by Zhao Bochao
BEIJING, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama is currently in China for a visit aimed at improving the strained Japan-China relations.
The trip marked the third visit to China by influential Japanese political figures within half a month, following those by former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and New Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi.
The flurry of visits signaled a willingness among the sober Japanese public to mend relations with China, and were widely interpreted as the beginning of a thaw of the ice between the two neighbors.
The signs are encouraging, but the improvement of the China-Japan relations still faces great challenges, not least with the simmering rightist sentiment that has haunted Japan for a long while.
During his recent China visit, Hatoyama acknowledged the existence of a "territorial dispute" between Japan and China and apologized for Japan's wartime crimes in China.
Yet his responsible and rational attitude was harshly criticized back at home, and he was even labeled as a "traitor" by Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.
Moreover, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his hardline stance on defense and security in a recent policy speech, he was accused of being too soft, just because he made no direct reference to the Diaoyu Islands dispute with China.
Due to such aggressive right-wing forces, which Tokyo has failed to rein in -- if not stoking them itself, the Japanese government has seen its leeway in handling relations with China diminishing.
However, without Tokyo's determination to face up to the problems, it is virtually impossible to make a breakthrough in restoring the bilateral relations.
Just as Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has said, the two sides should "shoulder national and historical responsibilities as well as display political wisdom" to improve the China-Japan relations.
On Aug. 15, 1995, which marked the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, Murayama, the then Japanese prime minister, made a war apology statement known later as Murayama Danwa. His sincerity and courage earned the respect and trust from other countries for both himself and Japan.
Now at this crucial moment in the China-Japan relations, Japan needs to summon up the courage Murayama manifested 18 years ago and make unremitting and genuine efforts to improve its ties with China.