[NOTEBOOK]China’s ‘new thinking’ on JapanThere are two Chinese intellectuals whom the Japanese media observe with pleasure. They are Ma Lee-chung, editorial writer of the People’s Daily, and Su In-hong, a professor at Renmin University of China. They have asserted provocative opinions since the end of last year: “The issue of Japanese apology for the aggressive war has been settled. Japan has already apologized 21 times and now that is enough. Japan is a civilian, democratic country. Militarism will not revive in Japan. The war between China and Japan will never break out again.
“China should evaluate Japan’s economic aid of 26 trillion won ($22 billion) properly. Let’s stop being narrow-minded. The issue of the history between China and Japan should not be an obstacle in our relations with Japan. To strengthen the military power of China is more urgent than to excessively keep watch over Japan’s militarism. China should support Japan’s effort to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. The closeness between China and Japan will improve China’s strategic position toward the United States.”
But the Chinese people’s anti-Japanese sentiment is still deep-rooted. The Chinese public condemns such views as selling out the country. Scholars have also pointed out that things might not work when China alone wants to improve the relationship while Japan does not show a positive attitude. Such issues as Japanese officials’ worship at the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead including some World War II criminals; the distortion of its textbooks, and denial of military aggression are not resolved by “new thinking” only by China. The China Youth Daily also has responded with angry editorials.
Despite such critical sentiments against their assertions, the July issue of the magazine “Current Issue Report,” which is published by the Chinese Communist Party for its members, carried a dialogue with the two writers. And the latest issue of “The Strategy and Management” urged that China must improve relations with Japan in pursuit of the national interest rather than emotions. Given the situation that all media are controlled by the Communist Party and Chinese government, it is clear which side the government takes and in which direction China’s policy toward Japan will be pointed hereafter.
Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who visited Japan in October 2000, emphasized the history issue to an extent that is “almost displeasing,” the Japanese media said. Since then, Japanese prime ministers’ frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine have frozen China-Japan relations.
But Chinese President Hu Jintao, who met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for the first time in Moscow last May, delivered the message that he would not cling to the history issue any more. He seems to have announced that China’s relationship with Japan will be different from that of the Jiang Zemin era. In fact, China recently exempted Japanese people from obtaining short-term visas, and both countries will soon resume military exchanges.
Why does China emphasize “new thinking?” First, China wants Japanese businesses to take charge of the high-speed electric rail project linking Beijing and Shanghai because Japan’s price and conditions for technology transfer are competitive. But as people’s anti-Japanese feeling is still high, China may have felt the need to enlighten the public.
Moreover, China’s trade surplus with Japan reached about 27 trillion won last year. Now, China’s economic development without Japan is hard to imagine. Therefore, China may have formed the strategic judgment that if it needs to cooperate with Japan anyway, it is better for China to be close to Japan for the purpose of containing the unilateralism of the United States.
Japan, which ranks second in the world economy, and China, which is reckoned as the only alternative to confront the United States, are embracing each other for reasons of both utility and strategy.
There is talk about the unity and mutual assistance between South Korea, China and Japan. But would South Korea truly be all right even if it dances to their tunes? And should the U.S. forces in South Korea really be withdrawn?
* The writer is international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jae-hak