What Will 2008 Bring for Sino-Japanese Relations?

Updated On: Jan 02, 2008

In 2007, Sino-Japanese ties went on an upswing, a turn for the positive after a mini cold war between East Asia’s two most powerful states since the turn of the century. 

At the end of 2007, visiting Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda was in fast-growing Tianjin to promote business as well as held talks and lunched with the top official of Tianjin, Zhang Gaoli. Tianjin is important because it is host to 650 Japan-funded enterprises and some 4,000 resident Japanese nationals. Fukuda told Zhang that he was grateful to the Tianjin government for supporting the activities of Japanese companies, the Japanese embassy in China said in a statement. The statement also revealed that Zhang, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party in Tianjin, told Fukuda that he wishes to make Tianjin a showcase city of Japan-China cooperation in environmental protection and energy-saving.

Tianjin, an investment hub north of Beijing, is the hometown of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, "which is also politically important," a Japanese trade ministry official told reporters. Many Japanese companies including car giant Toyota Motor Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial, Panasonic-brand electronics maker, have invested in Tianjin. "I'm eager to watch Tianjin as a rapidly developing city," Fukuda said at the start of the lunch. To achieve this, Fukuda told Chinese leaders that improving the environment for investment by foreign companies is important.

During a joint press conference with Premier Wen Jiabao, Mr. Fukuda said, "At no time in the two counties' long history have they had so much power to contribute to the world's development and stabilization as now. We have great responsibility." The most important declaration came when Mr. Fukuda said Japan "will not support a unilateral move to change the current situation".

So what will 2008 bring?

The two countries' leaders agreed on the importance of pushing a "mutually beneficial strategic relationship" in such fields as the economy, energy and environmental protection. Like the five minutes of pitch and catch that Fukuda played with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in end December 2007, 2008 is likely to see a fair amount of symbolic showing of warming bilateral ties. This is especially so with the upcoming Olympics in China which is likely to increase the number of photo-op moments for the leaders of the two countries. Fukuda said Japan would "vigorously support" China and "sincerely look forward to" the success of the Games. Wen also expressed a warm welcome for Japan to take part in the Olympiad.

All eyes will be on President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan next spring and, in his meeting with Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Hu had already given a preview of what Japan can expect as he characterized current bilateral ties as "good relations in which improvement and development are happening." Mr. Hu suggested proper handling of the issues related to historical perception by "using history as a mirror as we move toward the future." Fukuda said, "Only when one has the courage and wisdom to look squarely at one's past and to examine oneself whenever necessary can one avoid making mistakes in the future." Mr Fukuda has said he will not visit the shrine while he is in power and has called for Japan to be humble about its past. The two countries also agreed that Hu would visit Japan next year "in a cherry blossom spring". It would be the first visit by a Chinese president after 10 years.

Another feature to look for in 2008 is cooperation between the two countries in climate change. Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda proposed to establish 10 centres of energy-saving and environmental cooperation in China to promote environmental technology transfer from Japanese companies to China businesses. According to Mr. Mitsuo Sakaba, press secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in the press briefing on December 28, these 10 centres will start to be constructed in 2008, but no specific schedule has been worked out yet. There will be three centres in Beijing, two inShanghai, one each in DalianQingdaoChengduShenyang and Guangzhou.

The centres will be financed by the Japanese government but the business of tech transfer will be made in the between companies from the two countries. Mr. Sakaba said these centres would offer information about technologies of energy-saving and environmental protection owned by Japanese companies, identify the needs of Chinese companies and help the match-making between Japanese suppliers and Chinese companies which are interested in buying those technologies.

The biggest thorn for Sino-Japanese relations in 2008, it turned out, is not going to be history but a dispute over maritime gas fields. Despite 11 previous rounds of talks, no agreement has been reached on the two countries' joint exploration of the maritime gas fields in the East China Sea. The fundamental issue is that China does not accept the maritime border which Japan has proposed as a starting point for negotiations.

Probably, one of the most important issues to handle for China and Japan is to build up their confidence in military ties so that any maritime dispute would not be embroiled in military conflict. The Chinese premier said the two nations would strengthen defense exchanges and security dialogues, and schedule "in good time" a China visit by Japan's defense minister and the maritime self-defense force. (1 January 2008)


Japan PM urges China co-operation (BBC, 30 December 2007)

Japan PM in China's fast-growing Tianjin to promote business (Channelnewsasia, 30 December 2007)

Foundation for better ties (Japan Times, 30 December 2007)

Fukuda, Wen pitch friendly relations game plan (Japan Times, 30 December 2007)

Japanese politicians applaud talks between Fukuda, Wen (People’s Daily, 29 December 2007)

Japanese official: Japanese PM "very happy" with talks with Chinese leaders (People’s Daily, 29 December 2007)

Japan to promote environmental tech transfer in China (People’s Daily, 29 December 2007)

Chinese leaders hold "heart-to-heart" talks with Japanese prime minister (People’s Daily, 29 December 2007)