By Norimitsu Onishi and Howard W. French The New York Times
TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2005
KURE, Japan Never before has East Asia had to contend with a strong China and a strong Japan at the same time, and the prospect feeds paranoia and hostility in both countries.
China has experienced 25 years of extraordinary economic growth, deeply extending its influence throughout Asia. But just when China’s moment in the sun seems to be arriving, Japan is asserting itself: seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; transforming its Self-Defense Forces into a real military; and revising its constitution, which currently renounces war.
Complicating a relationship that has never been friendly, both countries are encouraging nationalism for their own political purposes – China to shore up loyalty as Marxist ideology fades and Japan to overcome long-held taboos against expanding its military.
Here in Kure, a Yamato Museum recently opened, in honor of a battleship that was sunk on a suicide mission in World War II. In China, no less than 60 films are being released to mark the 60th anniversary of the war.
Chinese and Japanese find themselves playing out old grievances in a new era of direct rivalry for power and influence.
“On the one hand, we have a victim’s mentality, and on the other we don’t see this much smaller country as being worthy of comparison with us,” said Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Nankai University in Tianjin. “The reality is that they must accept the idea of China as a rising military power, and we must accept the idea of Japan becoming a normal nation, whether we like it or not.”
To Japanese conservatives, becoming a normal nation amounts to a revision of the U.S.-imposed “peace constitution.” They say that the constitution castrated – a term they use frequently – Japan.
Arguing that Japan must draw closer to the United States, the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japanese troops in Iraq and has reversed a longtime ban on the export of arms to join the American missile defense shield.
The conservative news media have helped demonize North Korea and China. Sankei Shimbun, the country’s most conservative daily, recently ran a series about China called “The Threatening Superpower.”
Recent polls show that an increasing percentage of Japanese favor a revision of the constitution.
Hiromu Nonaka, 79, a former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party who retired a year ago, said the present situation reminded him of prewar Japan, when politicians manipulated public opinion to rouse nationalism through such slogans as “Destroy the brute Americans and British.”
In China there is still a chicken-and-egg debate about the origins of the country’s anti-Japanese sentiment, which boiled over in late April with mass protests in several Chinese cities. For China’s anti-Japan activists, however, just beneath their anger at Japan lies anger toward their own government. Many say their government has sold out to Japan, failing, for example, to support citizens’ lawsuits demanding compensation for Japanese wartime atrocities.
“When the two countries re-established relations, the Chinese side gave up compensation for the war, and today the people demanding this are being treated like dissidents in China,” said Feng Jinhua, a leader of an anti-Japanese group, the Patriots Alliance Web, and a former exchange student in Japan.
Feng’s Patriots Alliance and some other groups have gathered as many as 40 million Chinese signatures online demanding that Japan be denied a seat on the Security Council.
Others go even further, stating their resentment in ways that could threaten the Chinese government. “The Japanese invasion cost us a huge amount in terms of development,” said a student at Shanghai’s elite Fudan University. “Without it, we would never have had a Communist government, and we would be much richer today.”
If China’s current youth were shaped by an anti-Japanese patriotic education, efforts to mold Japan’s youth have been intensifying.
In Tokyo, 291 teachers have been reprimanded, some dismissed, in the last year for refusing to stand before the rising-sun flag at school ceremonies and sing Japan’s national anthem, “Kimigayo,” or “His Majesty’s Reign,” both considered symbols of Japanese imperialism by most Asians and some Japanese.
Nationwide, the recently approved junior high school history textbooks that gloss over Japan’s wartime conduct are part of a larger effort by conservative politicians and news outlets, with a violent right lurking in the background, to stifle dissenting opinions.
Copyright The International Herald Tribune