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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Commentary (April 18, 2005)

Japanese perspective on the current Tokyo-Beijing tensions

Lucy Hockings (Presenter, BBC News) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

Lucy Hockings, Presenter, BBC News and J. Sean Curtin, Fellow, GLOCOMLucy Hockings: What has been the reaction in Japan to the current protests?

Sean Curtin: I feel this is something that the international media has not covered enough. My impression is that Japan feels it has been unjustly treated. Firstly, they feel that Beijing is not honouring its international obligations with its clear failure to properly protect its embassy and consulates from attack.

More than that Tokyo says Beijing is overemphasizing Japan's past war record and war crimes in order to divert attention away from serious social issues that confront China today. Japan also says it has apologized for wartime atrocities.

The Japanese press often points out that Japan is a democratic country in which leaders are freely elected while China is run by a secretive and unelected Communist Party. The Japanese media claims that undemocratic forces in China are deliberately whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment to hide serious social problems afflicting the country.

Lucy Hockings: There are also concerns in Japan that China might be trying to scupper its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat with these attacks.

Sean Curtin: The UN Security Council seat is an issue many of the protesters have raised. Tokyo has said this it is unfair to do so. This all leads back to the question of the war. Interestingly, when we look at Germany's bid for a UN Security Council seat, there has been much less hostility. This is basically put down to Germany having given a very through apology for its wartime past, something Beijing claims Japan has not done.

Lucy Hockings: How damaging do you think these protests have been for relations between the two countries?

Sean Curtin: I think they have been extremely damaging. The business community in both countries is very concerned by what has been going on. We have to remember that Japan has invested billions and billions of yen in China. There is a vitally important trading relationship between the two that is mutually beneficial. China is now Japan's largest trading partner.

This situation is creating some very serious concerns about what is going to happen next. The business community is calling for the politicians to moderate their nationalist rhetoric, but this just doesn't seem to be happening. We are now entering uncharted territory.

Lucy Hockings: What do you think can be done to break what seems to be a downward spiral?

Sean Curtin: Firstly, China has to rein in the protesters and ensure there are no more violent demonstrations. Next, politicians on both sides have to tone down their rhetoric and actually engage in some meaningful discussions. At the moment, this is extremely difficult for both sides as they have unleashed a nationalist genie. I therefore think we are entering a period of unstable relations between the two.

The above discussion was originally broadcast on BBC World News on 17th April 2005.

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