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Date Posted: 16:56 28/11/2004

China and Japan : No love lost

The majority of Chinese still hate the Japanese, according to a survey.

ROBERT MACNAMARA'S descriptions of the massive fire-bombing of Japanese cities near the close of the Second World War suggest that Japan's hubris has already met its nemesis, that the nation had been punished enough by a campaign that the former Secretary of Defence himself says was a deliberate assault on millions of Japanese civilians. MacNamara, interviewed in the remarkable Oscar-winning documentary, Fog of War, talks about the 'disproportionality' of the strikes, with many of Japan's old cities decimated by the US air force. 100,000 Tokyo civilians over fifty square miles were burnt to death in a single night, MacNamara says, and 58% of Yokohama, 51% of Tokyo, 99% of Toyama and 40% of Nagoya were destroyed by incendiary bombing.

If you add in the unprecedented and unrepeated nuclear attack, one might have thought that Japan has already paid for its crimes during the war, but as far as China is concerned, far more needs to be exacted from the country responsible for the bitter, brutal devastation of Nanjing in 1937 and the rapacious occupation of the eastern coast. It is clearly not enough that an apology of sorts was included in the documents drawn up when diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Beijing were normalized in 1972, or that Japan has bankrolled China's economic growth for the last two decades with soft loans. People on the Chinese street still talk quite openly of revenge.

In a survey on attitudes towards Japan conducted by the China Academy of Social Sciences, 31.2% of respondents said they had no 'feelings of closeness' to Japan, while another 22.4% said that they had absolutely no feelings of closeness to Japan. Among the latter, 61.7% cited the refusal of Japan to acknowledge and denounce their activities during the invasion of China as the main reason. Some respondents said that the Japanese were prejudiced towards or looked down upon the Chinese. One said that the Japanese were 'despicable' because they had not yet 'lowered their head to acknowledge their crimes'.

At the meeting between Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Koizumi at the APEC summit in Santiago on November 21, Hu said that the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the remains of a number of convicted war criminals are buried, were at the heart of the conflict between the two countries, and that history could not be glossed over if the Sino-Japan relationship was to be strengthened. 'Use history as a warning to face the future' was the principle, according to a Xinhua report. He said that both countries had a great responsibility towards the peaceful development of Asia and the rest of the world, that both countries had many common interests, and that friendly cooperation between the two neighbours was of critical importance. Still, 'only the accurate handling of history can merge historical burdens into a driving force for the future', he said.

'The cause of the difficulties between the governments of the two countries is the problem of the Japanese leadership visiting the Yasukuni Shrine,' he said. 'We hope the Japanese leadership can deal with this matter appropriately. The longer this is delayed, the more it will hurt the feelings of the people in victim countries, including China, and go against the improvement and development of the relationship between the two countries.'

Koizumi, for his part, has said that he 'understands' the Chinese position, that China understands his, and that discussions about Yasukuni were not productive.

Meanwhile, the Chinese press continues to salivate over the tales of a Japanese right-wing author being sued in absentia in Nanjing courts, or of victim groups going to the courts in Chiba to claim that Koizumi's visit to the shrine is actually a violation of the Japanese constitution. It gets hot under the collar about entries in a Japanese-Chinese dictionary believed to be an insult to China. Japanese advertisements are immediately chastised for images perceived to disrespect the Chinese, and Japanese students are hounded out of a university in Xi'an. Protestors in Beijing or on the disputed Senkaku islands are given a surprising degree of leeway by the normally Draconian police authorities.

Some suggest that the role of the Communist Party in the repulsion of the Japanese occupation is the only claim to legitimacy that the present government can make. After all, its ideology has unravelled and the role of Chairman Mao in the post-war 'errors' of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution has been enshrined in official Party history, leaving only his triumphant reunification of the nation in 1949 in his list of achievements. As a consequence, anti-Japanese sentiments are tacitly approved as the only way of binding the nation behind the leadership.

Japan has, it must be said, been showing a much more confrontational attitude towards China in recent years, seizing the initiative on the proposed oil pipeline from Siberia to the far eastern Russian coast, and sending spy planes to the natural gas fields in the East China Sea, close to the disputed maritime delimitation between the two nations. It is also showing greater resolve in its claims to the Senkaku islands.

The Japanese government is even giving voice to the idea that China might attack Japan, a theory that was only reinforced by the recent incursion into Japanese waters by a Chinese nuclear submarine. China, in turn, accused Japan of resurrecting 'Cold War thinking'.

Some say that China has finally become strong enough to seek its own vengeance for the crimes of Nanjing and elsewhere. Nations, it seems, never forget. The decline of Japan as a regional economic power, combined with China's apparently inexorable rise, will never quite satisfy some of the more bloodthirsty anti-Japanese activists in China's universities, but one hopes it suffices for the government itself.

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