Signs of a mature diplomacy

Anti-Japanese behavior by Chinese soccer fans during the Asian Cup tournament in August stirred strong resentment among the Japanese public. Many questioned whether China was qualified to host the 2008 Olympics. Others criticized the Japanese government’s lukewarm protests against the incidents. I feel, however, that many Japanese have overreacted somewhat. Allow me to tell of a personal experience:

An international conference that I attended some years ago took up the issue of history textbooks used in Japanese schools. I pointed out that recent textbooks included some anti-U.S. passages, but to my surprise, American participants were not disturbed at all. One official said unkind remarks about the United States were made every day around the world. All sides laughed and agreed. I felt that the Japanese were no match for Americans when it came to broad-mindedness.

Half a century ago, while studying in Britain, I found a quiz in the satire magazine Punch. In those days, radio-quiz programs were the rage, as most homes did not have television sets and mass entertainment was not yet developed.

The Punch quiz printed a list of a number of leaders of developing countries, starting with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and asked who among them did not tell the British to “go away.” The answer: none. British people tended to think hard on the question and, upon learning they had been foiled, would laugh out loud. That’s British humor. Britain, which had just won World War II, was also a great nation.

In August, Japanese flags were snatched in Beijing, but U.S. flags are burned almost daily somewhere in the world as are British flags. Anglo-Saxons typically avoid emotionalism in international relations.

There are perceptions that Japan-China relations have fallen to their lowest point since the two countries normalized relations in 1972. To the chagrin of the Japanese people, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is unable to make an official visit to Beijing while controversy continues over his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial to Japan’s war dead. The Asian Cup incidents worsened the situation.

I do not understand why the prime minister’s Yasukuni visits should remain an international or diplomatic issue. Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty obligated Japan to accept the Tokyo Trial and to execute convicted criminals. Japan fulfilled the obligations a long time ago. Paying respects to the souls of the dead is a domestic issue and not involved with any international treaty.

The only explanation for the protests against Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits is that they hurt the feelings of the Chinese. Yet, if this reasoning held, then the trouble during Asian Cup Soccer should have justified Japanese efforts to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, although this may be overly simplistic. I’m sure both sides have their own arguments.

China would likely claim that the Yasukuni visits made by Koizumi even as a private citizen against the background of many unsettled historical issues were too grave a problem to compare with the unruly behavior of soccer fans.

Japan could claim that the prime minister, by paying respects to the souls of the dead, caused no direct damage to the Chinese people but that the Asian Cup incident was a direct insult against Japan. Behind the rude behavior, in the Japanese view, is a policy of anti-Japanese public education promoted by the Beijing government.

I am not saying that these two issues should cancel out each other. While the problem of anti-Japanese education in China does exist, the two issues may be weighted differently due to past history.

What I’m simply saying is that emotionalism should not be allowed to distort international relations. The equality of sovereignty and mutual noninterference in domestic affairs are among the major principles embodied in the United Nations Charter.

It is natural for nationalistic sentiments to exist. But by avoiding mutual interference in domestic affairs on the pretext of national honor, Japan and China could significantly reduce friction.

China is a big, mature country, while Japan is undisputedly a major economic power. In my opinion, either country should have the equanimity to avoid making diplomatic trouble over the other’s domestic behavior. This is what I hope for following the establishment of a new leadership in Beijing.