Tuesday June 2, 2020


October 30, 2013

Over the weekend, Chinese and Japanese experts met in Beijing for the 9th Beijing-Tokyo Forum. The meeting, organized by China Daily and Genron NPO, a Japanese think tank, included discussions on everything from politics, security, and the economy to media and public perception.

This forum took place during a time of increased tension between China and Japan. The two countries have historically disagreed on many issues, with Japan’s actions toward China during WWII remaining a huge point of contention. Recently, however, matters have worsened as the territory dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands reemerged as a central issue.

The Beijing-Toyo Forum

Nearly 80 experts participated in the discussions, including journalists, scholars, business leaders, and former senior military and government officials, and attracted a large audience.

One of the co-organizers of the forum, Yasushi Kudo, noted the difficulty of arranging this kind of open discussion while tensions between China and Japan are so high. He further explained that, “Above all else, what we wanted to agree on was both countries’ pledge not to go to war under any circumstances… today is the day the first step was taken.”

At the beginning of the panel Japanese diplomat Yasushi Akashi described what he saw as the biggest problem facing the two countries.  He said, “All through the ages, exclusive nationalism is our common enemy… The most dangerous thing, I believe, for Japan and China is having a simplified, stereotypical image about each other’s country that has been distorted by emotions.”

His comments are supported by a recent survey conducted by China Daily and Genron NPO. The survey shows that 92.8 percent of Chinese surveyed and 90.1 percent of Japanese surveyed have unfavorable opinions of the other country. These results are the highest the annual survey has seen since it started in 2005.

The forum discussed issues of misunderstandings, popular perception, regional security, and cooperation, among other key bilateral areas of concern. The culmination of these discussions was a joint “Beijing Consensus” issued by the forum participants with the goal of moving towards easing tensions between their two countries. In the statement, they outlined four key points in which the two countries agree:

1.  As two geographically close major countries in Asia, China and Japan have many shared interests that will benefit from a stable relationship. Such a bilateral relationship will also benefit the region as a whole. The current situation of tension and strong negative public sentiment needs to be overcome.

2. China and Japan should “eternally hold on to the principle of peaceful co-existence, and whenever problems arise and for whatever reasons, we must commit ourselves to the peaceful resolution of disputes and problems between the two countries through dialogue, and never resort to any actions that may trigger a war.” This pledge is meant for all Chinese and Japanese people, not just the leadership and experts.

3. China and Japan should engage in dialogue to resolve the Diaoyu/Senkaku island dispute peacefully, promote mutual understanding, and create a crisis control mechanism to prevent conflict.

4. The two countries need to learn from their history and strive to maintain peace for future generations.

According to a former Chinese minister who attended the forum, the statement issued reflects “not just the opinions of the forum’s participants, but also those of many citizens of the two countries.”

Continued Tension

While the theme of the forum was one of cooperation and bettering of relations, a few participants were less positive. A former Chinese minister said Japan was hoping for international support to help it contain China any such attempt displayed a warped view of China and “the rendering of an image of the ‘Chinese menace’ to achieve an ulterior political goal.” Also, a former Chinese State Councilor said that Japan was to blame for the current tension and needs to make the first move towards mending ties by changing its stance on the East China Sea disputes.

Over the weekend, there was also a resurgence of public verbal sparring between China and Japan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Abe called for Japan to reemerge as a strong leader in the Asia-Pacific, including serving as a counter to China. He  also cautioned China, saying, “There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully.”

Japan also dispatched fighter jets to the islands in response to the presence of Chinese aircraft. In a speech to Japanese troops, Abe said, “We will show the nation’s determination not to allow any change in the current situation by force.”

In response to Abe’s comments, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, “The repeated remarks on China by Japanese leaders are provocations. This again shows the pretentious Japanese politicians are deceiving themselves.” She also said, “Japan’s unilateral action on the Diaoyu islands from the start has been illegal and void. China will never accept it and will firmly oppose it. Everyone can see that it is Japan who has broken the status quo on the Diaoyu islands.”

With regard to Japanese drones in the airspace near the disputed islands, a Defense Ministry spokesman said, “China absolutely does not permit other countries’ aircraft to violate China’s airspace. If the Japanese side shoots down or takes other coercive measures, to me that’s a serious provocation, it’s an act of war, and we will take decisive measures to fight back.”

While increased interactions between Japanese and Chinese experts is a positive step, the two countries still have a long way to go. Such informal Track II style dialogues need to be taken seriously be the leadership in each country and translate to tangible action. Also, as the “Beijing Consensus” pointed out, changing popular sentiment is just as important, especially because it often influence foreign policy.

For more information on the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone, see the following news articles:


Japan Times- Japanese, Chinese experts call for level-headed discussions

Global Post- Japan, China experts discuss thorny issues, seek better relations

China Daily- Beijing Consensus

The Wall Street Journal- Abe Says Japan Ready to Counter China’s Power

Bloomberg- Abe Warns China on Island Spat as Japan Dispatches Jets

Reuters- China criticizes ‘self-deceiving’ Japanese politicians

BBC- Japan minister: China threatens peace in islands row

For Chinese language news on the new free trade zone, see the articles below:

Xinhua (新华网)- 第九届北京—东京论坛闭幕并发表《北京共识》

International Online (国际在线)- 日方嘉宾高度评价”北京—东京论坛”意义

People’s Daily (人民网)- 第九届北京—东京论坛发表《北京共识》 呼吁和平方式解决争端

IFeng (凤凰网)- 安倍晋三:日本已经做好制衡中国的准备

Sohu (搜狐)- 安倍“恼羞成怒”鼓吹“中国威胁论”

Compiled and edited by Ariane Rosen