The recent revival of Sino- Japanese animosity, triggered by
bitter disputes over history, territory and maritime natural resources, has
the potential not only to derail Chinese’s self-proclaimed goal of a “peaceful
rise” but to disrupt healthy momentum towards east Asian economic
integration. Obviously, Beijing and Tokyo must share the
blame for the deterioration of their ties. The repeated visits by Junichiro Koizumi, Japanese prime minister, to the Yasukuni shrine, which honours
Japan’s war dead (and 14 class A war criminals) are ill advised and
provocative. Beijing’s failure to curb violent
anti-Japanese demonstrations in April this year and its habitual exploitation
war guilt have also poisoned the atmosphere of bilateral ties.
But a more disturbing
development in Sino-Japanese relations is the rapidly growing mutual enmity
of ordinary people in both countries. In Japan,
the cabinet office’s poll in 2004 found only 38 per cent of the public
professed an “affinity” towards China, an all-time low since the
poll began in 1978. In a survey conducted this month by Yomiuri Shimbun, a big Japanese daily newspaper, and Gallup, the
US polling organisation, 72 per cent of the
Japanese respondents said they did not trust China (in comparison, 53 per
cent of the Americans polled expressed distrust of China). Negative Japanese
perceptions of China stem
from hostility towards China’s
authoritarian political system, fear of China’s military and economic
power and resentment of Beijing-sanctioned anti-Japanese propaganda.
was strong even before the recent downturn in relations. In popular
looms large as an unfriendly neighbour. A poll of
nearly 700 residents of Beijing in 1999 showed
that two-thirds felt Japan
harboured hostile intentions towards China’s vital interests and had the military
and/or economic means to threaten China. Recent incidents have only
exacerbated anti-Japanese sentiments. When 4,000 Chinese citizens were polled
in June this year, 71 per cent did not feel an affinity towards Japan.
Even more troubling is
the pessimism shared by majorities in both countries about the future
direction of relations. According to a poll released in August 2005 by
Japanese and Chinese researchers, 73 per cent of the Japanese public and 56
per cent of the Chinese respondents feared relations would deteriorate
further or were uncertain about the future of bilateral ties. Chinese college
students were even less optimistic: 81 per cent were uncertain or pessimistic
about the future of Sino-Japanese relations.
What makes such
pessimism worse is that in China
an overwhelming majority of the public - 93 per cent in the August poll
should take most or all of the responsibility. The assignment of blame by the
Japanese public appeared to be more even-handed. One poll released in August
found about half the respondents believed neither side was solely responsible
for the tense relations.
To a considerable
degree, the policies and public posturing of Japanese and Chinese leaders
have fuelled national animosity. Beijing’s “patriotic
education campaigns” - waged to strengthen the Chinese Communist party’s
nationalist credentials - have consistently cast Japan in a villainous light. For
example, more than 30 television series on Japan’s
wartime aggression were produced in China this year to commemorate
the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Inevitably, such
obsession with the past can only create a distorted image of Japan.
Although the Japanese
government has not engaged in similarly crude propaganda, Mr. Koizumi has capitalised on anti-Chinese sentiments among ordinary
Japanese in his confrontation with Beijing
over the issue of the shrine visits. By presenting these visits as a symbol
of Japan’s national
sovereignty and dignity, Mr. Koizumi has not only inflated the political
stakes but also made it nearly impossible to acknowledge China’s
legitimate concerns about the visits.
All this has created a
vicious cycle: shortsighted policies pursued by both governments stoke public
animosities, which motivate the national leaders to adopt even more self-righteous
postures, fuelling anger and hopelessness in both countries. To stop the
downward spiral, Beijing and Tokyo must cease their public posturing.
Ironically, deep pessimism means public expectations for improvement are low
and a small gesture of goodwill could have a substantial impact. But efforts
to improve relations will succeed only if both sides simultaneously reach out
to the other.
For a start, the
Japanese government should denounce the two recently published popular comic
books Introduction to China and Hating the Korean Wave, whose racist portrayal of China and South Korea is deeply offensive.
The Chinese government should suspend the screening and broadcasting of
movies about the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s. Even if the
two sides can do nothing about the shrine visits for now, these small steps
would demonstrate that they are not prisoners of their own rhetoric.
The writers are researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace in Washington
in the Financial Times, December 21, 2005.