Tokyo-Beijing Advances “Strategically Reciprocal Relationship” through “Warship Diplomacy”

Publication: China Brief Volume: 7 Issue: 22

On November 27, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, when asked by Chinese reporters about the current state of Sino-Japanese relations, characterized the relationship in the following response: “I believe spring has already come to Japan-China relations. I want the spring to continue as long as possible. Because when summer comes, something that could ignite tempers could happen again.” The response was considered by commentators as a positive but veiled reference to his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi’s controversial behavior, whose visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto memorial erected to honor Japan’s war dead, severely strained ties between China and Japan during his years in office (China Daily, November 28; Japan Today, November 28).

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also said that the Japan-China relationship has reached “an important turning point” (China Daily, November 21). Mr. Wen made the statement immediately following a meeting between the two leaders on the sideline of the ASEAN +3 Summit in Singapore in early November.

At a press briefing with foreign media, Mr. Fukuda responded to Chinese press reporters’ question concerning China-Japan relations in his administration’s foreign policy and the “strategically reciprocal relationship” (zhanlue huhui) between the two sides, the approach of developing Sino-Japanese relations agreed upon by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao last year.

“The Japan-China relation is the most important bilateral relation for both sides,” Mr. Fukuda said. “Former Prime Minister Abe’s official visit to China improved Sino-Japanese relations. [After] Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Japan in April, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Jia Qinling also visited Japan, these efforts are toward the strengthening of a strategically reciprocal relationship.”

According to Japanese television media, Mr. Fukuda also referred to a phone conversation the two leaders had in September. He said, “I am very surprised to hear that it was the first time a Japanese and Chinese leader spoke directly on the phone. There are so many important things to do that both sides need to maintain a relationship where everything can be discussed.”

Chinese Warship “Shenzhen” Docks in Tokyo

Prime Minister Fukuda’s comments came just days before the first People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warship “Shenzhen” docked in Tokyo harbor on November 28 for a four-day friendship visit, at the invitation of the Japanese navy. This is the first visit to Japan by a Chinese military warship since World War II.

In 2000, China and Japan had agreed to reciprocal warship visits, but China cancelled the visit in 2002 after former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi irked China by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which China sees as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

The largely symbolic event is widely hailed as a sign of thawing ties between Japan and China.

In an interview with Japanese Defense Agency Chief Shigeru Ishiba, Mr. Ishiba hailed the visit as an important starting point for confidence building between the two militaries and said that following this visit the Japanese navy will also visit China. (Xinhua [Tokyo], November 26)

Mr. Ishiba pointed out that Japan and China have different national systems and national interests. The basis for the development of a strategically reciprocal relationship between the two sides should be based on the recognition of these differences.

PLAN Vice Chief of Staff Zhang Leiyu also said the warship visit will ultimately advance the “warming” of Sino-Japanese relations, and promote the development of long-term, stable and good neighborly cooperation.