For a number of reasons, nationalist sentiments have led many Chinese to label Japan as treacherous, pugnacious and condescending, especially as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun currying favor with the new government in Washington while finding ways to bypass its “Peace Constitution” and remove the fetters imposed on its military.
Thanks to a steady diet of government-led propaganda badmouthing and slinging mud at Japan, the Chinese people may have lost touch with a clear, balanced vision of the neighboring East Asian country. And this growing animosity comes on top of the historical ill feelings following Imperial Japan’s invasion that wrought eight years of havoc on their country.
In recent decades, ties between Beijing and Tokyo have been under strain because of a slew of incidents, ranging from Japan’s perceived insincerity over its World War II crimes to the bitter territorial row concerning the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. But the underlying cause is China’s ascent in global stature in contrast to Japan’s economic stagnation, says Zhu Feng, director of Nanjing University’s Institute for International Studies, in an op-ed in People’s Daily.
“China’s overall strength has long surpassed that of Japan, as measured by economic output – China’s gross domestic product was almost three times that of Japan in 2016 – as well as defense capabilities, and the Chinese people are eager to break the historical stigma [now that] the day that Japan could invade a precarious China is long gone,” said the scholar.
These not-so-heartening developments are also part of the reason Japanese voters bought Abe’s vision to revive their country and gave him a second term, making him the nation’s longest-serving prime minister since the mid-19th century.
“Amid the Chinese people’s shared enmity, there also exists a subtle phobia about a stronger China among Japanese,” Zhu said. “Abe is exploring this phobia to consolidate his power to pursue, albeit under the veil of peace and democracy, the revival of Japan’s own nationalism.”
Japan is also taking a leading role in the containment of China, along with Australia, India and Southeast Asian countries, besides its efforts to persuade the administration of US President Donald Trump not to pull out of Asia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Abe on the sidelines of this year’s APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, this month, which followed their brief encounter in Germany while attending the Group of 20 Summit in July. The two leaders agreed to normalize ties after years of tit-for-tat and mutual brush-offs. The diplomatic minuet is expect to end amicably – at least for the time being.