March 1, 2008｜China
Deputy Director, China Business Development Office, Mitsubishi Corporation
With runaway growth of the economy, the advance of internationalization, and the debate on decoupling, China is increasingly strengthening its profile as an economic powerhouse. With India and Russia also continuing to increase their presence, interest in the relative decline of the United States is heightening.
Amid this, for some reason Japan’s stance vis-à-vis China has not come into view.
Up to the 1980s, no matter how much “Japan–China friendship” was to the fore, the debate in Japan relating to China, whether on politics or on economics, was mostly on bilateral issues. In whatever form of exchange—diplomacy, economics, and culture—professionals who could understand Chinese were enormously active, and seen from the Chinese side also, interpreters of Japanese possessed great influence. Therefore for ordinary members of society in Japan there was the impression of China being the same old unique and closed country. With the Tiananmen Square protests, however, while exposing the contradictions in political society and systems, China has moved forward and with the impetus from accession to the WTO in 2001, before anyone knew it, seemed to have leapt to the center stage of international economics. Through television and books there has been a deluge of information connected to China, and a psychology has come into existence of “Nowadays we are going to be overtaken by China or have been overtaken”, and China’s might has come to be sensed as a threat.
On the ground in China, what I was keenly aware of was the plain fact that “China is not oriented toward Japan only”. The opportunities for Chinese people to get to know Japan and the weight which Japan has for China are becoming relatively small. By contrast, in Japan there is an overabundance of information on China through the media, and anti-Japanese acts and negative phenomena recur the more easily. In the 1980s, immediately following the opening up to the outside world, Japan’s influence was great in the take-off stage of economic development, and in the limited information Japan’s presence was large. Subsequently, however, China steadily and in dignified fashion developed exchange activities with the outside world, and the government has also grown able to develop active reciprocal visits of leaders in line with this. The staff of government agencies concerned with Asia have, as in the past, grown impatient to make Japan-only partners. I have also heard lamentations from people at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that channels to Japan have grown narrower. That is comparable to the end of the last century from the eve of the restoration of diplomatic relations. This is despite the volume of exchange itself having greatly increased. The governments of both countries have also realized this, have stated their active support for reciprocal youth exchanges, and as part of a contribution to local society, Japanese enterprises which encourage this have increased in number.
Both sides must avoid the situation where only temporary and one-off phenomena are seized on and people are manipulated by inflammatory words and actions. This is not intended to malign the media industry, yet relaying the facts should be their appointed task, and wouldn’t the result be to not give exaggerated and biased impressions to the audience?
I have no intention of toadying up to and defending China, and no intention of debating in terms of good or bad. But is it a good thing to judge relations via arguments of relative matters such as “have overtaken or have been overtaken”, “good or bad”, and “a sense of superiority or a sense of inferiority”? We are in a period for considering afresh how to engage one another, mutually acknowledging our reciprocal national interests and positions in a world which is growing more complex. In this year’s case of pesticide-contaminated gyoza [dumplings] also, I hope that, even while reciprocally asserting their viewpoints, the authorities on both sides will make efforts to elucidate the facts in a detached manner.
Only for the reason that it is a nearby country, I wish that discussions don’t turn into mutually disingenuous ones.