Agree to Nonintervention, then Get on with Diplomacy

The Japan Times 2006年3月13日 掲載

In my Oct. 15, 2003, column, I wrote that China had committed a diplomatic faux pas by suggesting that reciprocal visits by top Chinese and Japanese leaders would become possible only when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stopped visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I wondered how the Chinese leadership would settle the diplomatic dead-lock that would inevitably stem from their demarche, never heard of before in decent diplomatic practice.

That article ran at a delicate time—soon after remarks by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had seemed to repeat the misstep of the previous regime of President Jiang Zemin. Wen’s remarks came a month before Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The Asahi Shimbun, in an Oct. 8, 2003, commentary, said Wen had implicitly urged Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni. (China’s faux pas was still implicit at the time and thus demanded the commentary.)

Since then, Tokyo-Beijing relations have fallen to an all-time low, especially following the mass anti-Japanese demonstrations throughout China last spring.

Polls conducted by the Cabinet Office show that the proportion of respondents feeling affinity toward China decreased from 47.9 percent to 32.4 percent in two years between 2003 and 2005. Volumes of books describing China as an evil nation have been published in Japan, and China’s political influence on Japan has significantly weakened.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s recent comments on Taiwan have not caused much of a stir in Japanese public opinion and the mass media—in contrast to the uproar over inept remarks by senior Japanese officials in the 1980s. In 1986 Education Minister Masayuki Fujio claimed that South Korea also bore responsibility for Japan’s annexation of Korea. And, in 1988, National Land Agency Director General Seisuke Okuno asserted that Japan was unfairly blamed for aggression in Asia that had been mainly committed by “Caucasians.” Both ministers were forced to resign.

China and South Korea, in their protests against the remarks, were backed by Japanese mass media, and the Cabinet withdrew its support for the ministers.

Most recently, China reportedly protested Aso’s remarks but failed to receive support from the Japanese media and public. If anything, what is widely perceived as China’s intervention in domestic affairs is likely to aggravate anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan.

China no longer has a foothold for swaying Japan. This is a new situation for Chinese officials who have managed to steer diplomatic strategies toward Japan for three decades. If they continue the same strategies, they will only aggravate the situation.

In my previous article, I suggested that China should let the problem fade away by keeping a low profile. However, China only aggravated the situation by directly linking the Japanese prime minister’s China visit to a settlement of the Yasukuni issue.

Japan is partly responsible for the present situation. When Koizumi visited Yasukuni last year, Japanese media made the story front-page news, while Chinese media played it down. Japanese media have since kept up intensive coverage of the issue, making it difficult for China to keep a low profile.

Pro-Chinese Japanese should let China get out of trouble by toning the issue down. The new prime minister who will replace Koizumi later this year is likely to inherit Koizumi’s custom of visiting Yasukiuni. Japanese media, meanwhile, are in effect encouraging China to continue Jiang Zemin’s faux pas. Do they want a pro-Chinese government to replace the Koizumi administration? If they demonstrate such political motives, they risk perpetuating frigid Tokyo-Beijing relations.

I have an idea for solving this problem. The prime minister could stop visiting Yasukuni in return for China’s agreeing to remove factually mistaken exhibits from displays at its anti-Japan museums throughout the nation. I hesitate to push this idea, however.

The correct solution is for China to retain the anti-Japanese exhibits—including inaccurate ones—for the sake of its patriotic movement, while the Japanese prime minister continues visiting Yasukuni to honor the war dead, and for the two nations to avoid creating diplomatic trouble over these issues.

This is not an ideal settlement. Realities in the international community have little to do with human ideals. Problems in international relations should be solved on the basis of common sense developed in the 2,000-year history of the nations: non-intervention in domestic affairs.