On August 12, Genron NPO, a respectable Japanese advocacy thinktank, and the China Daily group released its annual report on its joint opinion poll on the attitudes of the two nations toward each other. 55.9% of the Chinese responders were unfavorably disposed toward Japan. Not good. But 72% of the Japanese responders felt the same way toward China. Worse. For the Chinese, it’s essentially about the past. Specifically, of the unfavorably disposed, 69.9% chose the war as the reason while 53.4% found that the Japanese didn’t have the correct understanding of the war of invasion. For the Japanese, it’s the here and now. 71.7% chose the Chinese government’s improper response to food safety problems and the like, 40.4% chose China’s selfishness in securing resources, energy and food, and 21.7% chose China’s military buildup.
Does either side make sense? Depends on what you mean by sense, and then only partly, but I’ll leave that question for another occasion. Many Western pundits like to say that Asia (which is actually sloppy shorthand for China and South Korea) will never fully accept Japan unless—you know the rest of the mantra. My point is that it works both ways. And you do want to know what the rest of the Asia nations think as well.
Incidentally, this is by no means a condemnation of China or its people. I suspect that the proportion of the Chinese people who do not trust its government’s response to food safety and other issues that negatively impact their daily lives is higher than 71.1%. China does tend to turn a blind eye to nuclear proliferation and human rights concerns when it comes to securing resources, but that must be understood in the context of a late market entry with 1.3 billion people to look after. And China has been careful to avoid border incidents around the Senkaku Islands and it has avoided commercial exploitation on the Japanese side on the median line in the East China Sea. China is essentially a status quo power. But China’s size means that its natural growth by itself changes the status quo. So what could be normal arm-flexing by the military, for instance, sets off alarms elsewhere. (Seriously, who cares if Singapore buys F35s?)