23/Feb/06
@Make up with Japan
@
Fei-Ling Wang

Few nations are culturally so similar yet have disliked each other so deeply and so long as China and Japan. As the Chinese proverb goes, "Two tigers cannot live on the same hill." Mutual respect based on equality and understanding is sorely lacking in both China and Japan, a situation that could destine them to a violent showdown.

Fortunately, there is also reason to hope that the two great nations could manage to share the same hill in peace in the future with a few simple gestures that would carry a lot of weight.

For now, though, the Chinese and the Japanese are increasingly at odds. Chinese-bashing books are on prominent display in Japanese bookstores; one survey this year found that China was second only to North Korea as Japanese respondents' least-liked country.

In China, respondents to opinion polls for many years have ranked Japan as their most disliked country by far. Indeed, anti-Japan feelings are so strong that the Japanese are customarily referred to as "little devils" (as opposed to just "devils" for other detested foreigners). Studies of Internet postings in China show that Japan is by far the No. 1 target for criticisms and hatred. All these elements, of course, cumulated in the outburst of anti-Japanese sentiment in April in Chinese cities that left considerable Japanese property and the Chinese image in ruins.

There are many probable causes for this discord: the pivotal role of America after World War II; the substantial gaps between a developed, Westernized Japan and a developing, authoritarian China; disputes over uninhabited islets and seabed resources; the unresolved issue of Taiwan; and the deliberate use of anti-Japanese or anti-Chinese rhetoric by politicians.

But there is also China and Japan's history of each viewing itself as proudly superior to the other. In centuries past, the two lived in peace only because they were separated by the sea, self-imposed isolation or external forces, or when the imbalance of power meant that there really was only one tiger on the hill.

Sharing a cultural tradition but also a mutually exclusive sense of superiority has led many on both sides to harbor the instincts of predators; hence the seemingly irrational suspicions and arrogance, stubborn lack of repentance and forgiveness, and unfounded fear and hatred that poison the relationship today.

How can the two countries avoid the confrontation that such a mutual dislike could produce? Japan is now a democratic, prosperous, and diversified society, secured and constrained by a stable alliance with the world's lone superpower. Its once rampant predatory instincts and madness are now by no means the dominant national character, as many Japanese are selflessly and relentlessly working to overcome the past and befriend the Chinese.

The Japanese, however, still have to truly conclude World War II with their neighbors and with themselves. They need to discard the pretension that everyone was an equal victim during that war. Japan must face up to its past deeds before it can rightfully assert its hard-earned leadership in Asia and beyond.

Thus, the Yasukuni Shrine either needs to cease being Japan's official memorial for its war dead, or the war criminals enshrined there must be moved out. Japanese schools need to teach more about the horrors the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted on their neighbors instead of simply commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As many Japanese have concluded themselves, Japan cannot live in peace without coming to terms with history.

As for China, its manipulated and distorted teaching of history may have served Beijing's political interests, but it is breeding an angry and hungry tiger out of the misled Chinese youth. Indeed, much of the problem between China and Japan now, in the words of some Tokyo-based Chinese scholars and activists, is the problem between the Chinese government and the Chinese people.

Today's Japan is what China should and can aspire to become: a rich and sophisticated giant transformed by great internal and external constraints for peace. The danger, however, is that China may become the Japan that was 60 years ago: a mighty, single-minded predatory tiger, fed by the provocations and macho gestures of the Japanese far right. While now many Japanese are self-conscious and even ashamed of their past acts, many Chinese are indoctrinated to dream of a restoration of former imperial glory, of a time when China was the power center of the known world and Japan was a peripheral player.

Unless Beijing and Tokyo overcome their mutual impertinence and suspicion, and cease to behave like predators toward each other, the United States, like it or not, may need to separate the two tigers.

IHT Copyright@ 2005 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2005

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Fei-Ling Wang
A@professor of international affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.