July 1, 2002｜China
Professor, Rikkyo University, College of Law & Politics
In the aftermath of the desperate dash by asylum seekers from the DPRK into the Consulate General of Japan in Shenyang, the media, including newspapers, magazines and TV, was flooded with commentators eager to spout their opinions. Most of the argument strongly criticized the slackness of the Foreign Ministry and Consulate General, the government’s weak-kneed attitude towards China and the infringement of Japanese sovereignty by the Chinese. I wonder what impression the readers of this column received when they encountered these pronouncements? I am one of those who felt distinctly uneasy about the appropriateness of these skewed arguments and am grieved by the current state of Japan.
The tone of the criticism of the Foreign Ministry and China was set when footage of the incident was repeatedly televised afterwards. However, based on my own experience of being interviewed by reporters, the underlying inclination towards bashing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and China was already clear before the existence of the video came to light. Criticism focused on the vice-consul’s actions in picking up a hat, but in that situation, it was impossible for him to understand the whole situation instantly, protecting the asylum seekers and remonstrating with the policemen who made the incursion onto consulate premises. I wonder whether, had the scenes on TV taken place in another country, such as Mongolia or Singapore, comments such as “weak-kneed” would have been made. Watching the video, the armed policemen indeed took a few steps into the premises, but I do not believe that this merits all the raised eyebrows. In the first place, since a consulate general differs from an embassy in the eyes of international law, claiming that this “infringes sovereignty” is a purely erroneous argument. *
The media, which spread unsubstantiated and emotional assertions, bears heavy responsibility for this. With headlines that included “Japan Loses Its Sovereignty; China Ignores It”, “An Affliction Called MOFA”, “Arouse the Japanese Spirit!”, “Shenyang Incident Humiliation”, as well as “Denouncing the Traitor Hiromu Nonaka’s Diplomacy Towards China”, “Commit Hara-Kiri, Ambassador Anami!” and “Why Won’t We Put That Turbulent Country In Its Place?”, general-interest magazines seem to have taken leave of their senses. Almost all of the content of these articles is irresponsible prejudice bandied about by the writers in a decisive style, and is utterly unreadable. And yet, people actually buy such magazines these days. This is an upsurge of extreme nationalism in the form of an ignoble catharsis aimed at purging the sense of impotence engendered by the prolonged economic slump. The media, being devoted to commercialism, has fanned the flames of the Japanese people’s infantile anti-China mentality, which is rooted in the complex they have regarding China. While I believe that the silent majority are blessed with sound common sense, I cannot help but be deeply concerned about the current situation in which there is a tendency to close our eyes to the complicated truth and readily accept irrational views that simplify right and wrong.
If we consider the situation in a level-headed manner, it is obvious that the people of both countries will benefit from a closer relationship between Japan and China. Economic exchange has deepened and broadened. However, the major problem is that the populations of the two countries are increasingly getting their wires crossed emotionally. Nothing can be done to reverse this situation, other than undertaking continuous down-to-earth interaction. We should strive to achieve this, keeping in mind the maxim that from little acorns do mighty oaks grow, and not dismiss it as a Sisyphean task.
[Translated by ERINA]