China-Japan Relations under the Koizumi Administration Series: - What Consequences Could Arise if Koizumi Continues to Visit the Yasukuni Shrine?
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
A list of articles on a similar theme by the same author can be found here.
This article outlines ten possible consequences for China-Japan relations if tensions over the Yasukuni Shrine persist.
(1) If the political situation continues to deteriorate, there is a very real risk that this will negatively impact on economic activities. To a limited degree, this has already happened after the anti-Japanese demonstrations in April. According to a recent survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun [newspaper], the outpouring of anti-Japanese sentiment made about 46 percent of large firms already investing in China feel more cautious about their future expansion plans. It has also made Japanese executives feel far less comfortable about doing business in the Middle Kingdom.
The Chinese and Japanese economies are very closely linked and trade flows are vital to both countries. China's voracious appetite for imports has largely fueled Japan's nascent economic recovery and any slowing of demand is naturally harmful.
The bilateral economic relationship is entering a new phase with large Chinese firms already beginning to invest in Japan, political friction could hinder this process. If bilateral ties improve, there is a very strong likelihood that China will see Japan as a potential partner for investment and acquisition, given Japan's strong brand goods and solid marketing expertise. So, future potential losses from political friction are also substantial.
(2) Good top-level Sino-Japanese dialogue is considered a key component for smooth regional development, so the fact that Chinese and Japanese leaders have barely been on speaking terms for the last four years and high-level political exchanges have been on hold since October 2001 is certainly not a good sign. Mediating this problem are the relatively good political exchanges occurring below the leadership level.
However, as Yasuo Fukuda, the former Chief Cabinet Secretary and potential future prime minister, recently observed, "It is abnormal not to be able to hold a normal summit with China." When you consider that China is Japan's biggest trading partner and apart from Koizumi just about every major world leader has visited China in recent years, the situation would seem absurd, if it was not so serious.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has described the current state of Sino-Japanese ties as "hot economically and cool politically." While it can be argued that such a situation is tolerable in the short-term, it does not seem sustainable or desirable in the long-term. Recent anti-Japanese protests prove eventually the two spheres do influence each other in negative ways.
(3) A real danger for both Beijing and Tokyo is that if nationalist passions on both sides continue to grow, situations could arise that are impossible to control and could give rise to a range of unforeseen consequences.
We have witnessed this phenomenon already several times in the anti-Japanese demonstration in April, the soccer riot in August last year and the Xian disturbances in 2003. On each occasion despite the presence of troops and riot police, the Chinese authorities have found it difficult to contain anti-Japanese anger. If relations remain strained, more such incidents are likely to occur, increasing the risk of a damaging incident. For example, if a Japanese national were killed during a protest, this could potentially harm economic ties. The uncertainty the current situation creates is not good for business.
(4) Alarmingly, the reaction to Koizumi's Yasukuni forays by ordinary Chinese and South Korean's is harming Japan's regional image. His actions are believed to reflect a common, wider feeling among ordinary Japanese citizens of little remorse about the country's wartime past.
(5) China's image in Japan is also suffering. Opinion surveys show that as political tension increases, the way both Chinese and Japanese view each other is deteriorating. In Japan, Chinese popularity is now at an all time low.
(6) China is also increasingly being seen as a military threat. After a Chinese submarine briefly entered Japanese territorial waters last November, an editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun captured this mood, "If the latest intrusion was indeed made by a Chinese submarine, it will clearly demonstrate that China is becoming a real threat to Japan in areas surrounding Japan." These kinds of perceptions are not going to help create a good atmosphere for sustaining strong long-term business links.
(7) Bilateral friction is having a negative impact on Japan's large Chinese community, and Japanese nationals living in China. Ultra-nationalists on both sides are exploiting the situation by whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment, which in the long-term is harmful to both countries.
(8) Koizumi's Yasukuni visits have unnecessarily reignited Chinese passions about WWII. Sixty years on such sentiments should have been a fading force, allowing the two countries to forge a new relationship. Instead, they have unexpectedly come to the forefront and this is a setback for Japan.
(9) As Japan's global profile increases, the Yasukuni issue and arguments about history textbooks are damaging Japanese diplomatic efforts to project a positive global image for the country. Instead of being able to talk positively about Japanese overseas aid efforts, UN projects, and other international programmes, diplomats are continually bogged down with question about the country's wartime past and the shrine going intentions of their prime minister. It's an almost absurd situation.
(10) The questions raised about Japanese remorse over its wartime past are also damaging Tokyo's bid for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat as Beijing ruthlessly exploits the issue to thwart Japan's ambition. Koizumi's shrine trips are undermining the work of the foreign ministry.
Needless to say, there are many other reasons that can be added to the list. What the above illustrate is that it can no longer be denied that Koizumi's Yasukuni visits are having a negative impact and there potential to cause future damage is great.
Other articles in this series look at the possible solutions for easing China-Japan tensions over the Yasukuni Shrine as well as other aspects related to this issue.