Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan sets alarm bells ringing

By Wu Jinan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-11 07:50

Sino-Japanese relations have perhaps hit the lowest point this year, coinciding with the 75th Anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre that falls on Dec 13, and may remain frozen for some time to come. This is the last thing people committed to promoting Sino-Japanese friendship wanted to see on the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan.

Japan "nationalized" China's Diaoyu Islands ignoring Beijing's repeated warnings and thus caused serious damage to strategic mutual trust, economic and trade cooperation and national sentiments, leading to the present situation.

The ongoing campaign for Japan's 46th general election is in full swing, with a record 11 political parties and 1,504 candidates in the fray. Though no single party is expected to win a majority in Japan's lower house of parliament and in all probability a coalition government will be formed after the election, one thing is for sure, Japan has shifted to the right. And given the rise of Japanese rightwing forces, the friction between Beijing and Tokyo will continue in the near future.

Indeed, major Japanese parties have touched upon sensitive issues in Sino-Japanese ties in their campaigns. The Democratic Party of Japan sticks to its "ostrich policy" on the Diaoyu Islands issue, saying there is no territorial dispute between China and Japan. That apart, it has stressed the need to strengthen Japan's coast guard to defend its maritime rights and interests.

The Liberal Democratic Party is trying to garner votes by pledging to post civil servants on the Diaoyu Islands. LDP president Shinzo Abe has said he will visit Yasukuni Shrine - which pays homage to Japan's war criminals - if he is elected prime minister. This is a provocative move, considering that Abe didn't do so during his stint as prime minister from September 2006 to September 2007.

Although not all campaign rhetoric will become reality, such hawkish claims targeting China have cast a shadow over the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

Critics say the Japanese election has become a competition between parties to show which one is more rightist. For example, the LDP has vowed to amend Japan's pacifist constitution to remove the restrictions on upgrading the Self-Defense Forces to the level of a full-fledged military.

The DPJ has stressed the need to promote practical diplomatic and defense policies, and deepen the Japan-United States alliance. Japan Restoration Party leader Shintaro Ishihara has even advocated a nuclear-armed Japan to improve the country's deterrence capability.

Japanese politicians across the divide are disregarding the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation and the ruling of the Tokyo International Military Tribunal in their quest for power, and their remarks are detrimental not only to Sino-Japanese ties, but also pose a serious challenge to the post-World War II international order.

Japan is a pluralistic society where "hawks" and "doves" have been balancing each other's influence. But recent years have seen a decline in the peaceful forces and a disproportionate increase in the belligerent forces. This change is closely related to Japan's continued economic problems and long-term political chaos, which has increased Japanese people's sense of loss and anxiety, leading to a rise in nationalism and jingoism.

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