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Neighborly Relations, China and Japan

As history enters the year of 2003, the relationship between China and Japan has experienced frequent ups and downs at non-governmental levels. According to an article published in a recent issue of China News Week, it seems that Sino-Japanese relations are again stepping into an uncertain and delicate phase at the people-to-people level.

On August 4, 2003, a mustard gas accident happened in Qiqihar in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, causing one death and dozens of injuries of innocent Chinese citizens. It was a crime committed by chemical weapons left over from the invading Japanese army during World War II.

On September 18 of the same year, a group of Japanese tourists hired hundreds of prostitutes for an orgy in a hotel in the coastal city of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, on the sensitive eve of the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese occupation of China's northeast in 1931. Again, this deeply hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

In the meantime, millions of angry Chinese netizens opposed importing Japanese bullet trains via the Internet due to their anger against Japan.

In October, the publicly distasteful performances of some Japanese teachers and students angered thousands of students in Northwest University in Xi'an, who marched to the provincial government office building to protest.

As mentioned in the article, these incidents had been the focus of the Chinese media for quite a while and part of people's daily conversation across the country. If they were not Japan-related, could these issues have raised such a strong reaction, the China News Week article asks.

Usually, the Chinese government plays a dominative role in foreign affairs, yet, Sino-Japanese relations seem to be the exception, in which the non-governmental force has played an important part and had an impact on the government.

The reason why Sino-Japanese relations are so sensitive lies in the war between the two countries when Japan was the invader.

Recent years have witnessed dramatic changes in both China and Japan. The most significant is China's rapid economic development and dramatic increase of national power. Could this be the cause that stimulates some Japanese to mouth improperly, which, in return, invites strong reaction from the Chinese side?
At the beginning of this year, the article points out, some scholars from both China and Japan suggested there be "a new way of thinking" to handle Sino-Japanese relations, which aroused fierce dispute. Whether this "new thinking" is right or wrong, it is too early to judge. Yet the co-existence of a rising China and a strong Japan in Asia is a foreseeable future.

During an international conference held in Seoul at the end of October, a non-governmental think tank from Japan said that China, Japan and South Korea should work hard to wipe out barriers in Northeast Asia and move towards an ideal direction of using the same language and currency in the area on the basis of a shared Confucian culture. However, scholars from both China and South Korea pointed out that such a dream must be first based on mutual trust, the article reports.

It will be a beautiful picture that a regional economic identity emerges in Northeast Asia where the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean people flow freely and work together for common prosperity, comments the article.

It says that even though at the moment China and Japan haven't reached consensus in some issues, all rational citizens in both countries should treat incidents coolly and with a forward outlook. On the one hand, history should not be forgotten; on the other, bilateral relations should not be blocked by what happened in history.

(China.org.cn by Zheng Guihong and Daragh Moller, November 23, 2003)


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