HISTORY OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JAPAN AND CHINA
Japanese occupation of China
during World War II Through much of its history, Japan was viewed as kind of little brother of China. The Japanese got their writing system, some religions and many institutions from China. Many Chinese still regard Japanese culture as a derivative of Chinese culture.
This relation was upset in the mid 19th century when Japan emerged as a world power while China was carved up by colonial powers. In the last hundred years, Japan has been dominate over China. During World War II, Japan occupied China and committed many atrocities there. Only recently has China emerged as Japan’s relative equal.
Japan and China restored diplomatic relations in 1972, the same year Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka held a China-Japan summit. China and Japan signed a joint statement in 1972, a peace and amity treaty in 1978 and joint declarations in 1998 and 2008. Japan was among the first countries to reestablish relations with China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Mao gave some credit to Japanese for ousting the Europeans and disrupting efforts by Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalists to unify China, thereby paving the way for the Communist takeover of China. He often said that Sino-Japanese ties were marked by 2,000 years of friendship and 50 years of misfortunes. Only in recent year has the Chinese government become more actively anti-Japanese, taking actions such as raising the casualty figure and increased the size of memorial honoring the Nanking victims three times.
When Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Japan in 1998 he repeatedly brought up historical issues. The current Chinese leader, President Hu Jintao, was more tactful during his visit in 2008.
Japan and China are Asia’s two largest economies. These days, they are each others most important trading partners. See Trade.
Friction Between Japan and China
In the early 2000s, relations between China and Japan were strained over visits by Koizumi to a controversial Yasukuni shrine and the invasion of a Japanese embassy by Chinese police to haul away North Korean asylum seekers. After Koizumi insisted that he would continue the visits to Yasukina Shrine, Beijing warned: “Without a correct view on history, there is no guarantee to healthy and stable ties between China and Japan.” See Yasukina Shrine
China has been angered by visits of the Dalai Lama and Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer to Japan. China was upset with Japan for pledging to help the United States defend Taiwan and for issuing a Japanese visa to Taiwan’s former President Lee Teng-Hui in December 2004 to do some sightseeing. Lee came to Japan in 2001 for heart treatment.
China has refused to support Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council but has agreed to support a similar bid by India. A grassroots campaign organized through popular Chinese government-supported web sites is gathering signatures on petition that opposed Japan becoming a permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council. As of mid 2008, more than 40 million had signed it.
In China there have been calls for a boycott of Japanese goods. Online opposition organized by a nationalist Web Site called Patriots Alliance has been credited with stirring up the public outcry over the Diaoyu Islands and scuttling a deal for a bullet train between Shanghai and Beijing.
In January 2008. The Japanese government asked the Chinese government to tone down an Nanking Massacre memorial , which includes graphic photographs of Japanese atrocities and assertions that 300,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese. In August 2009 Nanjing hosted a Japan wartime manga exhibition. The event was held at the Memorial hall for Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders.
See High Speed Railroad, China
Many Japanese are concerned about the safety of food from China. The gyoza dumpling scare strained ties between China and Japan. See Living, Food, Food Safety
Friction Between Japan and China Over Sexual Matters
In September 2003, Japan got a lot of bad press when reports emerged that 380 Japanese businessmen with a construction company running around with 400 Chinese prostitutes in hotel in Zhuhai, China. One of the prostitutes told the Washington Post she was with three of four Japanese men. “They had a big party. On my floor, at least, they had girls in every room.”
The Japanese businessmen arranged to meet prostitutes through a staff member in the hotel’s Japanese marketing department, paying $145 to each woman, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. The incident drew more publicity than it otherwise might of because it occurred on the anniversary of the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931. The hotel was closed temporarily. Several hotel workers were arrested and forced to take “emergency study sessions.” And the Japanese government said it was going to investigate.
Around the same time anti-Japanese protests erupted in Xian after Japanese student at university there put on a skit that was deemed lewd and anti-Chinese. In the skit the students wore bras, false genitals and name tags on which the characters for Japan and China and a picture of a heart were drawn. Two Japanese students and a Japanese teacher were expelled. Foreign students at the university were moved to a safe location to avoid a confrontation with demonstrators.
Zhao Wei, a popular singer, donned a Japanese military flag during a fashion shoot. After that she was badmouthed and her career collapsed. At a concert she was tackled by a construction worker---whose grandparents had died in World War II---smearing her face with his feces.
Friction Between Japan and China Over Spies
In May 2004, a Japanese diplomat in Shanghai committed suicide. China claimed the death was due to work-related stress. The Japanese blamed Chinese intelligence officers for pressuring the diplomat to reveal secrets. According to a suicide note left behind by the diplomat he had been pressed to reveal the backgrounds of other Japanese diplomats and the names of their local contacts. In the note the diplomat described Chinese intelligence officers arresting his Chinese girlfriend for prostitution and threatened to reveal the relationship if he did not cooperate. Shortly before the suicide the diplomat said he agreed to cooperate with the Chinese intelligence officers after he was intimidated for three hours.
In December 2007, a Chinese employee of the Chinese embassy in Japan was given a death sentence, suspended for two years, for taking confidential military matters to Japan. Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison.
In March 2008, a Beijing court ruled that two Japanese diplomats were spies. The unusual ruling was made in part to uphold the decision to give a Chinese national---who met with the two Japanese diplomats, and according to court records, passed on classified information to them---a life in prison sentence.
Relations with China Under Koizumi
Under Koizumi there were no Japan-China summit meeting only brief meetings on the sidelines of regional meetings. The Chinese were particularly incensed by Koizumi’s Yasukuni Shrine visits. See History, Koizumi, Yasukuni Shrine
In 2005, Japanese foreign minister Tao Aso enrage the Chinese by saying China’s increasing military presence was “beginning to be a considerable threat” to Japan. In May 2005, the Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi snubbed Koizumi by cancelling a meeting at the last minute. In December 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao refused to meet with Koizumi at an ASEAN meeting both were attending Kuala Lumpur.
In meetings between Koizumi and Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Koizumi broached the subject of Chinese submarine incursions into Japanese waters and the natural gas fields and the Chinese leaders asked Koizumi to stop visiting Yakukuni shrine. Neither side responded in a way that satisfied the other.
Anti-Japanese Displays and Soccer in China
Anti-Japanese soccer violence was a problem during the 2004 Asian Cup in China. Chinese fans booed the Japanese players and threw garbage at the Japanese supporters and shouted things like “May a big sword chop off the Japanese heads!” During the Japanese national anthem Chinese fans hissed and booed despite messages on the scoreboard that read: “Be Civilized Spectators! Show a Civilized Manner!”
Outside the stadium before and after the finals, Chinese supporters burned the Japanese flag and made anti-Japanese speeches. One group of Chinese surrounded the car of the Japanese ambassador and smashed the car’s windows. Another group scuffled with police and chased the bus with the Japanese team and pelted it with bottles while shouting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
In a first round game, between Japan and Thailand, in Chongqing---which had been subjected to fierce Japanese bombing in World War II---two Japanese players were left behind when an angry mob forced the Japanese bus to take off early after a game The angry mob surrounded the bus but didn’t throw anything. Throughout the game Chinese fans booed the Japanese team and threw garbage at Japanese fans. The Japanese government criticized the Chinese government for not doing more to protect Japanese players and fans and reign in the violence.
Anti-Japanese Riots in China in 2005
In April 2005, fierce anti-Japanese protest broke out in several cities in China that damaged Japanese diplomatic compounds and businesses. The spark for the protests was approval by the Japanese Education Ministry of textbook perceived as white washing of Japanese atrocities in China in World War II. The protesters denounced Japan’s behavior in World War II, condemned Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and called for a boycott f Japanese products.
Once the protests got started they took on a life of their own and fed on themselves. In Beijing 10,000 to 20,000 protesters took to the streets, chanting anti-Japanese slogans. A large crowd surrounded the Japanese Embassy and Ambassador’s residence and threw rocks and bottles. Most of the protesters were university age or in their 20s. For them it seems like more of an opportunity to vent their anger and frustration and engage in hooliganism without getting in too much trouble.
In Shanghai, thousands gartered around the Japanese Consulate and hurled rocks, bottles, eggs and paint balls, burned Japanese flags, threatened Japanese journalists, and shouted, “Japanese invaders must die.” The buildings sustained broken windows, were covered with paint ball marks and littered with thousands of bottles. Officials there feared for their safety. Mobs also overturned Japanese cars, attacked Japanese restaurants and businesses selling Japanese products. . Two Japanese students were beaten and injured with a beer mug and an ashtray at restaurant after they entered the restaurant with a groups of foreign students and admitted to some China that they were Japanese.
In Shanghai. police reportedly directed protestors that had gathered in People’s Square in central Shanghai to the Japanese Consulate General because many protestors do not know where it was. This occurred even though the Shanghai city government had vowed to stop an demonstrations. At the consulate police formed a line about 200 meters from the consulate but the protesters breached it in minutes and hurled anything they could get their hands on, with the police doing nothing to stop them.
The anti-Japanese protest spread nationwide. More than 3,000 demonstrators surrounded the Japanese Consulate General in Guangzhou. Some protestor hurled plastic bottles and broke windrows at a hotel. Around 10,000 people staged a protest in Shenzhen. In Chengdu, protest were held outside a Japanese supermarket. In Hangzhou about 10,000 protestors chanted anti-Japanese slogans and handed out fliers calling for a boycott of Japanese goods. In Shenyang, protesters pelted the Japanese Consular General with bottles and paint. In Hong Kong, 4,000 people showed up for an anti-Japanese demonstration.
Anti-Japanese Riots in 2005 and the Chinese Government
The Communist government initially condoned the anti-Japanese demonstrations, which are illegal, before shutting them down. Initially the Chinese government gave tacit approval for some of the protests by doing nothing to stop them even after protestors hurled thousands of object at Japanese diplomatic buildings. Police only stepped in to stop the protest after they had been going on for about a week.
Japan accused of Beijing of allowing the protests and not doing enough to stop them and demanded an apology and compensation for damages sustained to the Japanese diplomatic compounds and businesses. In a May 2005 meeting between the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers China refused to apologize for its conduct in the anti-Japanese protests.
A few days after the protest Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao met. Koizumi expressed “deep remorse” and offered a heartfelt apology to Asia for Japanese conducts in World War II; and Hu said that Japan needed to address the Yasukuni Shine issue.
In the end China offered to repair damage at the Japanese missions in Beijing and Shanghai but offered no formal apology for what happened. Chinese companies tapped into anti-Japanese sentiments with online games such as “Anti-Japan War Online”---in which players play Chinese farmers in Manchuria in the 1930s battling Japanese Imperial soldiers.
Are Anti-Japanese Sentiments Behind the Anti-Japanese Protests?
Perry Link wrote in the New York Review of Books, Many have ascribed the vehemence of the protests to deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment linked to injustices committed by Japan eighty years ago. But there is little evidence to support this. Rather the protests appear to have everything to do with the interests of China’s current rulers, at a moment when the top leadership in Beijing is in turmoil. [Source: Perry Link, New York Review of Books, September 20, 2012]
The Chinese state media suggest that Chinese people have long memories of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, when the Japanese army carried out a brutal massacre of civilians in the capital city of Nanjing in 1937. According to them, what we see today are echoes of this longstanding “national insult.” But there are not many people in China today who personally remember the 1930s. Recollections of these distant events handed down within families are not that strong, and moreover must compete with some terrible memories of the intervening Mao era. The anti-Japan expression that we see on the streets today springs largely from other sources. [Ibid]
In the 1950s, when Japanese war atrocities were still fresh in Chinese minds, Mao Zedong’s government sealed the topic from public discussion. Newspapers, schools, and museums made no mention of it. “Resist America, Aid Korea,” “Oppose Rightism,” and a “Great Leap Forward” were some of the pre-occupations of the day. Historians have surmised that one reason Mao may have wanted to keep the Nanjing massacre in the shadows is that Nanjing had been the capital of Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT, and he didn’t want to draw sympathy to his adversaries, who after all were still active in Taiwan. In any case Mao never once visited Nanjing to console its victims. In 1961, he commented to Kuroda Hisao, a visiting Japanese politician, that he really should “thank the Japanese militarists” because their incursions into China “created conditions” for his victory over the KMT. These words of course severely undermine the public image of Mao as a selfless revolutionary, so much so that one might suspect there to have been a mistake, perhaps a mis-transcription or at least a Romney-esque “poor choice of words.” But no; Mao repeated the message at least twice during the next three years---once to Japanese businessmen and once to leaders of the New Zealand Communist Party. For the actual Mao, personal power was always the top priority. Today’s protestors, who hold up color posters of Mao as their anti-Japan champion, are unaware of his history. [Ibid]
In 1985, nine years after Mao’s death, a Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in Nanjing. China’s textbooks and media also began to mention the massacre, and the government began to use the issue as a way to stimulate nationalism and draw support to itself. The anti-Japan vitriol that we see in the streets today comes much more from that “education” since the 1980s than it does from memories of the 1930s. In 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president, visited Japan and demanded a written apology for Japan’s invasion of China. Public demonstrations against Japan have flared occasionally since then, often after government prodding but always under government monitoring and control. [Ibid]
There is every sign that the outbursts of recent days are of this kind. Events in two dozen cities have unfolded with near simultaneity, and there are plenty of mass-produced banners and Mao-portraits in view, suggesting that those who took part had ready access to official help. Bloggers in China have posted accounts, with accompanying photos, of what they say are plainclothes police instigating and leading the protest activity. (In one photo a man appears to have a policeman’s bullet-proof vest under his commoner’s T-shirt.) Han Han, one of the country’s most widely-read bloggers, has written that the looting and trashing “must be punished by law, or I might suspect that it has official backing.” Chinese students in California have been urged by the San Francisco Chinese consulate to display their “patriotism” in local demonstrations. [Ibid]
Then What is Behind the Anti-Japanese Protests?
Perry Link wrote in the New York Review of Books, It is significant that the numbers of protesters, by Chinese standards, are small. Crowds are in the hundreds, rarely over a thousand. By contrast the crowd at the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen in 1989 reached a million at its peak. There is no doubt which cause had the deeper appeal. Today, too, measured in numbers, the complaints of Chinese protesters are overwhelmingly not about uninhabited islands but about things closer to home---corruption, pollution, land annexation, special privilege, and abuse of power---and the usual adversaries today are not Japan but Chinese officials and the wealthy people associated with them. The Chinese police handle, on average, two hundred or more “mass incidents”---meaning demonstrations, riots, road-blockages, and the like---every day. This kind of protest is perennial but not well reported. The anti-Japan protests are highly unusual but assiduously reported. [Source: Perry Link, New York Review of Books, September 20, 2012]
From the regime’s point of view, the reporting is the whole point. The purpose of instigating protests is to generate “mass opinion” to serve a political purpose. Let me offer an especially clear example from a different context. In March, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet, young Tibetans went on a rampage against Chinese shop owners. Some people say that agents provocateurs were at work, some say not. But in either case, credible eyewitnesses on both sides reported that for several hours Chinese police stood by and did nothing. They watched the looting and burning of stores while reporters from state-owned media made video recordings. Only when the taping was over did the police step in, arresting hundreds. Then, during the ensuing seventy-two hours, Chinese television---nationwide’showed and re-showed the video footage, explaining that the Dalai Lama, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, had been the instigator of the mayhem. Twenty days later, when young Tibetans ventured onto the streets of Lhasa and seemed ready to protest again, the police quelled them instantly. This time there was no need for videotapes. [Ibid]
What is it, today, that the people at the top in China want to achieve by stimulating and advertising anti-Japan sentiment? They do not say, of course, so the world must guess, but in broad outline the guessing isn’t very hard. The people at the top, who are used to maintaining a smooth façade, have every reason right now to distract attention from the unexpectedly messy handover of power now taking place, the results of which are hugely important to them. Not only power but tremendous amounts of wealth are at stake. The outcome of the power struggle in Beijing could affect the whole nation, but the people at the top prefer that the whole nation be gazing in a different direction. The trial of Wang Lijun’the police chief of disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai who was closely involved in the Neil Heywood murder affair “has been unfolding this week concurrently with the anti-Japan flare-ups. It should and would be a sensation but isn’t: if it were probed and reported properly, the case would reveal a great deal about corruption, special privilege, abuse of power, wealth inequality, and all those other issues that Chinese people often notice and protest about. The mysterious recent disappearance from public view of Xi Jinping, who is expected to replace Hu Jintao in the top post in government at the Chinese Communist Party’s Eighteenth National Congress this fall, also raises large questions to which a citizen would want answers. How might one divert attention from these questions toward the fate of some barren islands? Nationalism! Hate Japan!
Beyond simply providing a distraction, is it possible that the anti-Japan protests have been fanned by one or another top leader in order to get leverage against rivals? There has been much speculation of this kind on the Chinese Internet. Is Xi Jinping trying to “strike hard” to make others sit up and listen? Are Bo Xilai’s people trying clear the brush for a Bo comeback? Is recently-retired Politburo powerbroker Zeng Qinghong still jousting with his old adversary Hu Jintao? The Chinese leadership is a black box, and it is hard either to embrace or to reject any of these speculations. But it is certainly possible that internecine combat is in play. [Ibid]
Whoever is stimulating the riots runs the risk, of course, that they could quickly get out of hand. When students in the famous May Fourth Movement of 1919 protested against the hand-over of Shandong to Japan after World War I, they focused their anger on China’s government, not Japan’s. Worse, what if the anti-Japan theme were to bleed into that large repertoire of everyday grievances that are directed at Chinese officials themselves? Hao Jian, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, has written an essay about the split psychology of Chinese protesters. People know which questions they are allowed to express anger about, and which not, and behave accordingly. But their minds, inside, harbor plenty of anger, and if the partition walls were ever to fall, much would spill out. [Ibid]
The men at the top are very adept at staying there, and doubtlessly are aware of the dangers of this game. To them, stirring up and giving media attention to anti-Japan sentiment is a way to further their psychological engineering of the Chinese public. They know that it carries a risk. But the potential damage to the regime that could come from letting the public concentrate on their power transition, or get a deeper look into how corruption and special privilege work, is even greater. On balance, they may well conclude: Let’s do it! Protect those barren islands!
Relations with China Under Abe
In October 2006, Chinese President Hu and Japanese Prime Minister Abe met in Beijing less than two weeks after taking office. Among the things that were authorized was meeting of Chinese and Japanese historians to narrow the gaps on their perceptions of history. Chinese and Japanese historians met in Match 2007 to resolve some of the historical disputes. There appeared to be a clear understanding that Abe would be welcomed warmly on his visit to China if he discontinued the visits to Yasukuni shrine.
In November 2006, Hu and Abe met in Hanoi at the APEC meeting and agreed to cooperate in persuading North Korea to abandoned its nuclear ambitions, with Hu saying that relations between Japan and China “are improving and have developed.” Japan also reiterated its promise not to pursue nuclear weapons itself and made plans for high level energy talks.
In April 2007, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Japan, the first time a Chinese premier had done so in seven years in what was deemed a successful “ice-melting” trip. Wen went jogging, played baseball and demonstrated tai chi, participated in a tea ceremony, chatted with farmers, and invited the Emperor to the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics. He also talked with officials about substantial issues and issued a joint press statement with Abe in which the Japan and China vowed ro promote high-level economic, military and political dialogue and seek the denuclearization of North Korea.
In a speech before the Japanese parliament, the first by a Chinese Premier since 1983, Wen acknowledged that Japan had apologized for things it had done in World War II and thanked Japan for the development aid and assistance that Japan had given China and made a veiled request to Japanese Prime Minister Abe not to visit Yakusina Shrine. Wen’s visit received a considerable amount of coverage in Japan and back home in China.
Relations with China Under Fukuda and Aso
Chinese President Hu Jintao
visits Japan and meets
the Japanese Emperor Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda visited China in December 2007 and was given a red carpet welcome. Fukuda met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, visited Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and toured a Toyota plant in Tianjin,. Fukuda spent four days in China. The visit took place three months after Fukuda took office. Fukuda’s father was a prime minister
In May 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Japan. Hu held a summit and several meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, and met with opposition leaders, business people and local government officials. He toured Horyuji and Toshodaiji temples, which have historic ties to China, in Nara. At a stop at Waseda University Hu showed off his ping-pong-playing skills.
During Hu’s visit to Japan he talked with the Japanese Emperor while his wife talked with the Japanese Empress and Hu and Fukuda are believed to have reached an agreement in principal on joint development of oil and gas fields in the East China Sea.
It was the first visit in 10 years by Chinese prime minister, Hu and Fukuda signed a joint statement in which they agreed to boost ties and develop their relationship. Historical issues and Tibet were largely avoided. The gas exploration issue in the East China Sea was “close to resolution.” Loaned pandas were promised to Ueno Zoo whose only panda died the previous week. Some Chinese criticized Hu for being too soft.
Hu Jintao politically-risky efforts to improve ties with Japan seem to have come about to large degree as a result of his own initiative. Fukuda and is predecessor Shinzo Abe both put a premium on improving ties with China. Both balked at visiting Yasakuni Shrine and otherwise antagonizing China on historical issues.
In December 2008, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korea President Lee Myung Bak met and agreed to cooperate to respond to “serious challenges” in the global financial markets and deal with North Korea and other issues. It was the first time the leaders of the three countries held a join summit.
Relations with China Under Hatoyama
The Hatoyama government elected in 2009 has made a clear effort to court China in some ways at the expense of the United States. At the first international gathering he attended, a meeting at the United Nations in New York held a days after he elected, Hatoyama sought Chinese leader Hu Jintao as the first leader to meet and ask for his cooperation on the formation of an “East Asian community.” His Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had mentioned excluding the United States from the group. Hatoyama and Hu also promised “to deepen ties” and work together on North Korea and the oil field issues.
In December 2009, DPJ head Ichiro Ozawa went to China, accompanied by 600 people, including 143 DPJ party members, each of whom had his or her photograph taken shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The visit came across as a publicity stunt with no real purpose. Ozawa insisting it was part of the “Great Wall Plan” that he launched when he was a member of the LDP in the 1990s. Around the same time Ozawa drew criticism for putting pressure on the Japanese Emperor to meet the Chinese Vice President in a hastily-prepared meeting.
Japanese and Chinese leaders have agreed to establish centers in major Chinese cities to introduce Japanese energy conservation and environmental technologies, and to train 10,000 Chinese on environmental issues between 2008 and 2011.
Image Sources: 1) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 2) 3) History Wiz 4) 5) 6) 7) University of Texas maps, 8) Getty Images
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012