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    Greater China
     Feb 6, '14

Going public with China-Japan disputes
By John Connolly

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The ramifications of the unresolved issues between China and Japan are unsettling. A growing rift between these two nations has both short- and long-term implications.

Resolution is difficult to achieve in part because there are

competing historical narratives. As positions harden over time, movement will be increasingly difficult.

Given the complexity surrounding this issue, against the backdrop of the larger international communications environment, a new form of political dialogue should be considered.

There is a case to be made that the larger process of dialogue between Japan and China could benefit by the establishment of a specific diplomatic tool, "public talks".

Public talks are based on a series of formal rules and terms that will create a level communication playing field between two sides. A dramatic first step to this process of public negotiations is for political leaders in both China and Japan to call on the United Nations to create the parameters for this diplomatic tool.

The central communications instrument of public talks is a series of magazine-size documents of approximately 12-pages that would be available on a formal Internet platform. These "dialogue documents" could also be distributed through one or more major print media in both nations, and indeed, around the world.

These dialogue documents would feature each side's interpretation of history, pose questions to their adversary, state negotiating positions and include other content relevant to international conflicts.

The often diverging views of history suggest that the back and forth exchanges on this subject could become a central element in the overall process of public talks in part because it confers respect. These formal interactions could provide an important step towards widespread understanding of historical facts.

Critics may decry the lack of secrecy, yet weigh this alternative against the status-quo. Moreover, since different views of history are at the heart of this conflict, featuring these different accounts might seem to aggravate the problem. Yet each side's ability to ask questions could go a long way towards a more multifaceted and nuanced acceptance of the other's view of history that will get beyond the cliches and brief summaries.

Another critic may complain that this is just another form of propaganda. Yet when have we seen propaganda where two sides share a level communication playing field? Indeed, public talks are arguably the opposite of propaganda.

Later stages of this process would focus on the negotiating trade-offs necessary for the two sides to reach agreement. This phase could be highly contentious, yet each side could say to its citizens that transparency is the central characteristic of this form of structured dialogue. At the same time, all will see that some measure of compromise will be necessary to get to agreement.

Personal trust or enmity between individual leaders would become less important with public talks because commitments would be spelled out for all sides to witness.

By opening up the central details of these conflicts to the public a new perspective will be apparent: The whole world will be watching the very specific views, words and commitments of the leaders in both China and japan that will appear within a set of dialogue documents.

There needs to be a structure for public talks to come into existence. This will only start when a major organization or entity creates the principles, rules and terms for public talks.

Beyond the core issues, this overseeing body would need to address details including: How long should dialogue documents be? What sections should be included? How will these sections be shaped for subsequent rounds? Ultimately, these dialogue documents would be user friendly 12-page records that could be printed out everywhere.

While there will always be opposition to various UN initiatives, it will be difficult for a nation to make the case for not having this diplomatic tool available. Undoubtedly, if Japan and China called on the UN to create public talks, this will come to pass.

Envision this step-by-step dialogue between China and Japan. It would be a dramatic progression of messages where each side would come to a better understanding of the other's views and beliefs.

The time is at hand for this public negotiating process. The old ways are not working. It is time to try something new.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

John Connolly is Executive Director of the US-based Institute for Public Dialogue

(Copyright 2014 John Connolly)

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