TOKYO -- The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China marked the 40th anniversary of going into effect on Oct. 23.
Over the last four decades, China has become the world's second-largest economic power, falling behind the United States alone, and its economic ties with Japan have also deepened, hitting the top of Tokyo's list of biggest trading partners. However, the two countries remain at odds in the diplomatic arena. The continuing territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, which Japan controls and China claims, still challenges the "mutual respect for sovereignty" stipulated by the treaty.
Still, in an interview with a Hong Kong media outlet ahead of his visit to China Oct. 25-27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that "the Japan-China relationship has made a giant leap" over the 40-year period. Abe is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Oct. 26 to reaffirm the spirit of the friendship and mutual benefit promised in the treaty.
Japan and China normalized their diplomatic ties in the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique. Under the agreement, Japan recognized Beijing as the sole legal government of China, severing its ties with Taiwan. China also relinquished its demand for war reparations from Japan. The two countries then signed the 1978 peace and friendship treaty after six years of negotiations.
The five-article treaty encompasses issues over which Japan and China disagree to this day. Article 1 stipulates "principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity," but Tokyo and Beijing face a tense division over the Senkaku Islands and the development of undersea gas fields in the East China Sea.
Article 2 says that "neither (Japan nor China) should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region or in any other region," and that the two countries are "opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony" -- a provision aimed to counter the then Soviet Union, with which China was in conflict.
But now, China itself has expanded its military might to the extent that its presence has substantially changed the security balance in the Asia-Pacific region. "A hegemon now means China for Japan, and the United States for China," said a senior official from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Relaxation of tension in Asia and peace in the world," an ideal extolled by the treaty, still has a long way to go.
(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)