Japan from the inside out

Japan looks at China looking at Japan on the Senkaku Islets

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

THERE’S A REASON that Rashomon, Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s literary montage, is considered a classic in world literature, and the film version created by Kurosawa Akira starring Mifune Toshiro is rated by some critics as one the five best non-American movies ever made. It’s the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife from the perspectives of four people. The four accounts differ so greatly the reader or viewer wonders if they’re describing the same incident. I read the English translation long ago when I first became interested in Japan, and I’m still in awe of its conception and execution today.

That’s a good approach to keep in mind while reading the following accounts of Japanese examining the events of the past month from the Chinese perspective. They don’t necessarily agree with or support the Chinese position–they’re just trying to make sense of it.

Diamond On-Line #1

Diamond is a weekly magazine that focuses on business and economic affairs. They published an article on line last week that brings together views from people in business circles in China.

One Chinese man identified as Mr. B is said to be “familiar with the circumstances” of the situation. Mr. B thinks it’s significant that the arrested trawler captain never said anything about the incident while in custody, except that he didn’t ram the Japanese ships on purpose:

“It’s unnatural for an ordinary fishing vessel to enter this sensitive territory on the initiative of the captain. It’s also inconceivable that an ordinary fisherman would ram a Japanese ship.”

Offering the disclaimer that it’s only speculation on his part, Mr. B. adds:

“Remember that government officials created the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005. The majority of the demonstrators in Shanghai were not only students but employees of state-owned corporations. Participants received 500 yuan for joining the demonstrations, and were rewarded with 1,000 yuan if they were particularly rowdy. It’s possible that the government was behind the incident and created the scenario that the captain was acting on his own.”

There is also speculation in the article that the government used the territorial issue as a way to “let the gas out” of popular discontent.

Mr. C., identified as an advisor to Japanese-affiliated companies in Shanghai, refers to recent reports in China of a series of suicides by self-immolation. Some of these occurred in Shanxi and Anhui provinces as protests against the government after the people involved were forcibly evicted from their homes. It’s been widely reported, even in the West, that the real estate market in Shanghai “has gone crazy”, and Mr. C. says the real estate bubble is about to get just as weird in regional cities as well. One of the leading sources of dissatisfaction on the Net in China concerns housing problems.

He also thinks that anti-Japanese sentiment among the population is not as strong as it once was. As an example, he cites the popularity among the Chinese of the Japanese exhibit at the Shanghai World’s Fair.

Mr. C. thinks people are beginning to realize that the Japanese are not riben guizi (日本鬼子), or demons, after all. The term is derived from a work of fiction by Liao Zhai Zhi Yi in the 17th century. It was originally applied to Westerners, but transferred to Japanese after the first war with Japan. People nowadays understand that the term guizi alone refers to Japanese.

More Chinese are traveling abroad, however, and many of them are visiting Japan. (There was a 57% year-on-year increase in Chinese tourists to Japan in August alone, and there’s been a sharp increase in the number of cruise ships calling on Japanese ports in the past two years, particularly at the Port of Hakata in Fukuoka City.) In other words, the so-called patriotic education that depicted Japanese as savage brutes is wearing off through personal contact with the Japanese themselves.

Mr. C. refers to the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 18 September, the anniversary of the Mukden Incident. Considering that the anniversary fell this year when the incident in the Senkakus was still unresolved, the demonstrations might have been large, noisy, and violent. Attendance was down, however, and the participants were relatively subdued. (There were no demonstrations at the Japanese pavilion, and it still remains popular among the Chinese.) Mr. C. suggests this shows the “patriotism” inculcated by older textbooks is not the motivator it once was. He also says the regime finds this troubling.

Diamond On-Line #2

A second article in the same publication focused on the Chinese view of Japanese politics.

Chinese observers thought it odd that Prime Minister Kan Naoto brought up the issue of “territorial waters” and challenger Ozawa Ichiro referred to the Senkaku islets on the same day—5 September—during the campaign for DPJ president. That both Mr. Kan and Mr. Ozawa in particular favor closer ties with China further heightened their interest.

The next day, the DPJ campaign rhetoric was the lead story in the Global Times (affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party). It included a photo of the two pols and this headline on the front page:

Japan’s Democratic Party Political Titans Seek Votes with China Bashing

The day after that, the Chinese trawler rammed the Japanese Coast Guard ships and the captain was arrested.

His detention was extended on 9 September, and 10 September the Japanese Defense Ministry released a White Paper describing plans to beef up the defense of the southwestern islands, which include the Senkakus.

Some in China’s leadership circles think the ship’s captain was used as a pawn to secure the presence of American bases, which in turn was used to win the DPJ presidential election. The idea was to employ the China threat as a strategy to gain support for a strong military buildup.

According to this article, the Chinese filed diplomatic protests over the captain’s arrest, and kept moving higher up the chain of authority, but never received a response from the Japanese government. Meanwhile, the Japanese mass media was steadily bashing China. Some thought the media’s treatment of State Council members was “extremely rude”. The whole series of events struck the Chinese as having been orchestrated.

Meanwhile, the Chinese netroots were livid, charging that China had fallen into a Japanese trap and that the country “had gotten its face muddied”. The flames on the Net were fanned with translations of Japanese-language newspaper articles as soon as they were published. The translators made sure to present only those segments that would further enrage Chinese readers while eliminating the reasonable parts.

Thus, the story goes, Chinese leaders thought they had to take strong action lest public anger spin out of control.

Toshikawa Takao, Gendai Business

Writing for the Gendai Business site, Mr. Toshikawa focused on the political power struggle in China. President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to hand over control to their successors at the 2012 party conference. Xi Jinping, the current deputy chairman of the party, is likely to replace Mr. Hu. He is jockeying for position, however, with Li Keqiang, who has the title of executive vice-premier and is the 7th-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Mr. Li is Wen Jiabao’s top lieutenant, and it is assumed he will be Mr. Wen’s successor.

However, goes the theory, some in the conservative wing of the party, represented by former leader Jiang Zemin, think China’s attitude toward Japan and the U.S. is weak-kneed. Mr. Xi is seen as a Jiang ally, and Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen are thought to be more open to Japan and the U.S. According to this theory, they had to take strong action to fend off criticism from the hardliners.

Mr. Toshikawa also says there has been an enormous amount of criticism of the government on Chinese websites, with many posters claiming the affair was a “total defeat” for the following reasons:

  1. Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji met with American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who confirmed that the Senkakus are Japanese territory and covered under the Security Treaty.
  2. The affair fans anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan.
  3. China did not send the Japanese ambassador home or suspend diplomatic relations even though Japan infringed on Chinese territory.
  4. China did not receive an apology or reparations.

He further notes the military hardliners are just as unhappy with the way things turned out and refers to previous rumors that Mr. Hu does not have their complete support. He thinks this might result in Chinese military exercises in the area in the near term.

Itagaki Eiken

Mr. Itagaki is a freelance journalist who once covered the Prime Minister’s office for the Mainichi Shimbun. It’s best to read his website postings with a full shaker of salt—he seems to think that the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers run the world—but he also clearly has connections with the Ozawa Ichiro camp. That makes his posts worth reading, while keeping in mind they might contain as much disinformation as information.

Mr. Itagaki also brings up the power struggle in the Chinese leadership. He identifies both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as friendly to Japan, but Xi Jinping as a hardliner influenced by the official anti-Japanese education curriculum. Li Keqiang is aligned with Mr. Hu and supported by Mr. Wen, and Mr. Xi wants to dump him. According to Mr. Itagaki, both Hu and Wen moved against Japan to shore up their own position and that of Mr. Li. Since they both favored Ozawa Ichiro in the DPJ election, they found it easier to make life difficult for Kan Naoto, the winner.

Mr. Itagaki then brings up a 25 September editorial in the Asahi Shimbun that criticized the Japanese ruling party for its conduct of politics and diplomacy. He quoted this passage:

What the DPJ government lacks most of all is a channel of communication between politicians of both countries for frank discussion before things get out of hand. One must be built immediately.

He thought this was a pointless thing to say, not only because ties between politicians of different countries aren’t built in a day, but also because there shouldn’t be a need for the DPJ to create a pipeline to the Chinese government to begin with. Ozawa Ichiro already has a “thick” pipeline connected to the highest levels of government. It is, says Mr. Itagaki, as if Ozawa Ichiro is no longer considered to be a member of the DPJ.

He also suggests that Mr. Ozawa is relieved he didn’t have to intervene because he has personal ties with both Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. He has stayed at Li Keqiang’s home at the latter’s invitation, and his ham-handed insistence on bypassing the usual protocol with the Tenno (Emperor) to get an audience for Xi Jingping caused an uproar in Japan last winter. Mr. Ozawa doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of a Chinese political dispute.

Mr. Itagaki might have a point. Events might have turned out differently had Mr. Ozawa won the election, or had Mr. Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito been willing to put aside their dislike and mistrust of the man and asked him to serve as an emissary. Then again, it might have been better not to involve him at all. Who knows what deals he might have tried to cook up on his own had he been sent to Beijing, and how he might have used them to his own advantage in Japan?

He might have another point. It does seem as if Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the DPJ any more.

Afterwords: Isn’t it interesting that the Western media always finds the content of Japanese textbooks to be a worthwhile topic, yet seldom has time for Chinese textbooks?

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4 Responses to “Japan looks at China looking at Japan on the Senkaku Islets”

  1. khawlin said

    At some point you have to stop blaming the sharks for biting when you decide to stay in the water bleeding. Surrounded by sharks Japan instead has evolved into a gentle herbivorous dugong, and cannot understand why it gets no respect. The only thing such herbivores can stand up to is Paris Hilton.

    Instead I wonder why other regional sharks haven’t decided to take a bite as well.

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man said
    Thanks for this.

    – A.

  3. aragoto said

    Minor point, but the Akutagawa story is Yabu no naka; the film borrows the story and title of Rashomon to frame the story that plays out in the former piece. (It’s also where the phrase Shinsou ha yabu no naka originated, I believe.)

    It’s interesting to hear that at least in some quarters the Chinese populace thinks its leaders botched its response as badly as most of Japan thinks the DPJ did.

  4. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Simple, “biased” from viewpoints of some(but how so?) yet concise.

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