Japan seeks talks with China

2015-04-08 08:42Global Times Editor: Qian Ruisha

Optimism daunted by Diaoyu claim, distorted textbooks

Japan and China are planning a meeting between the two countries' finance ministers in Beijing in June, Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday, a move that signals Japan's push to put the two countries' troubled ties back on track.

However, the Chinese government and scholars remained cautious, as Japan on Tuesday also released its annual diplomatic bluebook, making aggressive territorial claims over the disputed Diaoyu Islands. China on Tuesday joined South Korea in condemning newly approved Japanese textbooks, calling them distortions of history.

The meeting in June, if confirmed, would be the first time finance ministers from the two countries would convene in more than three years, Aso said on Tuesday.

"We are trying to hold it, although I don't know the date," Aso told a press conference.

When asked if the issue of the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will be brought up at the meeting, Aso said Japan will ask for transparency concerning the venture.

Tokyo last week ruled out any immediate plan to join the institution.

China on Tuesday announced that 35 countries, including the UK, France and Germany, have been approved as prospective founding members of the AIIB.

"The meeting carries both symbolic and practical significance. On one level, it is a sign that, despite differences, Beijing and Tokyo are working to thaw icy relations, one step at a time. On another level, there may be substantive discussion about a free trade agreement between China, Japan and South Korea as well as on AIIB," Hu Lingyuan, a professor from the Japan Research Center at Shanghai-based Fudan University, told the Global Times.

Hu believes that Japan will use the opportunity to inquire about governance structures and other information on AIIB and said it will take some time for Japan to weigh the pros and cons.

Aso's statement came as Ji Bingxuan, a vice chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), is scheduled to fly to Tokyo for a four-day trip, leading a delegation from the NPC, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

China-Japan relations have soured since the Japanese government announced in late 2012 that it would "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands. Beijing has since sent regular maritime patrols near the area.

The diplomatic impasse was broken in November when Chinese President Xi Jinping and Abe met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing.

Last month, foreign ministers from China, Japan and South Korea held their first trilateral meeting in three years in Seoul.

However, the seemingly positive signals were often daunted by Japan's aggressive territorial claims and its reluctance to face up to its wartime history.

In its 2014 Diplomatic Bluebook released to the cabinet on Tuesday, Japan accused China of "unilaterally changing the status quo" in the East China Sea, a claim repeatedly rejected by the Chinese foreign ministry.

Japan also revised textbooks on history, civics and geography that will be used by high school students, asserting "Japan's sovereignty" over the Diaoyu Islands and obscuring the Japanese army's role in the Nanjing Massacre in China during WWII.

"Whatever Japan adopts to publicize its mistaken position, there is no way it can change the fundamental fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Tuesday.

Hua urged Japan to "adopt a responsible attitude toward history" and "educate the next young generation with correct historical views."

"The signals [sent by Japan] are paradoxical because relations between the two countries are essentially quite complicated," Yang Bojiang, a professor with China University of International Relations, told the Global Times. "It will be a huge mistake to believe that Japan wants to restore ties [with China] on every front. It wants to continue working with China on economic issues to boost its domestic economy. But with political, historical and territorial issues, Japan will not give up its hard-line position," Yang said.

Abe has been actively seeking to loosen a constitutional constraint that confines the role of its military to self-defense, a move strongly opposed by China and South Korea, while he claims to have been trying to restore ties with the two countries. He is scheduled to visit the US on April 28, where he will meet with US President Barack Obama to discuss economic, security and global issues.

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