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Foreign Policy

Lasting Feud Detrimental to China and Japan

May 21 , 2014
  • Feng Zhaokui

    Honorary Academician, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

A shrine and a cluster of islets have become major stumbling blocks in the way of China and Japan’s ability to build rapport. No solution has yet been found to these two obstacles. The former signifies the understanding of a piece of history, and the latter represents a territorial dispute – leaving the two neighboring countries helpless as they watch mutual enmity worsen. How long will this enmity last? Five years? Ten years? Or even decades?

Feng Zhaokui

Right now, the most urgent necessities are to abandon the mentality of eyeing only the immediate interests, and to refrain from cornering the rival – which is exactly what Mr. Shinzo Abe has not done. Chinese and Japanese leaders need to be aware of the long-term consequences of their countries being at odds.

The mutual distrust between the Chinese and Japanese government has plummeted to an all-time low since the two countries restored their diplomatic relationship 42 years ago. No one knows how the distrust will develop. A major reason why Chinese leaders declined to meet Abe was that they worried that he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine soon after the summit meeting, which would place Chinese leaders in a predicament. It also seemed impossible to ask Abe to explicitly state that he would not visit the shrine again during his tenure. In regard to the islands disputes, China has repeatedly expressed hope for a settlement through negotiations. Japan however, is suspicious that Chinese military personnel would disguise themselves as fisherman and make sneak raids on the Diaoyu Islands. To deal with this imagined threat, the Japanese armed forces conducted several drills of “taking islands”, which in turn caused the Chinese military to interpret these moves as deliberate provocation. Both sides tend to view every move of the other side with suspicion, leading to a vicious cycle of “one considers the other to be a bad guy and the latter will really become that bad.”

The mutual feelings between Chinese and Japanese people have also reached the nadir since the two countries restored their diplomatic relationship. The gap between the two countries’ younger generations has been widening in their understanding of historical issues. The Chinese public keeps an indelible memory of the Nanking Massacre, the atrocities of the Japanese Army Unit 731 and the Chongqing bombings, which prompted Washington to impose a petroleum embargo against Japan in 1939. Japanese mourn the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings every year, but never reflect on the reason behind the bombings. This is why Japan reacted with “anti-America” and “anti-nuclear” campaigns when the United States offered to help them develop nuclear power during post-war reconstruction.

If the mutual dislike between the two countries keeps growing, it will end in mutual hatred. Chinese leaders used to tell the public to distinguish between Japanese militarists and common people in a bid to prevent the two neighboring nations from becoming mortal foes. A Chinese proverb says, “Better make friends than make enemies.” This understanding is also echoed by some Japanese scholars who say, “Japan’s largest interest is to have no hostile neighbor.” The current enmity is vitally detrimental to both countries.

The military confrontation between the two countries has reached the state of a “quasi war”. At present, neither side wants it to become a real war. However, no one can rule out the possibility of an accidental firing, given the mutual distrust between the two governments and mutual dislike between the Chinese and Japanese people. And no one can guarantee that accidents will not escalate into battles, and battles into a partial war. In fact, as revealed by some Japanese analysts, notorious right-winger Shintaro Ishihara’s purpose in stirring up troubles was to drag the U.S. into the mire and thus turn the “Sino-Japanese war” into a “Sino-U.S. war” – which would weaken both China and the U.S., creating an opportunity to restore the “Great Japanese Empire”.

Japan is highly reliant on foreign trade. It imports 96 percent of its energy and 73 percent of its grains. One cannot help but ask why Japan is making such provocative moves. Doesn’t it fear that “an accident in a peripheral area” could lead to serious consequences, such as a cutoff of its oil or grain supplies? Whatever route the shipment will take, the “last nautical mile” unavoidably falls within the country’s peripheral waters. China faces the same question. It also needs to consider the impact of armed clashes on the safety of its maritime transports. The idea of “non-negotiable sovereignty” should be put aside. The specious prediction that “there must be a war between China and Japan” must be replaced by “there has to be a negotiation” between the two.

Continued tensions between China and Japan will seriously impact the marine and land eco-environment, and even the global climate. Research indicates that emissions of greenhouse gas caused by war and arms buildup far exceed those caused by industrial production and other human activities. Given that we are already suffering from extreme weather, ocean pollution, Fukushima nuclear radiation leaks, smog and sand storms, China and Japan should reflect in a responsible way and realize that an arms race would aggravate ecological disasters. Protecting the eco-environment and alleviating climate change is mankind’s moral responsibility. China and Japan should try to strike a balance between “protecting human justice” and “protecting territorial interests”.

Feng Zhaokui is honorary academician of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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