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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Commentary (April 19, 2005)

Anti-Japan Mobs Damage Relations

Masahiko ISHIZUKA (Councilor of the Foreign Press Center/Japan)

Political leaders ought not shift blame for sorry state of Japan-China relations

The outbreak of violent anti-Japan demonstrations in several Chinese cities, whoever is responsible, is causing deep damage to the two countries' relations. Among other things, the demonstrations will work to silence conciliatory, accommodative opinions toward China in Japan, which raises the danger of a worsening of the bad grassroots feelings on both sides. This could grow more and more difficult to contain, if left to fester.

The Sankei Shimbun, known for its outspoken nationalistic, hawkish views on relations with China, criticized Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda's remarks about the demonstrations in China in which he counseled "reasoned, cool conversations at the government level." "Simply damning the demonstrations as outrageous won't get us anywhere," he said at a press conference. "Such an attitude on the part of Japan," the newspaper refuted in its editorial, "has contributed to the formation of the vicious circle of Chinese threats against Japan in the past, leading the Chinese to be presumptuous," he said. "This is not the time to probe China's own reasons for the demonstrations, but a time to lodge a strong protest to the Chinese government."

Japanese people in general are holding back any outburst of emotion about the Chinese demonstrations, which included attacks on anything Japanese - diplomatic missions in Beijing and Guangzhou, companies, restaurants, stores, and even Japanese students studying in Shanghai. They remain silent in shock and consternation and are scared. There must be quiet but deep-seated resentment against mobs of Chinese demonstrators and a strong suspicion that the authorities are conniving in the vandalism. As The Asahi Shimbun, which normally holds a conciliatory and understanding position toward China, in connection with the history issue, said, "Why this sudden explosion of anger?"

The newspaper's astonishment is shared by most Japanese. Historical issues, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's controversial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, aside, Chinese now appear to be displaying what may be construed as an inherent dislike of Japanese, a sense of superiority or rivalry that does not allow Japan to be on par with China. China's declared refusal to let Japan onto the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member could be taken as vindicating this, and should China have its way on that, it will leave Japanese with a long-lasting resentment that will continue to mar relations between the two countries.

Suspicious origins

According to Japanese media, little is known about the identity of the leaders of the anti-Japanese campaigns. Therefore, it is difficult to assess how representative they are of the Chinese people in general. But by all accounts, their acts of violence are being winked at by the authorities, if not actually orchestrated or manipulated by them. There is a strong suspicion among Japanese that the demonstrations, and the Internet sites that rallied the crowds to them, are operating under close monitoring by the authorities.

Japanese could be driven to a dark imagination that they are condemned forever by unforgiving Chinese who will not permit Japanese to have even slightly different views of history, or to seek to correct their misunderstandings or distortions of facts both past and present. The common Japanese view is that the Chinese are blowing things out of proportion, if the roots of the whole thing lie in seemingly insufficient contrition on the part of Japanese for their wartime conduct.

Since China is not a democracy but a country under the dictatorial rule of the Communist Party, characterized more than anything else by tight media control, Japanese tend to have contradictory expectations about the Chinese authorities' stand vis-a-vis media. Japanese expect the Chinese authorities to control media if it is in Japan's favor, but have a free press when that seems to be in Japan's favor.

China, on the other hand, tends to expect Japan, which is a democracy with free media and freedom of expression, to have government control over the media or anybody with dissenting views that could be offensive to Chinese on sensitive bilateral issues, including history issues in particular. There seem to be misguided expectations of each other's relationship of the authorities and media. The greatest reason for the mutual misunderstanding is a difference in the political system between a democracy and a dictatorship.

A question also remains: Why is Japan singled out as the target of such hostility, when China's diplomatic relations with other countries and regions are generally moving smoothly? Some point to the "patriotic education" by the Communist Party of China (CCP), which is tantamount to anti-Japanese education, particularly in this year of the 60th anniversary of the CCP's victory over Japan and the "world's fascist forces." Many Japanese take the view that the only legitimacy the CCP can claim to stay in power is to be anti-Japanese, the party's power base being so shaky now.

Special responsibility

But political leaders in power, and media that can influence politicians and the public, have special responsibility of their own; they ought not shift blame to somebody else for the sorry state of Japan-China relations. If a flare-up of emotions on both sides is to be prevented or extinguished, it is the role of politicians, intellectuals and the media because collective perceptions of each other, and collective actions based on such perceptions and relations, are indeed difficult matters to deal with for the general public.

On this account, these circles of both countries do not seem to be living up to what they are expected to accomplish with broad and farsighted visions and magnanimity of mind. That is especially true of political leaders, who appear to be largely preoccupied with appeasing domestic opinions and moves. Koizumi lacks such a vision, being too inflexible about his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which have grown into such a symbolic issue on which the two countries' relations hinge. The biggest problem is that even though he owes an explanation to his countrymen and to the Chinese on the issue, he scarcely cares about the full consequences of his failure to do that.

(Originally appeared in the April 18, 2005 issue of The Nikkei Weekly, reproduced here with permission.)

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