Before the Sendai earthquake on March 11, the public opinion polls in Japan indicated that over 80 percent of Japanese had a negative impression of China and little trust in the Chinese government. This is the reality of the Sino-Japanese relations, despite our efforts to change the situation over several decades.
The overwhelmingly negative opinion of Japanese toward Chinese stems from four points.
First, they think that China always uses historical issues to make troubles with Japan. However, few Japanese can remember that the historical issues, such as Japanese leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, were originally raised in the domestic Japanese political context.
Second, many Japanese think that China tries to grab Japan’s natural gas resource in the East China Sea. However, the gas resource China develops are located in China’s maritime areas, which is 5 kilometers away from Japan’s maritime borders.
The third issue is that the Japanese blame China for attempting to seize the Diaoyu Islands, which they regard as an inherent part of Japanese territory. But any claim it might have had to sovereignty of the islands was lost by Japan at the end of World War II.
The last issue is that the Japanese retain a strong attachment to Taiwan, which they believe is the only pro-Japanese power in East Asia, and are opposed to China’s efforts at reunification.
The Japanese political elite has been using these issues to make trouble between the two countries for a long time, but China’s diplomatic efforts have been patient in return, until the poor diplomacy of the Naoto Kan cabinet over the Diaoyu Islands incident forced China to take stronger measures.
China’s diplomacy to Japan should abide by the Confucian principle, “return evil with justice and return good with good.”
What is the meaning of returning evil with justice? In simple words, we should clear up the facts of the issues mentioned above with the Japanese political elites and ordinary people. We should make full use of the public diplomacy, including guiding public opinion through the media. We should also attempt to use international forums to make our version of the facts clear.
For example, we can call scholars together to hold regular seminars focusing on territorial issues in East Asia, in order to establish a clear historical consensus.
The US has already tried to bring Chinese, Japanese, and American experts together to reach consensus, clear up the historical issues in a multinational platform, and shut down Japanese nationalist arguments.
What is the meaning of returning good with good? In short, it means to help each other. However, it is a kind of mutual help supported by common mechanisms.
For instance, when we provide disaster relief to Japan, excluding essential supplies, some of the cities in China can also invest in some reconstruction project in the sister cities in Japan.
We can also learn from the experiences of the Taiwan affairs office when returning good with good. We can help Japan-funded enterprises and Japanese students through the Sino-Japanese friendship associations. We can even set up a Northeast Asian office and the ASEAN office to deal with the troubles of the people from Northeast Asia and ASEAN before their own consulate handles such issues.
These methods can build a people-centered image of China and improve people’s opinions of the nation.