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Foreign Policy

Resolving the Escalating Tension between China and Japan

Jan 28 , 2014
  • Feng Zhaokui

    Honorary Academician, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

China and Japan have been engaged in a war of international public opinion over the question of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Some people believe that Abe’s visit will increase tension between the two countries. This author, however, is of the view that if we handle the matter well, we may well help resolve the escalating tension. 

Feng Zhaokui

The Japanese people’s attitudes towards the Yasukuni Shrine and towards the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands are quite different. From Koizumi to Abe, the Japanese have been split on the question of paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine, with some supportive and some not, with the latter group even larger than the former. China’s criticism of Abe on the matter therefore has a certain social basis in Japan. We should join the pacifist forces in Japan and launch a coordinated offensive against Abe, so that his visit to the shrine will only cost him in domestic politics. Only when Abe feels the pressure in both the international community and in Japan will he realize that his strategy will get him nowhere. Abe’s confrontation of China might even get subdued to certain extent. 

After visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, Abe saw a film beautifying Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots and claimed to be “deeply moved.” It seems that Abe’s resentment of the victors of the anti-fascist war (including the US) can no longer be concealed. Anyway, it was the US embargo of oil shipment to Japan and interruption of Japanese military’s maritime oil transportation route from East Indies to Japan with its submarines that forced the Japanese to use the cruel suicidal attack, so as not to waste gasoline on returning. In 2014, Abe plans to mourn the war dead and collect the remains of the deceased in some island states in the South Pacific, where the American and Japanese militaries were engaged in fierce battles. This is another evidence of Abe attempting to reverse the verdict on Japanese aggression even at the cost of annoying its ally today. The US has repeatedly expressed its disappointment over Abe’s Yasukuni visit, and thus exerting pressure on Abe for challenging the post-war regime. 

In 2014 the world needs to guard against Abe’s acts of desperation. Abe, cornered on the question of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, may well attempt to even the odds on the question of territory by fuelling a dispute over the Diaoyu Islands with China to divert public attention and mitigate pressure from both home and abroad. As previously mentioned, the Japanese are quite split on the Yasukuni Shrine visit. But on the question of territory, the Japanese people basically have the same view. As some Japanese scholars have described it, in highly nationalistic Japan, “when territory is talked about, people easily turn into patriots and tough rhetoric such as ‘fighting for every inch of land’ is oftentimes used to incite hostility against the other party.” 

In this situation, we must not dance to Abe’s tune. As he makes use of the more favorable situation on territory to offset the disadvantages of history, we must lay his plot bare. A Japanese scholarly publication has disclosed Shintaro Ishihara’s island-buying plot as dragging the US into a confrontation or war with China for Diaoyu Islands according to his script, and reviving the old Japanese Empire when the other two countries are destroyed in their war. In his past year as Japanese Prime Minister, Abe has followed the Ishihara plot. On the one hand, he has been trying to get the US to brave great dangers for Japan. On the other, he has actively pushed for revising the post-war peace constitution drafted by US occupation authorities. China must remind and warn Japan of this: the 1946 Peace Constitution remains valid and Japan has no right to war; the 1978 Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship has not been terminated; the treaty provides that “all disputes in mutual relations shall be resolved by peaceful means rather than by use of or threat to use force”; and any acts that run counter to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship approved by the two countries’ legislatures bear on the Japanese government’s credibility and popular support and do not allow any recklessness or carelessness. 

China has insisted on resolving disputes over Diaoyu Islands peacefully. This reflects its readiness to honor the Treaty of Peace and Friendship. During the age of anti-fascist war over 60 years ago, anti-fascism was the moral high ground of mankind. Today, the moral high ground of mankind includes both safeguarding the results of the world’s anti-fascist war and preventing catastrophe caused by any new war to the planet. China firmly opposes a resurgence of Japanese militarism and will take active actions to implement agreements with the US on major global issues, reflecting a highly responsible attitude towards the environment in which all mankind and their future generations survive. In short, to resolve the escalating tension between China and Japan, we must return to the origin of safeguarding the results of world anti-fascist war and observing the 1978 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan.

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

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