Japan, China experts discuss thorny issues for brighter relations

Japanese and Chinese experts candidly discussed on Saturday territorial and other thorny issues in the hope their public diplomacy will expand mutual interests and lead to an improvement in bilateral relations.

Amid a lack of official communication between the two countries, about 60 panelists, including scholars, lawmakers, former senior diplomats, business executives and journalists, gathered for a forum at a hotel in Beijing.

"All through the ages, exclusive nationalism is our common enemy," Yasushi Akashi, a former U.N. undersecretary general, chair of the Japanese side's planning committee of the forum, said at the outset.

"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," Akashi said.

Among the topics to be discussed during the forum that will run through Sunday are security, politics, the economy and the role of the media.

On Sunday, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is scheduled to deliver a special speech.

At the end of the event, the Japanese side is hoping to issue a joint statement calling on the two countries not to fight a war again and make such efforts as establishing at an early date a mechanism to prevent an accidental clash and other contingencies in the East China Sea, according to Yasushi Kudo, head of the Japanese nonprofit think tank Genron NPO.

The think tank has been co-organizing the forum with the official China Daily every year since 2005.

Due to the strained ties, the forum, which had initially been scheduled for Aug. 12 to mark the 35th anniversary of the signing of the bilateral treaty of peace and friendship, was put off following a request from the Chinese side.

The results of this year's opinion survey released in August by the think tank and the newspaper showed that more than 90 percent of Japanese and Chinese people have negative feelings toward each other's country, the worst result since similar polls began in 2005.

The sharp deterioration in public sentiment toward each other has been mainly caused by renewed tensions over a set of tiny islands in the East China Sea.

The Senkaku Islands, which have been administrated by Japan for decades, are claimed by China.

The Japanese government's purchase in September last year of a significant portion of the uninhabited islands from a Japanese private owner severely damaged its ties with China, which calls them Diaoyu.

While the overall atmosphere of the forum was positive, former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan did not forget to blame Japan for being responsible for the current soured ties and questioned whether it is seeing China "as a threat or a partner."

Tang, who heads the China-Japan Friendship Association, said the real process of mending bilateral ties will not start until Japan changes its stance on the islands and corrects its historical views.