December 08, 2005

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Japan-China: Vicious Circle

For months and years now, we have all speculated on the incomprehensibility of Koizumi's continued visits to the Yasukuni War Shrine. He does it for domestic political reasons, we are told. And often the conversation ends there, or is resumed on some aspect of Japan's World War II past.

That is, of course, legitimate; Japan does have an historic legacy to which it has never fully faced up to, and that ignorance (whether feigned or genuine) is naturally offensive to its neighbors and is serving as a very effective vehicle for China to adopt the mantle of regional leadership in East Asia.

But as staggered as I have been by the baldness of the shrine visits from an international relations perspective, I have striven to understand the domestic pressure for Koizumi to do so. This article, and others I have read, seem to be coalescing into a pattern in my mind. It is not overly profound, and I apologise to those whom have realized this long ago. But it seems clear that the reason Japan has a desire to hearken back to its militaristic roots is precisely because China has grown far stronger in the last ten years than it has been at any time in the last 150. So if China's rise is prompting ever more hardline positions in the Japanese psyche towards its massive neighbor, and converting more of the population to the wisdom of shrine visits, China will only grow increasingly irritated and spend more on its military might as a result. Are there any 'soft-landing' scenarios for this relationship between Beijing and Tokyo, which appear to be in free fall? If there are, I'd like to hear them.

posted by HK Dave on 12.08.05 at 11:30 AM in the East Asia politics category.


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This is a very "hot topic" right now and it is refreshing to finally read an opinion on it.

posted by: Shay on 12.08.05 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Glad to hear it! What is your view on the 'vicious circle'?

posted by: HK Dave on 12.08.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]

Koizumi and the Chinese have invested too much in in the shrine visits that neither side can back off. Only face saving way (though not necessarily the mature way) for the Japanese is to wait until Koizumi leaves office, and the next prime minister can just choose not to make shrine visits. There still will be pressure on the next guy to visit, but he has more of an out.

posted by: Shenzhen Whitey on 12.08.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Man, I just wish everyone would get over it.

posted by: Argleblaster on 12.08.05 at 05:23 PM [permalink]

Without the dissapearance of either or both China or Japan, these confrontations are just going to occur more often and with more bitterness.

posted by: Richard W on 12.08.05 at 07:16 PM [permalink]

Yes, I fear I share Richard W's dismal view. I think the issue has escalated in national importance on both sides that any backing down on either side is going to be viewed by both domestic audiences and other Asian neighbors as a capitulation and an implicit recognition of primacy in the other.

I think though, Japan has entered a war of words and actions that it cannot possibly win, especially with the lion's share of sympathy in the region going to China.

posted by: HK Dave on 12.08.05 at 07:20 PM [permalink]

When I look at the issue, I think the answer is simple. China is developing at a great rate -- and this is good, the years of The West vs. The Rest need to come to an end and the World needs to become a 1st World, um, World. China is becoming an economic power, a military power, and even a space power.
The problem, is China isn't developing to be something good. The government is still oppressing it's people, even killing them as we saw just a few days ago.
Where is China getting all these money to build a space program and a huge military? They certainly aren't getting it from selling 1.25 shoes to Wall-mart alone.
Last year, Japan gave $8.9 Billion USD to China in aid. That amount is down 30% since 1997 and has gone down for 4 years in a row.
Cut it, cut it all. Problem solved. Place sanctions on China who no longer even pretends to be a good country, it openly admits to opening fire and killing 6 protesters. Another economically strong country is a very welcome thing in this world, but we don't need another America getting whatever it wants just by throwing a hissy-fit and then invading.
The world told America 'no' on Iraq, America invaded anyways. The world is essenctially saying 'no' to China (and Korea) on Yasukuni (since 1991 leaders from Chili, Sri Lanka, Finland, Lithuania, Tibet, Azerbaijan, Peru and others have visited Yasukuni, not just leaders from Japan; while most countries leaders aren't visiting Yasukuni, they aren't complaining about it either) does anyone think China wont attack? 3-4 times a year Chinese warships (subs) cross into Japanese waters. Remember a few years ago when Chinese fighter-planes slammed into an American spy plane over international waters?

What do people in Hong Kong think about this issue? My friends from China tell me that although the educational system teaches the Japanese are little devils and are beyond human they're so evil, they also tell me that England is taught to be the greatest enemy of China in history. The impression I get from the few people I've met from Hong Kong is that the people of Hong Kong are too preoccupied with their current oppressors to worry about a previous oppressor from 60+ years ago.

posted by: Darin ten Bruggencate on 12.11.05 at 09:55 AM [permalink]

people in HK still talk about 3 year + 8 months of astrocity during japanese occupation.

no one believes the lies of yasukuni, except those in japan.

people in HK watch J-drama and listen to J-pop. But this does not mean they would be believe the lies from Japan's right wing revisionists.

posted by: sun bin on 12.11.05 at 04:50 PM [permalink]

However, a substantial number of them are quite willing to believe the lies from China's right-wing revisionists.

The shrine and the history-books are just a convenient excuse for the current upwelling of Japan-hate. It's always easier to stir up pointless xenophobia than it is to put your own house in order.

Just ask George W.

posted by: Argleblaster on 12.11.05 at 11:26 PM [permalink]

HK poll on Japan (ESWN)

posted by: sun bin on 12.12.05 at 02:36 PM [permalink]

Yes, I do agree with Sun Bin that the sentiment in Hong Kong is on whole totally against Japan. I know few Asian countries that were once occupied by Japan (with perhaps the exception of Taiwan) that harbour any feelings in aggregate of warm friendship against Japan.

I visited the Yasukuni shrine myself, but that did not mean I was paying homage to its dead inhabitants. Rather I motivated by curiosity. I found it a very unapologetic depiction of Japan's role in the War, with a Zero poised for machine-gunning something or other, and a locomotive from the Burma Railroad. The nationalistic Rising Sun flags on sale there clearly demonstrate a lack of contrition on the part of the Japanese, or at least the shrine-visiting segment of the population, for their wartime atrocities.

Yes China, has many issues to face up to as well. But I think Chinese nationalism has less to answer for in an international context than Japan. Chinese atrocities over the last decades, for good or ill, have been perpetrated on its own citizens.

posted by: HK Dave on 12.12.05 at 03:39 PM [permalink]

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