Years of diplomatic sparring between China and Japan have created a dangerous public antagonism in the region, diplomats from the two countries warned on Friday as Beijing tried to mend fences with its neighbours.
China’s foreign policy establishment is worried that nationalist sentiment at home combined with the hardened public attitude in Japan limits China’s ability to change diplomatic tack when needed. China is trying to expand its influence in Asia but has found its growing power countered by new regional alliances and continued US clout in the region.
A January survey showed that 83 per cent of the Japanese population felt no affinity towards China, the highest level since the survey began in 1978. Meanwhile anti-Japanese sentiment has been steadily growing among young Chinese educated after 1989, when textbooks began emphasising China’s suffering under Japanese occupation during the second world war.
Relations between the two Asian powers have eased somewhat since Chinese president Xi Jinping met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 but Chinese and Japanese ships still square off on an almost daily basis in contested waters east of China. Meanwhile, Japanese corporations have quietly stopped expanding investment in China after attacks on Japanese businesses during nationwide anti-Japanese demonstrations in 2012.
Fumio Kishida, Japan’s foreign minister, visited China on Friday, with diplomats from his country saying they hoped to establish formal channels that would help the two nations to communicate even in times of tension.
Countries “should not allow disagreements to deteriorate and become a crisis. They should not let the disagreements hinder trilateral co-operation or affect the public mood,” Wu Jianmin, a member of the Chinese foreign ministry’s foreign policy advisory group, told a public diplomacy forum.
Mr Wu is fresh from an unusual public spat with Chinese tabloid the Global Times, which he accused of obstructing China’s diplomacy with its nationalistic coverage. Global Times editor Hu Xijin retorted that other media were like “parrots” and defended his paper as the only forum for diverse voices on Chinese foreign policy.
A Global Times editorial on Friday called Japan’s China policies “two-faced” and “a little bit weird”. “Senior officials such as the prime minister have long expressed their willingness to develop friendly relations with China, and yet they are the ones who keep unjustly criticising China and making sharp remarks that some Chinese leaders would never use against Japan,” it said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell what their real strategy towards China is.”
Additional reporting by Luna Lin in Beijing and Kana Inagaki in Tokyo
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