China and Japan should close the chapter on their past and try to find a way to move forward, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (吴作栋) said yesterday.
 
“While not forgetting the past, both sides must find a way to close the history issue and write a new chapter of cooperative relations. Working towards a mutually beneficial future together is the best way to prevent history from repeating itself,” he said, in a keynote speech at an investment seminar here.
 
He made the same point when asked by Japanese reporters, after his talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (小泉纯一郎), whether they had discussed the Japanese leader’s visits to the Yusakuni Shrine (靖国神社).
 
China-Japan ties have been severely strained, largely over Mr.Koizumi’s annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni, which honours 14 Class A war criminals among some 2.5 million war dead.
 
Mr.Goh was asked whether he had asked Mr.Koizumi to stop going to Yasukuni.
 
According to SM’s press secretary Stanley Loh, Mr.Goh told the reporters he did not, and that it was up to Mr.Koizumi, as Prime Minister of Japan, to decide for himself.
 
Mr.Koizumi explained to his Singapore guest that he visited Yasukuni in order to mourn the war dead and pray for peace.
 
Expressing understanding for the reason, Mr.Goh said the key point was that both China and Japan should look for a way to move forward. Otherwise, he said, the next generation of Chinese and Japanese would have their minds “poisoned” by the issue, making it hard for future generations to cooperate and build better ties.
 
He noted that some Singaporeans would rather Mr.Koizumi did not visit Yasukuni as they too had suffered during World War II.
 
China – Japan tension was a major theme in Mr.Goh’s speech at the Nomura Singapore Seminar, organised by stockbroking giant Nomura Securities, earlier yesterday.
 
He identified China – Japan ties as a risk factor that could suppress the long-term growth of the region if bilateral tensions were not removed.
 
“So the question is how to move forward,” he said. Unless that the question is addressed properly, “the concern that we have is that a generation of Chinese and Japanese 25 years from now will be suspicious of one another”, he said, in reply to a question.
 
In his speech, Mr.Goh said bilateral tensions were understandable because this was the first time that both countries were strong powers at the same time, and their search for a new way of living together was fraught with anxiety.
 
“China’s attitude towards Japan is coloured by Japan’s reluctance to come to terms with its World War II history, while Japn’s attitude towards China is shaped by its anxiety over how China’s rise will alter the regional balance and affect Japan’s interests,” he said.
 
The problem is complicated by domestic politics and rising nationalism, he added.
 
Fortunately, both sides want to avoid a collision, he said.
 
“There are strong incentives… to deepen ties. China needs investments, technology and know-how from Japan, while Japan needs the markets and production base in China.”
 
He reminded the audience that stable relations among the key players in the region were critical for regional peace and development.
 
~ By KWAN WENG KIN, The Straits Times, November 9, 2005