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New Chinese Ambassador to Tokyo Will Improve Relations

Cheng Yonghua kicked-off a new diplomatic mission to Tokyo this morning. The new Ambassador arrived on Sunday and will be busy from the beginning. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is planning on making an official state visit to Japan in the spring. The announcement of Cheng as Beijing's representative to Japan is expected, in some ways to bridge the divide between the two major economies of Asia.

Cheng is replacing previous Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cui Tiankai. Cheng is well versed in Japanese affairs, speaks the language fluently and has well-established business connections. He has spent nearly 15 years working for the diplomatic mission in Tokyo in the past. He was the deputy director-general of the department of Asian affairs at the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry and a Minister at the Embassy. His most recent posting was overseeing the Embassy in South Korea and prior to that was head of the Malaysian mission.

The appointment is being viewed as a step forward in relations with China and Japan, because Cheng is expected to build suitable relations with Hatoyama's government. The post-election statements made by the Japanese Prime Minister in the fall of 2009, signaled to Jiabao's Beijing, that the time was ripe to develop a closer relationship with Japan. As the two governments work towards common goals and move further from tense relationships of the past, they have to move with caution. The growing relationship with China will cause continued problems with Japanese- American relations.

As America continues to maintain a great interest in Japanese relations and views Japan as the cornerstone to American influence in the East Asia Pacific region, Japan is finding itself a popular piece of real estate. China is seeking to boost relations with Tokyo and America is seeking to maintain a historically close relationship. The move that Jiabao is sending to Hatoyama with the appointment of Cheng is that China got the message about increasing relations with Korea and China and that they are slowly implementing a program that will meet both countries stated objectives.

Is the current Japanese government ready to be an international player? Is a move towards increased relations with China the correct step for Japan at this point? Are Japan and China capable of working together in a meaningful and functional way, for the benefit of both?

Of course, these questions are yet to be answered. In regards to Hatoyama, and the current government's readiness to become a true international source of power, I think that the Japanese government is making the right initial steps, to make the nation a touch more dynamic and global. Japan cannot continue to ignore the realities of Asia and the accumulated power of Japan, Korea and China. The three, when working together on issues and counter-balancing each others independent power in favour of a consensus can accomplish great things in the region. As a condition to this, China is certainly going to have to put pressure on North Korea to give up ambitious weapons programs and to make steps in the direction of normalcy. Japan will have to open domestic markets and allow Korean and Chinese companies more inroads in Japan.

In regards to the question about the move towards a closer relationship with Tokyo and Beijing. The move is definitely coming at the right time. With the financial meltdown caused in large part by the sluggish American economy, the Japanese, and the rest of the world are second guessing American capitalism and the free flow of credit backed by international investors. The appointment of a Japanese- friendly Ambassador by China is a seemingly small step towards improving relations, but these seemingly small steps are starting to add up, and there is little doubt that relations between China and Japan are growing closer.

Yes, China and Japan are capable of working together. The Democratic Party of Japan has been welcoming the growing ties and the Chinese have a lot to gain by winning Japanese hearts and minds. As China grows closer to Japan over time, they will be increasingly seen as a legitimate power in global affairs and Asian affairs specifically. Japan has much to gain from balancing relationships with China and America, because being well placed in the middle of two giants has its advantages.

The appointment of Cheng as the representative of Beijing in Tokyo will be another positive step in the direction of Japanese-Chinese relations and the ultimate out-come of such moves will bring about a net benefit for both Japan and China.

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