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Sino-Japanese Relations

"Diplomacy should be undertaken by the politicians . . . But we are all human, we share a common humanity which is the same whether you are Russian or Chinese. It is important to be able to share thoughts sincerely about such issues as peace, education, the world. Otherwise, the discussion becomes purely political, a matter of power, of who's weak and who's strong. Somehow we have to break this destructive cycle."1--Daisaku Ikeda

Ikeda calls for the restoration of Sino-Japanese ties at a Soka Gakkai students meeting in 1968

Ikeda calls for the restoration of Sino-Japanese ties at a Soka Gakkai students meeting in 1968.

The most effective remedy for conflict, in Ikeda's view, is one that all people have the power to apply: dialogue. "Without dialogue," he writes, "humans are fated to walk in the darkness of their own dogmatic self-righteousness. Dialogue is the lamp by which we dispel that darkness, lighting and making visible for each other our steps and the path ahead."2 The effort to meet and speak with people has been a consistent focus of Ikeda's activities. More than this, however, he has built bridges of communication where walls of suspicion and mistrust have been erected.

The clearest example of this is in China. In 1968, at a meeting attended by nearly 20,000 university students, Ikeda issued a bold proposal for the normalization of Japan-China relations. The two countries were at the time still technically in a state of war and anti-Chinese and anticommunist sentiments were widespread in Japan. Following this speech, Ikeda was strongly criticized, even receiving death threats from right wingers. Ikeda, as his mentor Toda before him, saw peace with China as fundamental to the stability of the Asian region, and considered the reintegration of China into the international community as vital to world peace. His call helped establish the groundwork for a series of political-level exchanges with China, culminating in restoration of diplomatic relations in 1972. Ikeda's behind-the-scenes efforts to bring this about are today widely acknowledged in China.

Ikeda and his wife, Kaneko, talk with Chinese citizens, during his third visit to China in 1975

Ikeda and his wife, Kaneko, talk with Chinese citizens, during his third visit to China in 1975.

Soka Gakkai youth from Japan meet with Chinese students in Shanghai, 2006

Soka Gakkai youth from Japan meet with Chinese students in Shanghai, 2006.

Ikeda's commitment to peaceful relations with China stems from his youthful memories of his elder brother, an enlisted soldier in the Japanese Imperial army, describing with disgust the Japanese army's treatment of the Chinese people. During the first decades of the twentieth century, Japanese militarism left deep scars on Asian countries. Ikeda's mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, would later speak passionately to Ikeda of the mission of the Soka Gakkai to bring lasting peace to the Asian region.

Meeting Premier Zhou Enlai

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai insisted on meeting Ikeda in 1974

Although ailing, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai insisted on meeting Ikeda in 1974.

Ikeda's commitment to restoration of Sino-Japanese relations was clear to the Chinese leadership from early on. In the early 1960s, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai instructed his aides to learn more about the Soka Gakkai as an emerging people's movement within Japanese society. Zhou took immediate and positive note of Ikeda's 1968 call for normalization. In December 1974, when Ikeda visited China for the second time, he met with Premier Zhou. Although the Chinese premier was hospitalized with terminal cancer at the time, he insisted on meeting with Ikeda.

Lin Liyun, a member of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee who interpreted for the Zhou-Ikeda meeting, recalls the encounter:

"Not only was President Ikeda eager to meet Premier Zhou, but Premier Zhou, though his serious illness left him in no condition to see anyone, went out of his way to meet President Ikeda . . . The premier's illness had taken a severe toll on his body, so the Soka Gakkai president naturally took the elder man's arm in support. Premier Zhou held President Ikeda's gaze in silence for some time before he said, 'We meet at last.' Communicated in his gaze was an unspoken expectation that President Ikeda, with his insight and dynamism, would assume in the years ahead a leading role in Japan in the promotion of peace and goodwill between their countries. Premier Zhou entrusted that task to him.

"That, I feel certain, was what passed between the two at the time."3

Ikeda has indeed continued to passionately promote the cause of peace between China and Japan. The many academic awards he has received from Chinese universities are testament to his efforts, as are the more than 15 research centers that have been established at different Chinese universities to study his ideas and philosophy.

Ikeda continues to remind Japanese youth, in particular, of the great cultural and spiritual debt they owe to China and other Asian countries, and has encouraged them to address the historical realities that continue to cast a shadow over Japan's relations with its neighbors. Youth within the Soka Gakkai have developed active programs of international exchange, both on the personal and organizational levels.

"International relations should not be limited to the political or economic planes," Ikeda writes. "It is absolutely vital that there be educational and cultural exchanges that enhance mutual understanding between ordinary citizens of different countries. This is why I have worked to open a path for young people through dialogue that brings people together in the dimension of their shared humanity."4 [Read full text]

Sun Pinghua, a former chair of the China-Japan Friendship Association, once remarked upon Ikeda's diplomatic efforts as follows: "The 'golden bridge' erected by President Ikeda has a peculiar construction. The more people cross it, the more solid it becomes."5