BEIJING - Japanese and Chinese people’s views on recent relations between their countries have markedly improved, an annual survey showed Thursday, after years of abysmal readings.
Japanese respondents who think the current status of bilateral ties is “bad” or “relatively bad” accounted for 44.9 percent, down sharply from last year’s 71.9 percent and going below 50 percent for the first time in seven years.
The survey, conducted by Japanese nonprofit think tank Genron NPO and the China International Publishing Group, found that 64.2 percent of Chinese respondents held a negative perception, compared with 78.2 percent in the previous year.
Regarding the future of bilateral ties, on the other hand, Chinese respondents expressed more optimism than those polled in Japan, with 29.7 percent predicting them to worsen, down from 50.4 percent a year before, and 28.7 percent expecting them to improve, up from 19.6 percent. Among the Japanese, it declined to 23.6 percent from 34.3 percent last year and rose to 13.1 percent from 8.8 percent, respectively.
Yasushi Kudo, head of the think tank, attributed the improvements to increased high-level political contact and “no big problems” between Tokyo and Beijing in 2017.
As for the significant decrease of pessimistic views over the current situation among the Japanese, Kudo, speaking at a news conference in Beijing, said he believes Chinese issues had been overshadowed by greater media coverage on the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
The results were released as both Japan and China acknowledge that they now have a better environment to rebuild their relationship, which was at a low ebb for many years due to disputes over a small group of East China Sea islands and wartime issues.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed about a month ago that there have been more positive developments and that the relationship has marked a “new start.”
China marked on Wednesday the 80th anniversary of a massacre committed by Japanese troops against civilians in Nanking. An annual memorial ceremony for the victims of the tragedy was attended by Xi for the first time since 2014, but, in a rare move, he did not deliver a public speech.
A senior official, who spoke instead of Xi, struck a rather conciliatory tone toward Japan, stressing that the two countries should cooperate further for world peace, while never forgetting what happened in the eastern Chinese city in 1937.
The survey was conducted between October and November, collecting valid responses from 1,000 people in Japan and 1,564 in China aged 18 or older.
Despite the brighter outlook, their answers to many other questions, however, suggest that more needs to be done before the two countries can establish smooth relations.
Nearly 90 percent of the respondents in Japan still said they have an unfavorable impression of China, including those who feel so “relatively.”
In contrast, the impression of Japan among the Chinese had recovered considerably, with 66.8 percent having an unfavorable impression and 31.5 percent having a good impression, compared with 76.7 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively, in 2016.
The percentage with a negative impression fell to its lowest level since 2012 — before bilateral relations became seriously aggravated in the wake of the Japanese government’s purchase of three of the China-claimed Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner, putting them under state control.
Kudo believes a rapid rise in the number of Chinese citizens traveling to Japan, who experience their neighboring country directly and return home with good memories, is serving as a major factor in the welcoming trend. The survey found 44.2 percent of the Chinese respondents want to visit Japan.
For the two countries to truly improve relations, Kudo said more direct communication is needed, but it is worrying to know that over 70 percent of the Japanese do not want to go to China.
China’s Communist Party rule, its government ships’ repeated intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the islands, and its constant criticism of Japan over wartime issues are considered to be major reasons why most Japanese have an unfavorable impression of China, according to the survey.