The Chinese people’s favorability towards Japan has been rising in recent years, while the Japanese people’s favorability towards China has dropped to a new low. In response to this contrast between the sentiments of the people of China and Japan, the new Japanese Ambassador to China, Rehideo, said in an interview with the Chinese media: “I hope that the Chinese side will study the reasons for this situation and how to reverse it. Of course, we are willing to think about it together with the Chinese side, and we can also provide reference opinions if necessary”.
It is completely understandable for the Japanese Ambassador should speak from the standpoint of the Japanese government, and such a speech will not be regarded as “offensive” in China. However, the real reason for the contrast between the two peoples’ sentiments requires objective analysis.
In recent years, the Chinese people’s favorability towards Japan has indeed risen. This is closely related to Japan’s open tourism policy. Many Chinese have the opportunity to see Japan with their own eyes and leave a good impression on Japan’s environment and culture. Chinese media also actively reported, objectively introducing post-war Japan. Especially during this year’s epidemic, the report titled “Mountains and rivers are different, wind and moon are in the same sky” touched many Chinese people. People seem to see a new dawn of improvement of relations between the two countries and look to the future.
In contrast, Japanese media reports on China are not very friendly. In recent years, the topics that have flooded the Japanese media have mostly been “China threat theory” and value based bias. It seems that a rising China has posed a threat to Japan’s “democracy”, “freedom” and national security. Therefore, the Japanese National People’s Congress talked about a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and “Asian version of NATO”. It would appear that if “democracies” do not unite to contain it, the world will be controlled by China’s “hegemony”.
The best material to promote the “China Threat Theory” is the Diaoyu Islands dispute. Regarding this issue, Japan’s basic position can be summarized in three sentences: The island is Japanese territory in history and international law. There is no territorial issue that needs to be resolved between China and Japan, so there can be no question of agreement to set aside disputes. The cruise was an infringement of Japanese territorial waters. As a result of intense propaganda by the Japanese media, these three sentences have come to be deeply rooted in the hearts of the people in Japan and become “myths”, while the evidence of Chinese history and international law has been completely denied.
However, “myths” cannot replace facts, after all. Regarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, it’s not far-fetched to say that it was included in China’s territory at least since its inclusion in the (Qing dynasty) “Imperial Chinese and Foreign Unification Map” published in 1863, in comparison to its incorporation into Okinawa Prefecture 32 years later by Japan’s Meiji government in January 1895. Japan’s “incorporation” violated international law, treating the territories already included in China’s territorial map as “unowned”. It also uses the “San Francisco Peace Treaty” as a basis (for its claim), believing that the post-World War II international treaties recognized the U.S. occupation and its subsequent handing over to Japan. The fact is that Zhou Enlai had solemnly declared less than ten days after the signing of the “San Francisco Peace Treaty”: The treaty is illegal and invalid, so it cannot be recognized. Japan’s seizure of the Diaoyu Islands is only a manifestation of its imperialist expansion policy. For territories seized by violence and greed, the Cairo Declaration stipulates that they should be expropriated. The declaration was confirmed by the Potsdam Proclamation. Article 3 of the 1972 Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration also stipulates that Japan will abide by the Proclamation. This is the chain in international law that Japan should abide by.
Some people in Japan believe that China is currently in a “diplomatic dilemma” and will therefore (be ready to) bend before Japan. So they manipulate public opinion to suppress China’s concessions, ignoring basic facts and evidence. They can’t help but remind people of Xixiang (county)’s relationship with the Qing Dynasty. During the May 2, 1874 negotiations, it was doggedly insisted that the Qing Dynasty had never ruled the Hou mountains of Taiwan. The Qing government provided Japan with more than ten volumes of private documents and Taiwan’s tax bookkeeping. The Japanese representative said, “There is no time to review” and insisted that Taiwan is no man’s land. This is, surprisingly, of a piece with Japan’s current attitude on the Diaoyu Islands issue.
Recently, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Japan. The two sides reached five important consensuses and six specific results. They also talked about China’s position on the Diaoyu Islands issue. The Japanese media did not report on the results of the talks, but hyped up so-called “violence” . Thus, it brought to mind the China-Japan negotiations on the Ryukyu issue in 1878. The negotiator He Ruzhang had condemned Japan’s annexation of Ryukyu, but that is described by the Japanese media as a “violent incident”.
The area of the Diaoyu Islands is only about 4 square kilometers. China and Japan should proceed from the overall situation of regional peace and prosperity, treat territorial disputes rationally, effectively manage crises and not create “myths”, let alone use this matter to instigate hatred and fan emotions.
(The author is the director of the Japan Studies Center of Shanghai International Studies University)