Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japanese must see China anew

By Bao Xiaqin (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-07 07:53

Fresh approaches such as a peace zone around the disputed islands could prevent cold shoulders from freezing into a security dilemma

Given that the Sino-Japanese relationship has entered a complicated transformation period, in which crisis and unexpected incidents are likely to occur, China needs to come up with innovative policies to address the new situation so that the Japanese could change the way they perceive the rising China.

Relations between the two countries began to sour when Junichiro Koizumi visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals among others, several times when he was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, despite protests from China and the Republic of Korea. Although politicians on both sides tried to break the ice in the years that followed, they could never resolve the differences that exist on issues such as the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

The situation worsened after the United States launched its pivot to Asia strategy in 2010. In order to cope with a rising China, the US and Japan have invented a China threat and strengthened and expanded their alliance to cover more fields such as cyberspace and intelligence cooperation. Strategic confrontation between the two Asian powers is looming heavily.

The policies of the Japanese government have cast such deep influences upon its society that the Japanese media's default position is to construct China as an opponent, and that Japanese enterprises operating in China are looking or have moved elsewhere. The decline in their trade volume for two consecutive years is clear evidence that the two neighbors are moving further away from each other.

But these changes have deeper roots in Japanese society. For the past two decades, the Japanese economy has been stuck in recession, and China replaced it as the world's second-largest economy in 2010. At the same time, its political ambitions, such as becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council and overturning the post-war system, have failed.

The national anxiety about Japan's status and future has been exacerbated by China's fast rise. At a time when the global order is being reshaped, the Japanese are not sure what position their country will have in the new world system, hence they choose to support politicians that appear tough enough to give the country a voice that can be heard on the world stage.

That is also why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a tougher stance against China since December 2012. Under the leadership of politicians with right-wing beliefs, Japan has already taken multiple moves to contain China, including seeking and strengthening a united front against China, strengthening its military capabilities and attempting to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution that forbids it to have a military.

So what measures should China take in response? Doubtlessly, it needs to give up any illusions it may have to the contrary and be prepared for strategic competition even confrontation with Japan. But innovative strategic measures are needed to prevent the competition from becoming a security dilemma or an arms race between the two.

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