China's new tourists - from Japan
It seems only fitting that when the world's most populated nation plays host to outsiders, it should do so on a grand scale. China is now doing just that - by entertaining a delegation of young people from Japan.
This is not, it must be stressed, a busload-size delegation. No, we are talking about a delegation of 3,000 visitors from Japan - the largest group of tourists that China has had since the founding of the People's Republic back in 1949.
What is especially interesting in all this is that the tour is made up mainly of young Japanese. The visit dramatically underscores the degree to which both nations, China and Japan, are seeking to work out a mutually amicable diplomatic , economic, and social interchange after decades of conflict and rivalry.
Since the early 1970s the two countries have worked to expand bilateral contacts - first through an agreement seeking to define diplomatic relations in 1972 and then, in 1978, through a formal treaty.
Last March, when Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone visited Peking, a new committee was set up at the prime minister's recommendation to promote bilateral contacts. The panel, the 21st Century Committee, is responsible for bringing the 3,000 young Japanese to the mainland.
Such contacts cannot help fostering regional stability in East Asia in general. And both nations benefit. China needs venture capital and technology from Japan to help modernize its economy. Japan seeks access to the large Chinese economic market, as well as raw materials.
Western diplomatic missions are surely monitoring such interchanges. Links between the two cultures go back more than 2,000 years. But relations have often been far from cordial.
Throughout the early years of this century, it might be recalled, Japan sought - and gained - a direct foothold on the mainland, culminating in eventual warfare in the 1930s. And China, for all its emerging links with the United States, still maintains a careful distance between East- and West-bloc nations. That contrasts sharply with Japan, which has tied its foreign policy to the West , particularly the US. Could the lure of the large Chinese market ever cause that link to the West to loosen somewhat? The two sides, communist China and capitalist Japan, share a number of common objectives - including limiting Soviet military influence in the North Pacific, the Sea of Japan, and the East China Sea.
Still, beyond all the diplomatic implications in such visits, one cannot help appreciating the remark of a top Chinese official. Given the often-troubled history of the Chinese and Japanese people, he noted, interchanges between younger generations - in this case, 3,000 young people - can help remove latent hostilities between the two societies in general. In the long haul of history, such a reconciliation between peoples is to be welcomed and encouraged.