China's grievances and Japan's politics

For decades, optimists in international relations have argued that closer economic integration and growing trade ties between Japan and China could help these two Asian rivals overcome their historical mistrust of each other.  But with recent anti—Japan protests in many Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, this hope seems like wishful thinking. 

As an American who has taught young people in both countries, I have experienced firsthand the growing divide between these two economic powers.  

The Chinese grievances range from Japanese history textbooks that gloss over its wartime atrocities to Tokyo's desire to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.  While many of my university students in China are fascinated by Japanese animation and Japanese pop music, they will not forgive Japan for its wartime aggression and inability to "sincerely" apologize for unspeakable crimes against innocent Chinese citizens.  When told about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's recent apology in Indonesia, many Chinese students just reply that it is too little and too late.

The Chinese government has played the 'apology card' over and over again with Japan, using it to gain economic and political advantage in its relationship. There are domestic reasons, as well, for China to fan the flames of nationalistic grievances, directing domestic unrest toward an external enemy, rather than toward the autocratic regime in Beijing, one with many faults of its own.

This is not the first time Japanese leaders have tried to apologize, with varying degrees of directness; they have tried at least three times in the past three decades. The continual nursing of grievances among the Chinese populace has produced many diplomatic gains for China. But at some point, the poisoning of a seriously important relationship begins to outweigh the incremental gains from further posturing as victim.

According to recent trade data released by the Japanese Finance Ministry, its trade with China exceeded its trade with the United States for the first time ever. Exports to China rose 16.1% to a record 8.09 trillion yen, while Japan's imports from China jumped 17.9% to a record 10.63 trillion yen, giving China a substantial trade surplus.

When it comes to teaching history to their children, the fact is both countries are guilty of historical manipulation. While Beijing rightfully complains of Japan's lack of honesty in high school textbooks, the Chinese fail to teach their own children about the horrors of Mao Zedong's failed Great Leap Forward in the early 1950s, the decade—long Cultural Revolution, or the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. While every Chinese student knows about 300,000 innocent people were killed during the Rape of Nanjing in December, 1937 by Japanese soldiers, few realize that Mao policies were responsible for about 30 million deaths.
  
While they understand the pain and suffering their ancestors caused to millions of innocent Asians, many Japanese have little sympathy for China's historical complaints. When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao demanded that Japan 'face up to history' and take 'concrete steps to show remorse,' many Japanese only see the hypocrisy in his words.  In a survey of 808 Japanese by the left—leaning influential Asahi Shimbun newspaper on April 24, 71% 'did not understand' the Chinese demand for action. 

Unlike China, where the official media is still strictly controlled by the Communist Party, Japan is a free society, and a democracy which allows an open public debate about its historical transgressions to rage in its newspapers and bookstores.  In 1998, while I was teaching high school English in Japan, I purchased a book prominently displayed at a popular bookstore about Japan's gruesome wartime chemical and biological experiments on Chinese civilians near the northeastern city of Harbin, in the late 1930s. While few people want to talk about the painful events of 60 years ago, the government of Japan should be given some credit for being a free society. China cannot make the same claim.  

While the debate about history is a convenient tool for Beijing to instill a sense of nationalistic victimhood in its young people, it continues to benefit from access to the second—largest economy in the world.  Since diplomatic relations resumed in 1973, Japanese firms have poured billions of dollars of foreign investment into China and created hundreds of thousands, probably millions of relatively good jobs for talented and hardworking Chinese. With comparatively high labor costs in Japan, leading firms such as Sony have shifted many labor—intensive jobs to China, while keeping the most advanced research and development jobs in Japan.  In many ways, the two economies compliment, and even need each other.

Many of my Chinese students fail to realize how much the Chinese economy has benefited from Japanese support over the years.  Under pressure from voters, Prime Minister Koizumi will terminate Tokyo's official development assistance to Beijing in 2008 that has amounted to 3 trillion yen [$105 billion at current exchange rates] in 25 years. 

Many Chinese are angry over Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including seven Class—A war criminals hanged for war crimes.  These visits are also very controversial among many Japanese. The only country ever to be on the receiving end of nuclear weapons, Japan 'forever renounced' military force in a US—drafted constitution, a position from which it is steadily retreating, with US encouragement. Northeast Asia has become a dangerous neighborhood, with North Korea's looming nuclear power status and aggressive launching of missiles eroding the pacifism of Japanese voters. The same Asahi survey also found that 48% of voters believe Mr. Koizumi should halt these visits.

But another segment of the public, probably a bit smaller but maybe more emphatic, wants Japan to finally become a 'normal' country, able to defend itself, and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice on its behalf. The extreme end of this group is very vocal.  They can often be seen driving large trucks around cities with banners and loudspeakers defending Koizumi's actions.  In continuing his visits to Yasukuni, The Prime Minister is appealing to the right (who may be the most likely to vote), to the detriment of the country's image across much of Asia. 

The vast majority of Chinese fail to realize how politicians often behave in an open and free democracy. They are not familiar with the concept of politicians bending to the will of activist constituents.  

Many experts say that Sino—Japan relations are at an all—time low since diplomatic ties were forged in 1972.  Both governments are being guided by domestic political pressure, to the harm of Asian region and the global economy.  What are the long—term consequences of all the distrust and hatred shown in the protests by thousands of Chinese?  No one really knows for sure.  And can stronger economic ties help repair relations and help restore trust?  Only time will tell. 

For decades, optimists in international relations have argued that closer economic integration and growing trade ties between Japan and China could help these two Asian rivals overcome their historical mistrust of each other.  But with recent anti—Japan protests in many Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, this hope seems like wishful thinking. 

As an American who has taught young people in both countries, I have experienced firsthand the growing divide between these two economic powers.  

The Chinese grievances range from Japanese history textbooks that gloss over its wartime atrocities to Tokyo's desire to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.  While many of my university students in China are fascinated by Japanese animation and Japanese pop music, they will not forgive Japan for its wartime aggression and inability to "sincerely" apologize for unspeakable crimes against innocent Chinese citizens.  When told about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's recent apology in Indonesia, many Chinese students just reply that it is too little and too late.

The Chinese government has played the 'apology card' over and over again with Japan, using it to gain economic and political advantage in its relationship. There are domestic reasons, as well, for China to fan the flames of nationalistic grievances, directing domestic unrest toward an external enemy, rather than toward the autocratic regime in Beijing, one with many faults of its own.

This is not the first time Japanese leaders have tried to apologize, with varying degrees of directness; they have tried at least three times in the past three decades. The continual nursing of grievances among the Chinese populace has produced many diplomatic gains for China. But at some point, the poisoning of a seriously important relationship begins to outweigh the incremental gains from further posturing as victim.

According to recent trade data released by the Japanese Finance Ministry, its trade with China exceeded its trade with the United States for the first time ever. Exports to China rose 16.1% to a record 8.09 trillion yen, while Japan's imports from China jumped 17.9% to a record 10.63 trillion yen, giving China a substantial trade surplus.

When it comes to teaching history to their children, the fact is both countries are guilty of historical manipulation. While Beijing rightfully complains of Japan's lack of honesty in high school textbooks, the Chinese fail to teach their own children about the horrors of Mao Zedong's failed Great Leap Forward in the early 1950s, the decade—long Cultural Revolution, or the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. While every Chinese student knows about 300,000 innocent people were killed during the Rape of Nanjing in December, 1937 by Japanese soldiers, few realize that Mao policies were responsible for about 30 million deaths.
  
While they understand the pain and suffering their ancestors caused to millions of innocent Asians, many Japanese have little sympathy for China's historical complaints. When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao demanded that Japan 'face up to history' and take 'concrete steps to show remorse,' many Japanese only see the hypocrisy in his words.  In a survey of 808 Japanese by the left—leaning influential Asahi Shimbun newspaper on April 24, 71% 'did not understand' the Chinese demand for action. 

Unlike China, where the official media is still strictly controlled by the Communist Party, Japan is a free society, and a democracy which allows an open public debate about its historical transgressions to rage in its newspapers and bookstores.  In 1998, while I was teaching high school English in Japan, I purchased a book prominently displayed at a popular bookstore about Japan's gruesome wartime chemical and biological experiments on Chinese civilians near the northeastern city of Harbin, in the late 1930s. While few people want to talk about the painful events of 60 years ago, the government of Japan should be given some credit for being a free society. China cannot make the same claim.  

While the debate about history is a convenient tool for Beijing to instill a sense of nationalistic victimhood in its young people, it continues to benefit from access to the second—largest economy in the world.  Since diplomatic relations resumed in 1973, Japanese firms have poured billions of dollars of foreign investment into China and created hundreds of thousands, probably millions of relatively good jobs for talented and hardworking Chinese. With comparatively high labor costs in Japan, leading firms such as Sony have shifted many labor—intensive jobs to China, while keeping the most advanced research and development jobs in Japan.  In many ways, the two economies compliment, and even need each other.

Many of my Chinese students fail to realize how much the Chinese economy has benefited from Japanese support over the years.  Under pressure from voters, Prime Minister Koizumi will terminate Tokyo's official development assistance to Beijing in 2008 that has amounted to 3 trillion yen [$105 billion at current exchange rates] in 25 years. 

Many Chinese are angry over Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including seven Class—A war criminals hanged for war crimes.  These visits are also very controversial among many Japanese. The only country ever to be on the receiving end of nuclear weapons, Japan 'forever renounced' military force in a US—drafted constitution, a position from which it is steadily retreating, with US encouragement. Northeast Asia has become a dangerous neighborhood, with North Korea's looming nuclear power status and aggressive launching of missiles eroding the pacifism of Japanese voters. The same Asahi survey also found that 48% of voters believe Mr. Koizumi should halt these visits.

But another segment of the public, probably a bit smaller but maybe more emphatic, wants Japan to finally become a 'normal' country, able to defend itself, and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice on its behalf. The extreme end of this group is very vocal.  They can often be seen driving large trucks around cities with banners and loudspeakers defending Koizumi's actions.  In continuing his visits to Yasukuni, The Prime Minister is appealing to the right (who may be the most likely to vote), to the detriment of the country's image across much of Asia. 

The vast majority of Chinese fail to realize how politicians often behave in an open and free democracy. They are not familiar with the concept of politicians bending to the will of activist constituents.  

Many experts say that Sino—Japan relations are at an all—time low since diplomatic ties were forged in 1972.  Both governments are being guided by domestic political pressure, to the harm of Asian region and the global economy.  What are the long—term consequences of all the distrust and hatred shown in the protests by thousands of Chinese?  No one really knows for sure.  And can stronger economic ties help repair relations and help restore trust?  Only time will tell.