Tourism exchange a chance for improving China-Japan ties

2015-05-23 10:19China Daily Editor: Mo Hong'e

A 3,000-member Japanese delegation arrived in Beijing Friday; an event observers hope will improve mutual understanding and trust.

The delegation, led by Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's General Council Toshihiro Nikai, includes heads of local governments and big enterprises.

This is the largest mission between the two countries since the Japanese government's "purchase" of the Diaoyu Islands in September 2012 chilled bilateral ties.

Last large visiting delegation dates back to 2002 when 13,000 Japanese tourists visited China to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations.

"It is a rather high-profile delegation. The event marks an important step forward in pushing the China-Japan relationship toward gradual improvement," said Zhou Yongsheng, professor with the Institute of International Relations under the Foreign Affairs University, referring to Friday's delegation.

Divided into 80 groups, the delegation will visit Beijing, Tianjin, and provinces of Hebei and Liaoning, among others, to attend cultural, tourism and trade events.

This is the fifth time Nikai has organized a large cultural exchange tour to China. He hopes the people-to-people exchange will improve relations between the two countries and foster further tourism interaction.

Tourism between the two countries has cooled following the island "purchase" in 2012 and visits by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine, a spiritual symbol of Japan's aggression that honors war criminals.

In 2013, Chinese tourists to Japan dropped 6.5 percent year on year to 1.83 million. Last year, more than 2.4 million Chinese tourists visited Japan.

Thanks to efforts by people like Nikai, tourism exchange has become a high point in the often bumpy relationship, with Japan's refusal to face up to its wartime past being the major stumbling block.

The visiting delegation shows there are people in both countries hoping to improve bilateral relations, noted Gao Hong, deputy head of the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and Abe is set to deliver a speech on August 15, a perfect occasion for Japan to properly atone for its wrongdoings.

But so far, his gestures are disappointing.

In speeches he gave to the U.S. Congress and the Asian-African Summit in Indonesia, the prime minister expressed "deep remorse" over WWII but stopped short of issuing an apology.

When faced with a request for comment on the Potsdam Proclamation, which accelerated the end of WWII and established Japan's actions over 70 years ago as an aggression war, the prime minister declined to comment and claimed that he did not notice this part in the proclamation.

He also chose to not comment on whether the war was right or wrong.

Japan should deal with history and gain trust from the international community with real action, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing earlier this month.

"We hope Japan listens to the [...] international community and is sincere in reflecting on its aggressive past," said Hua.

Friendship and cooperation prevailed in the relations between China and Japan over the past two thousand years and more, history-wise, it is important that Japan starts something solid to face the history squarely and develop a future-oriented bilateral relationship.

Ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meeting on the sidelines of the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting last November, the two countries reached a four-point principled agreement to resume political, diplomatic and security dialogue while acknowledging different positions on the Diaoyu Islands.

In the spirit of "facing history squarely and looking forward to the future", the two sides have reached some agreements on overcoming political obstacles.

With that guideline in place, analysts expect relations to take off, should the two sides abide by the agreement.

Friday's delegation serves as the latest sign of progress.

It is hoped that more understanding could be fostered through personal exchange as "the easiest way to reach a consensus", said Gao.

"Tourism has become an important engine for bilateral cultural and trade exchanges in recent years," said Liu Jiangyong, vice chief of Institute of Modern International Relations of Tsinghua University.

Currently, there are more than 1,000 flights a week that link China and Japan.

China proposed that both countries name 10 hot tourist destinations to establish a cooperation mechanism at the local governmental level, according to Li Jinzao, head of China National Tourism Administration.

China and Japan should cooperate more pragmatically toward a goal of more convenient, more comfortable and safer tourism, Li reiterated his proposals made in April at the tourism ministers' meeting among China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

He suggested a simplified visa procedure between China and Japan, working toward the ultimate waiver of visa issuance.


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