Let's Be High-Minded Modern People
by Yoichi Funabashi
This summer, I met a number of Chinese officials and business people in Shanghai and Beijing who are well-versed in Japanese affairs. Here's what some of them said:
"China is about to acquire reflexes not to make China-US relations worse than they are from a strategic viewpoint and is learning to be patient. But China-Japan relations show no signs of maturing. I'm worried that they could fall into a bottomless pit," said a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official.
"China went too far in promoting patriotic education during the 1990s. We should have taught the people to be more internationally-minded. In this regard, we have a lot to learn from Japan. Take, for example, Japanese official development assistance. Projects like digging wells in African villages may not attract a lot of attention but they are meaningful," said a think tank researcher.
Watching the bad manners of Chinese supporters at the recent soccer match, young Japanese must have developed cultural contempt for China. That's probably how the Japanese regarded the Qing Dynasty during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). It makes me sad and afraid," said a manager of a sports marketing firm who studied and worked in Japan.
Never before have I heard Chinese intellectuals voice such self-reflective views about Japan-China relations.
China and Japan normalized their diplomatic relations in 1972. However, relations started to drift in the early 1990s and stumbled in 1995. China conducted a nuclear test, making Japan suspend yen loans as an act of protest, which in turn triggered the rise of an anti-Japanese movement in China. In other words, they fell into a vicious cycle.
Chinese president Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan in 1998 further strained relations. Jiang demanded that Japan give China a written apology for its past acts of aggression and brutality, but Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi refused.
In a Japan-South Korea summit held just before Jiang's visit, Japan apologized to South Korea in writing. Jiang was angry that Japan's refusal made him lose face.
In 2001, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi started his annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which led to China's protests. Now the situation is so strained that leaders of the two countries cannot even freely visit each other.
Even though Japan and China normalized relations, they failed to create a process of reconciliation and overcome the problem of history. As a result, relations became shaky. That is the big difference between Japan's relations with South Korea and China.
At the same time, however, China appears to sense the need to create a process for reconciliation. A researcher at a Shanghai think tank said: "The German-French model offers a lesson for Japan and China to overcome their history problem. But we can learn from the Japan - South Korea reconciliation summit, the cohosting of world Cup soccer and cultural exchanges.
Both Japan and China can look at possibilities for reconciliation while advancing Northeast Asia regional cooperation.
In advancing such initiatives, we must not forget that China had a leader who seriously worked at reconciling Japan and China. This person was former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Yaobang, who aimed for political reform and was ousted. In my view, no postwar Chinese politician had a higher opinion of Japan's postwar peaceful development nor made a greater effort to seek cooperation with Japan than Hu.
I have a fond memory about Hu that goes back about a quarter century when I was a correspondent in Beijing. In May 1980, Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng left Beijing airport to attend the funeral of Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito.
I went to the airport in the early morning to cover Hua's departure. Back then, reporters were allowed to go near dignitaries who were seeing off the leader on the apron. Among them was Hu, who had just been appointed general secretary. He smiled and nodded at us.
After the aircraft took off, we entered the empty airport building. Unexpectedly, Hu turned to me and two other young Japanese reporters and beckoned us. "Are you free now? Why don't we chat for a while?" he said. We sat on a sofa and listened to Hu speaking of his dreams about an exchange program of Japanese and Chinese youths.
In 1986, Hu and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the Japan-China youth exchange center in Beijing and gave the following speech: "Historically, not a few people were possessed by narrow-minded patriotism and fell into wrongful nationalism. Chinese and Japanese youth should draw wisdom from history. I encourage them to train themselves to become high-minded modern people who possess patriotic passion and an international spirit."
Political leaders of both Japan and China should ponder afresh the significance of these words.
The Japanese side should accept the speech as a warning against anti-Chinese sentiments and bravado spreading in Japan. Japan should get together with China to create an environment that allows China to advance its new diplomacy to promote Japan-China cooperation.
Why not join hands to start a historic reconciliation process? The two countries need to build up confidence and reconcile through a chain of "high-minded modern people." Let us start the initiative next year, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2.
To advance such a grand vision along with national interests, the prime minister should clearly express his determination not to visit Yasukuni Shrine.