Op-Ed Contributors

Japan should reciprocate moves

By Dennis V. Hickey (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-06 07:59
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Sino-Japanese relations have improved substantially since Junichiro Koizumi stepped down as prime minister in 2006. For starters, the pilgrimages to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine appear to have stopped. But the potential for trouble continues to plague this important bilateral relationship.

When seeking to explain the recurring tensions in Sino-Japanese relations, some Japanese news reports often suggest that the Chinese government is seeking to manipulate the population and use nationalism (and an external enemy) to deflect attention from domestic problems. Others dismiss anti-Japanese sentiment as little more than sporadic symptoms of irrationality and xenophobia. Upon close examination, however, many of the problems between the two Asian giants must be traced largely to the irresponsible behavior of some elements in Japan.

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Like their counterparts in some other countries, Japanese politicians often complain about the "Chinese military buildup". But they ignore the fact that Tokyo has long engaged in a massive campaign to boost the nation's military capabilities. In 2005, a report in the Time magazine, declared: "Japan is a stealth military power."

In fact, Japan's navy is now among the most powerful on earth. And Japanese military experts have boasted that their navy could destroy the entire Chinese navy in less than two hours. Given history, it is understandable that some Chinese defense analysts chafe at Japanese calls for greater "transparency" in the People's Liberation Army. It is also noteworthy that, in many respects, China's interpretations of Japan's defense transformation and long-term intentions parallel the analyses of other regional actors - particularly the Republic of Korea (ROK).

For over five decades, Japan's Ministry of Education has periodically approved the use of controversial textbooks in the country's public schools. These volumes tend to gloss over or ignore Japan's imperialist past and wartime atrocities. The adoption of an especially biased book touched off a series of mass incidents in China and the ROK in 2005. The most offensive books were dropped from the Japanese school curriculum after protests by China and the ROK.

But problems persist. For example, in 2007, Nariaki Nakayama, a former Education Minister who made the outrageous claim that the Nanjing massacre was a "pure fabrication", led a successful campaign to remove all references to "comfort women" (sex slaves) from the country's junior high school textbooks.

The recent labor unrest in China has attracted a lot of media attention. It should come as little surprise that Japanese firms such as Honda are the targets of striking workers. Chinese employees of Japanese companies often complain about their treatment on the job. As one explained: "If I am going to work for a foreign company, I would much prefer an American or European firm because I will receive better pay and more respect." Such sentiments are not restricted to those who are employed by Japanese corporations. Some Chinese at both the elite and popular levels share a general perception that the Japanese people do not respect them or their country.

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