OSAKA — The current tensions between Japan and China have less to do with history textbooks and more to do with a long-term political and economic rivalry, according to some knowledgeable Chinese living in Japan.

The tensions have yet to lead to major personal problems for Chinese living in Japan, but if they are not addressed, some fear that anger toward China could be fueled by a small but vocal group of rightwingers and rightwing media and lead to discrimination or even physical attacks on Chinese residents.

The current tensions are partially attributable to the rise of the right in Japan and the growing conservative mood in this country, argued Liu Cheng, chief managing editor of Chunichi Shinpo, a bilingual (Japanese and Chinese) newspaper with a nationwide circulation of 30,000.

“Twenty years ago, there was not a lot of fuss in China over Japan and what Japan did in China. But over the past three or four years, Japan’s rightwing has, through certain mainstream media, made their version of history a major issue, and this has been reported in China,” Cheng said.

Ji Yinghong, a resident from Beijing who works for the Osaka-based Japan-China Science and Technology Cooperation Commission, a nongovernmental firm founded by Osaka politicians, said the current tensions are political and have to do more with the future than the past.

“The anger over the history textbooks, while genuine, is a reflection of growing anger in China over deeper disagreements and potential rivalries with Japan, ranging from the status of Taiwan to the competition for energy resources in the East China Sea,” she said. “Most of my Chinese friends understand this, and many Japanese realize this as well.”

So far, the current tensions have not led to major incidents involving individual Chinese in Japan. Both Ji and Liu said they had yet to hear of any Chinese resident being physically attacked or discriminated against.

Early Sunday, an unidentified man set himself on fire in front of the Chinese Consulate General in Osaka when police tried to subdue him after he threw a bottle at the premises.

“We’ve had one or two angry e-mails. But we’ve not received any reports of violence against individual Chinese, like members of the North Korean community experienced after North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese,” Liu said. “In fact, we’ve actually received apologies for the textbook issue from a number of Japanese.”

Taiwanese Midori Ito, founder of a telephone consultation service for members of the Chinese community in the Kansai region, said most Chinese here are less concerned about political tensions and are more concerned about daily life.

“The arguments over history are less immediate than issues like getting a visa to work or study, or living in an expensive country like Japan. Most Chinese residents see the current problem as an ongoing argument between politicians, not something that directly affects them,” said Ito, whose husband is Japanese.

Still, Ito, as well as Ji and Liu, worry that even if Japanese politicians alleviate the current problem, the nature of the politicians — and certain media — in both countries may lead to some future incident that will cause problems for Chinese in Japan.

“It’s scary, because Japanese are often easily influenced by emotional rhetoric, without stopping to think,” Ji claimed. “Of course, there are lots of similar people in China. But Japan is small compared with China, and it seems like a small group of extremists can often influence events a lot easier.”

“We’ve been lucky so far,” Ito said. “Japanese are not easily aroused to violence against foreigners. But if Japan-bashing in China worsens, I am worried there could eventually be physical acts of violence against Chinese residents by rightwing groups.”

Mao Tanqing, a Kobe-based author who has written a number of books in Chinese and Japanese about Sino-Japanese relations, said the demonstrations in China were not unexpected, given the problems between Japan and China in recent years.

“The Internet has played a large part in organizing many Chinese over the past few years, and there are now groups of professional anti-Japanese demonstrators who receive money from various sources to agitate against Japan,” he said.

In fact, Mao said, his experience shows that Chinese politicians have a far better opinion of Japanese businesses in China, and trust Japan’s business leaders far more than they trust Japan’s politicians.

Mao blames the Chinese government for letting the demonstrators run wild. He also said that many Chinese have only limited knowledge about Japan and its people.

But Liu, Ji and Mao all agree that the blame in Japan for the worsening political ties must lie with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

“Koizumi has emphasized political relations with the United States, which sees China as a strategic rival and has been far less interested in relations with China,” Ji said. “Had he paid more attention to political relations with China over the past few years, perhaps things wouldn’t be as tense as they are today.”

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