It is naturally welcome that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and President Hu Jintao of China reaffirmed in Jakarta that friendly Japan-China relations are desirable not only for the two countries but also for Asia at large. It is beyond doubt that good Japan-China relations promote peace and prosperity in this region. This objective, however, is achievable only through faithful endeavors by the two countries concerned.
Serious concern remains with regard to the statement made by Hu at his press conference following his meeting with Koizumi — that Japan needs to “correctly address the history issue and prove this by deed.”
We are aware that this statement is for domestic consumption in China where the leadership is fearful that “patriotic movements” of youths sharing information over the Internet could morph into antigovernment protests.
The Chinese leadership is compelled to nip potential trouble in the bud, while saving face in the world. The Japanese side knowingly is prepared to continue playing a mature “kabuki” role by refraining from rubbing China’s fur the wrong way.
As Japan today is a democracy assured of freedom of speech and expression, the public’s capacity for understanding what’s going on is pretty high. The Japanese people are sufficiently aware that emotional recriminations against China are futile and benefit no one.
Nevertheless, one thing must be pointed out in this regard: The present bargain between the two nations could turn counterproductive for either or both if the Chinese side misconstrues such an adult attitude on Japan’s part as continuing endlessly. This is because the anti-Japanese riots of late and the Chinese official stance of approving some of them provided the Japanese general public with an opportunity to comprehend the consequences of the “patriotic education” initiated by Jiang Zemin following the Tiananmen “massacre” in 1989. They also found out that China’s one-party leadership is subject to various pressures arising from widening disparities and deepening contradictions in China’s society.
Under the circumstances, it is not advisable for the Chinese government to repeat the same behavior. If Hu’s statement is any indication, the Chinese authorities could pick a particular Japanese act or omission to their disliking and call it a disagreement between Japanese word and deed as they please in the future. That would surely incite Chinese dissatisfaction toward Japan again, and that might serve the purpose of diverting Chinese people’s attention from their own government.
If this happened, though, Beijing could not expect the desired reactions in Japan, as Japan and the world have learned that the Chinese are using the “history recognition” issue as a diplomatic card vis-a-vis Japan.
The episode also has revealed that the Chinese are prisoners of certain stereotypical perceptions about Japan and have long neglected to see Japan’s reality and sentiments without prejudice. For this there is a room for self-reflection by Japanese. Sharing the blame is the Japanese national penchant not to give explanations and the Japanese media’s, at times, masochistic self-criticism in faulting their own government.
China’s concerns would be legitimate if its economically powerful neighbor began entertaining hostile intent toward China, or moving to interfere in China’s domestic affairs such as its political system, Taiwan or human rights. In fact, for some 60 postwar years now there have not existed any significant political force in Japan to advocate such hostile intent toward China. This situation remains unchanged even now.
It is China not Japan that possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal and deploys long-range missiles aimed at Taiwan and others. If the Chinese Embassy and Chinese scholars studying Japan fail to acknowledge this, they need to study Japan more earnestly.
We witnessed Chinese youths in the street shouting the slogan “patriotism knows no guilt,” while damaging the Japanese Embassy and other buildings in defiance of an internationally recognized code of conduct. We also saw that they gained cheap satisfaction by contemptuous referring to “Little Japan.” Such disgraceful acts on the part of Chinese youths do not befit their proud nation, which after all scored a victory against the Japanese in the last war and is now steadily growing powerful.
A modicum of nationalism may serve nations as a national unifier. The world is still composed of nations, and better governed nations are more welcome than poorly managed nations. There is nothing wrong with well-governed nations being strengthened by sanguine nationalism, but it is dangerous for a chauvinistic one to cajole it. The danger is greater for authoritarian states than for democracies with freedom of speech.
Needless to say, Japan must maintain its quiet and patient stance toward China and support the Chinese people in their struggles to become a wealthy, democratic nation. In the meantime, we sincerely hope that the Chinese leadership learns wisely from the recent episodes.
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