POINT OF VIEW/ Satoshi Ukai: Dare I call for 'Sino-Japanese friendship'?

July 25, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

I used to think that the longstanding slogan "Sino-Japanese friendship" was out-of-date. But looking at the current strained bilateral relationship, I believe this is definitely the time to call for friendship between the two neighbors.

The ratio of Japanese who hold an unfavorable view of China is 84.3 percent, according to an annual opinion poll conducted by the Genron NPO, a Japanese nonprofit organization, and other groups. Last year, the ratio was 78.3 percent.

What is worrying is that the percentage increased despite the absence of any of serious incidents before the poll, such as the large anti-Japanese demonstrations in China or the ramming of Japan Coast Guard vessels by a Chinese trawler near the Senkaku Islands in 2010.

Asked why they see China in a negative light, 54.4 percent of respondents cited “China’s self-centered action to secure resources and energy,” while 48.4 percent mentioned the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Respondents were allowed to give multiple reasons.

With a growing awareness of its status as a great power, China has been taking a more aggressive stance concerning territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea--and its moves are seen as disturbing and unnerving. China should reflect on its behavior.

On the other hand, I am also disturbed by the way some Japanese tend to think that whatever China does is "outrageous."

Duan Yuezhong, the Chinese-born editor in chief of the Duan Press, based in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, publishes books on Sino-Japanese relations and promotes grass-roots exchanges between the two countries.

Duan, 54, called the recent incident in which the first secretary at the Chinese Embassy was "suspected of spying" as "very unfortunate."

Police sent papers to prosecutors against the official on suspicion of submitting false information to renew an alien registration card. The official allegedly had connections with the military and was also involved in irregular financial transactions.

But the illegal gathering of information was never confirmed. And doubts remain about whether the first secretary can actually be called a "spy." Even so, the incident received widespread media coverage, and Japanese politicians vacillated over meeting a visiting Chinese delegation.

The Tokyo metropolitan government's project to buy the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner has collected more than 1.3 billion yen ($16.46 million) in donations. Many people must have chipped in after subscribing to the idea of protecting the islands from China.

But the move could spark more confrontations and hurt Japan's national interests. I believe that quietly strengthening Japan’s effective control would better protect the islands.

Some people will probably criticize The Asahi Shimbun for being "pro-China," but the newspaper also carries reports on unflattering aspects of the country. Chinese interviewees often tell me, "The Asahi Shimbun has been tougher on China lately than the Sankei Shimbun, (which has been known as a staunch critic of China)."

In September 1972, when Japan and China normalized diplomatic relations, the joint communique of the two governments said: "Development of good-neighborly and friendly relations between the two countries are in the interests of the two peoples and will contribute to the relaxation of tension in Asia and peace in the world."

Japan and China should immediately start acting like good neighbors. That is the message from our predecessors.

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Satoshi Ukai is an editorial writer of The Asahi Shimbun who covers international affairs.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Satoshi Ukai (The Asahi Shimbun)

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