Riots and Remembrance: Rising Tensions between China and Japan
Collins, Michael, Contemporary Review
THREE busloads of paramilitary troops were guarding the Japanese Embassy in Beijing in April after thousands of demonstrators threw bottles, stones and eggs at the building in the biggest street protests against Japan since relations between China and Japan were normalized in 1972. Japanese cars and shops were meanwhile wrecked by marchers in the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the south. A Chinese retailers' association urged a boycott of Japanese products such as beer and coffee. Also among the demonstrators' demands was for Japan to be denied a seat on the reformed UN Security Council.
The protests were sparked by the publication of a new history textbook in Japan that China says whitewashes Japanese wartime atrocities including mass sex slavery and germ warfare practised by Japanese troops. At least twelve million Chinese citizens (and some say as many as thirty million) died during Japan's occupation of China from 1937 to 1945.
After outraged protests by Japan and demands for compensation, the Chinese government tried to mend fences by highlighting its efforts to protect Japanese interests, agreed to pay for the damage to the embassy and called on the public to end unrest that might damage economic ties.
Whilst the textbook controversy could be seen as simply a repetition of previous incidents, the events of April 2005 are significant because of the scale and vehemence of the protests. Such marches would have been impossible without at least tacit government approval, which makes them all the more inflammatory towards Japan.
The textbook row focuses on the still-unresolved issues between China and Japan over Japan's behaviour before and during World War II. Anything that reminds China of the Japanese occupation tends to result in friction. The upcoming 60th anniversary of VJ Day, the date of the Japanese surrender, has freshly agitated Chinese grievances, particularly over Japan's failure in Chinese eyes to show adequate remorse. Regarding the textbook, Tokyo says that private companies, not the government, are responsible and that it is up to individual school districts to decide which books they use.
The sudden downturn in Sino-Japanese relations, however, is the product of many more factors. China's growing economic might, accompanying military build-up, and attitude towards Taiwan have seemed ample justification to Japan for a more muscular foreign policy. At the same time, competition for access to oil and gas reserves in the East China Sea continue to strain relations. The neighbours are the world's second and third-biggest oil consumers. China's economic boom will come to a halt without increased regular, long-term oil supplies, whilst oil is similarly crucial to Japan. China has criticized Japan for deciding, after three decades of restraint, to lift the ban on drilling for oil near the tiny, uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, an area of the East China Sea which both countries claim as part of their exclusive economic zone, although the exact boundary had previously been left to future negotiations. In response to Japan's move to start the process of awarding gas exploration rights to private Japanese companies, China has hinted at unspecified retaliation. As a measure of how significant this dispute is, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, has called the gas-drilling decision a 'serious provocation'. Japan, however, says the drilling is to take place in an area east of what Tokyo says is its sea border with China, and that lifting the ban on exploration is actually a response to Chinese exploration. Japan has repeatedly protested against this but Beijing says its surveys are within its own zone and has refused to halt them or to share the results.
The dispute over the islands has its roots in the interpretation of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki and later agreements. It is beyond question that Japan controlled the islands from 1895 and that the US restored the administration to Japan after World War II. The issue of sovereignty, however, has never been determined and the US remains officially neutral. Even if ownership of the islets is settled, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would appear to deny that an exclusive economic zone can be extended from islands that have never been inhabited.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, is quoted as appealing to China not to overreact to the gas project, suggesting that both countries could benefit by being cool-headed. 'We should make the sea into a sea of co-operation', he said in Tokyo. 'We need to continue talks keeping in mind the broader view'.
The clash of China's and Japan's security agendas is also heightening tensions. Both countries seek recognition as the region's pre-eminent power. Japan's more assertive foreign and security policies, manifest in plans to 'normalise' the role and widen the operational scope of the Self-Defence Force (Japan's de facto military), are causing concern in Beijing. Conversely, the military aspects of China's emergence as a regional power will boost the argument in Japan for changes to the pacifist constitution needed to reform the SDF. The incursion of a Chinese submarine into Japanese waters is but an instance of the two countries' strategic rivalry. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is due to release its constitutional reform proposals in November 2005 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the party's founding. Meanwhile, Tokyo's higher profile on the global stage has been marked by the dispatch of peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
At present, however, as analysts have observed, the extent to which China is a serious military threat to Japan is questionable, even though its armed forces have roughly ten times the number of personnel as Japan's SDF. But the presence of real or perceived threats makes it easier for Mr Koizumi to present his case for a reform of Japanese military doctrine in the face of opposition from the Japanese Left. China has now overtaken Japan in defence spending, and while the Japanese navy could still stand up to the Chinese, Tokyo has no nuclear submarines and no response to the hundreds of missiles on China's coast or the threat from North Korea.
Japan's close defence relationship with the US will also continue to aggravate China. Japan has acquired new satellite intelligence capabilities and the Japanese navy has joined the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative. As and when further developments are announced in the US Theater Missile Defense System, which Japan has signed up for, China can be expected to react angrily. Thus '... Japan would essentially serve as a frontline US command post for the Asia-Pacific and beyond', says Christopher Hughes of Warwick University in a paper published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Japan has already given the US a free hand to use its bases for previous Middle East operations'.
Thus, after sixty years largely spent keeping a low diplomatic and military profile, Japan appears destined to supplant Australia as Washington's 'deputy sheriff' in the Asia-Pacific region and become a pillar of America's twenty-first-century security architecture. There has even been talk of pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and a Japanese nuclear deterrent. According to Kazuya Sakamoto of Osaka University, Japan and Britain are central to a far-reaching, post-9/11 US review of its overseas force deployments. 'The basic idea is that the US will gradually withdraw from the Eurasian landmass while assigning the two island nations at the east and west of Eurasia, Japan and Britain, even greater importance as strategic bases to ensure stability in Europe and Asia', Professor Sakamoto has written in Japan Echo magazine.
An important element in this transformation fell into place in 2005 when Japan agreed in principle to allow the command headquarters of the US Army's 1st Corps to transfer from Washington state, on the US Pacific coast, to Camp Zama, near Yokohama, south of Tokyo. The 1st Corps has responsibility for operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, extending to the conflict zones and oilfields of the Gulf. The primary focus of its forward deployment is likely to be the defence of Taiwan, regional challenges posed by China's military expansion, and the nuclear stand-off with North Korea. The US has also reportedly proposed that command operations of the 13th Airforce, now on Guam in the Pacific--a base for long-range bombers and tanker aircraft frequently deployed in the Middle East--be moved to Yokota airbase in Tokyo. The American forward deployments are certain to be viewed with suspicion in China and face political opposition in Japan.
The visits by Japan's Prime Minister to the Yasukuni shrine, honouring Japan's war dead--including convicted war criminals--this year accompanied by eighty members of the Japanese Diet and representatives of eighty more, are also an annual irritant to China. Koizumi has given these visits a higher profile in recent years ever since splits in his ruling coalition threatened its hold on power.
China's sensitivity to any perceived outside interference in its relations with Taiwan, which it regards as a province, has also been offended by recent Japanese moves. Tokyo infuriated Beijing in February 2005, when for the first time it named stability in the Taiwan Strait as a 'common strategic objective' with the US in a joint position statement. Although phrased in diplomatic language, this was a clear warning to China not to seek to retake Taiwan by force. In response, China, in March 2005, enacted a new anti-secession law denying Taiwan's right to declare independence and asserting China's right to respond militarily if it does so. Tensions over Taiwan could worsen as Japan moves to give itself greater freedom to participate in military operations outside its own borders and beyond the narrow scope allowed to the Self-Defence Force under the postwar constitution.
Although the chances of armed conflict over Taiwan are small, the mere possibility is altering the strategic power balance in the Taiwan Strait, forcing China to adjust its military planning accordingly. Indeed, some Chinese military leaders are saying that Japan is secretly behind Taiwan's moves toward a referendum and independence, although outside observers maintain that such beliefs are without foundation.
The perceived growing threat from North Korea's nuclear capability is another factor in Japan's new defence policy, and this in turn is of concern to China, which does not want to see Japan develop its own nuclear programme to counter North Korea or indeed China itself. On the other hand, Japan relies on Chinese diplomatic co-operation in the six-power disarmament talks with North Korea. The success of these talks is important for both countries and hence is likely to mitigate their military rivalry.
Tensions between China and Japan have gained added significance recently because they threaten to deny Japan a seat on the reformed UN Security Council. The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, during a visit to India in April 2005, supported the home nation's ambition to gain a seat on the Council, but said Japan should face up to its wartime past before being admitted. This was the strongest hint to date that China might exercise its veto to block Japan's bid. As one senior Western diplomat is quoted as saying, 'Japan has a problem with its neighbours and its neighbours all say so'. Meanwhile, Mark Malloch Brown, the Secretary-General's chief of staff, has said that it was up to Japan, Germany and India to give their regions an assurance that they were not going to use their membership to settle old scores but would genuinely accept a sense of accountability for their region. 'It is ironic that a country that aspires to represent the Asia Pacific region as a member of the UN Security Council cannot be trusted to win the confidence of the people of this region', said the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily.
Rivalry between China and Japan also threatens economic ties. There are about 14,000 Japanese companies in China, and China is becoming an increasingly important destination for Japanese exports. In 2004 Japan's shipments to China accounted for 13.1 per cent of total export earnings, up from 12.2 per cent in 2003 and 9.6 per cent in 2002. Japan, meanwhile, accounted for 12.4 per cent of China's exports in 2004. If bilateral relations remain poor, it could compromise the chances of Japanese companies winning construction or service projects for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China, too, could lose out. Japan provided 9 per cent of the US$60bn or so in foreign direct investment that entered China in 2004.
The resurgence of nationalism in China and Japan is the result of interlocking historical, economic, diplomatic, and military factors. In China perhaps nationalism plays its most important role in replacing other elements in the official ideology that are having to be jettisoned to accommodate the effects of economic reform consequent upon the opening to the West. Recent events, moreover, show that the growth of a nationalist psychology in China has the potential to become a regional security risk. Some Chinese intellectuals, however, are already calling on their country to abandon its victim mentality, recognizing that this outlook is one of the greatest obstacles to China's maturing into the global leader that it should be.
China needs to understand that not everyone in Japan is a closet militarist. Many Japanese reject the regrettable aspects of their past and the number of hard-liners can be expected to decrease as the wartime generation dies off. Even as the Japanese increasingly accept the probability of being eclipsed by China, they also welcome the growing economic relationship with their giant neighbour and are actually making major investments there.
Japan, on the other hand, needs to show respect for China's principle of noninterference and reiterate publicly its acceptance of the one-China policy that goes back decades. As Professor Tom Plate of UCLA has observed, 'Tokyo, if it wants to maintain good relations with Beijing, needs to avoid the "Bermuda Triangle" over the Taiwan Straits involving Taiwan, China and the United States'.
Mr Koizumi and President Hu Jintao of China met in Jakarta in late April a day after Koizumi offered the most public apology in a decade for Japan's wartime aggression in Asia: 'In the past, Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations', Koizumi said.
Although the wording of Japan's apology broke no new ground, especially in not being specifically directed to the People's Republic of China, both sides emphasized the importance of friendly relations. After all Japan will not apologise specifically to the PRC while the future of Taiwan, which still claims to be the government of the whole of China, remains unresolved. A direct apology to China is only likely if the PRC and Taiwan come together in peaceful reunification.
Although negotiations are defusing the April crisis, a long-term solution will mean East and South Asia finding a way to integrate Japan comfortably into the region. In particular, Japan's relationship with the proposed Asian Free Trade Area (due to begin in 2008) will soon become insistent. Until a more mature relationship is developed between China and Japan, Japan will feel isolated and on the defensive, militarily dependent on the alliance with the US and economically dependent on the Middle East for oil. Until Asia sees that it has a future as well as a past, however, relations are likely to get worse. Careful diplomacy and hard bargaining will be required, but further demonstrations of hostility by either side will only hasten the slide towards an Asian cold war.…
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Publication information: Article title: Riots and Remembrance: Rising Tensions between China and Japan. Contributors: Collins, Michael - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 286. Issue: 1673 Publication date: June 2005. Page number: 333+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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