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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 22, 2005


China's anti-Japan protests bring backlash

By Richard Halloran

TOKYO — The Law of Unintended Consequences has been operative once again, this time in the intense Japanese reaction to several weeks of Chinese demonstrations against Japan, some of them violent. In a word, the eruption in China has backfired in Japan.

Ten days of conversations with Japanese government officials, diplomats, business executives, military officers, scholars, journalists and private citizens in Tokyo and Kyoto have turned up a deep-seated anger against China that is likely to be long-lasting.

Moreover, many Japanese have added a disdain for South Korea due to what they see as Seoul's echo of China's anti-Japanese posture, always an easy position for Koreans to take because of Japan's 35-year occupation of Korea that ended in 1945. Said a Japanese diplomat with a wave of his hand: "They have gone over to the Chinese side."

For the United States, the antagonism between China and South Korea on one side and Japan on the other has confronted the Bush administration with a dangerous dispute that could corrode U.S. power in East Asia if the antagonism gets much worse.

A Chinese boy brandishes a toy gun with an anti-Japanese slogan during a rally in Beijing's Haidian district on April 9. Protesters threw rocks and bottles at the Japanese Embassy after a march by more than 6,000 demanding a boycott of Japanese goods.

Advertiser library photo • April 9, 2005

So far, the administration, consumed with the war in Iraq, seems to have ignored the issue even though Washington has security treaties with Japan and South Korea, and has been seeking working relations with China to cope with North Korea's nuclear ambitions and to assist in the war on terror.

The China question is pervasive here. The press and television news have been filled with discussions of how Japan should respond. The popular weekly news magazines have carried a flock of special reports and almost every conversation, no matter how casual, quickly turns to China's anti-Japanese stance.

Even a sushi chef in Kyoto got into an animated discussion late one evening after most of his customers had left. "All of the anti-Japanese uprising in China," he said, "does not serve the interests of either China or South Korea or Japan."

Many Japanese thought they could do nothing to persuade the Chinese and Koreans to relent. They pointed to 18 or 20 apologies for World War II, including the recent one by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and to $30 billion in economic aid that has helped to build China's industrial infrastructure.

Japan has extended similar aid to South Korea but has failed to get credit for it in either case. Now the Japanese seem to have given up. "No matter what we do," is a common refrain, "the Chinese and Koreans will always demand more."

Said a diplomat: "The Chinese and Koreans have been educating their people for more than a generation to hate Japan. It will take another generation to undo that."

The protests, including rock-throwing assaults on the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, evidently were intended to intimidate Japan into diplomatic submission. Instead, the Japanese have become defiant. Said a musician: "Among my friends, the general feeling is 'Enough is enough.' "

Chinese protesters in April and early May carried placards demanding that Japanese reflect on their invasion of China during World War II. Instead, the Japanese asserted that the Chinese themselves were guilty of millions of deaths during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s.

The protests, encouraged by the Chinese government, were intended to force Japan to give up its campaign to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Instead, Japan is seeking international support. India, Germany, Brazil and Japan have jointly asked to enter the inner circle of the Security Council, which complicates China's opposition.

The Chinese rallies, during which the police did not intervene, were intended to drive a wedge between Japan and America. Instead, said another Japanese diplomat: "We must do everything we can to strengthen our alliance with the United States."

The Chinese intended to dissuade Japan from building up its armed forces and becoming a "normal nation." Instead, they have accelerated moves to revise the famed Article 9 of the Constitution, the "no-war clause" that forbids Japan from using military power.

China intended to dampen speculation that Japan, alarmed by North Korea's nuclear ambitions, might go nuclear. "I don't believe we should have nuclear arms," said a scholar, "but we should consider it."

Some Japanese said the way to prevent Japan from acquiring nuclear arms would be for the United States to reiterate its commitment to Japan's defense, including an explicit pledge to retaliate if Japan is attacked with a nuclear weapon. To be effective, said a strategic thinker, such a pledge should come from President Bush.

Richard Halloran is a Honolulu-based journalist and former New York Times correspondent in Asia.