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Japan's Playing of Ideological Cards Harms Ties with China
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China-Japan relations ended on a cold note last year; to be exact, the coldest since the two nations normalized diplomatic relations.


The tip of the iceberg seems to be Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, flying in the face of strong protest from China.


The hard line the Koizumi administration has been taking has driven a wedge between the two countries.


The recent actions of the Japanese media and the Koizumi cabinet need to be heeded.


Ideology is beginning to feature in Japan's China policy. Bilateral relations have hardly been subject to ideological differences between the two countries since the normalization of relations in 1972.


The wind of change for ideology has been getting up recently. At the East Asia Summit, Japan claimed the group should be an important venue for promoting democracy and protecting human rights.


"Democracy" and "human rights" are the most frequently used weapons Western hardliners have wielded to attack China.


Moreover, a research group under the Tokyo Foundation produced a 2005 report on its China policy. It recommends that Japan should ask China to be a responsible power and more enthusiastic about abiding by international rules, improving human rights records and promoting democracy, and pushing for a market economy. Japan should urge China to observe international practice.


The recommendations from the foundation smack of ideology.


The US-Japan alliance, strengthened in 2005, will give Japan a strong shot in the arm.


Japan has beefed up its security alliance with the US in the past decade. The pace of this move has been accelerated after the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.


The ongoing move towards a stronger security alliance between Japan and the US should sound an alarm for China, especially since the two countries mapped out their "settlement" of tensions in the Taiwan Straits in a list of common strategic goals the defense and foreign ministers of Japan and the US announced in February 2005.


The new National Defense Program Outline, adopted by the Japanese Government in December 2004 to replace the old one adopted in 1995, called for a "flexible" Self-Defense Forces to cope with various types of threats. The new document expressed alarm over China, noting its military's "rapid modernization" and "increasing naval activities." It was the first time that a National Defense Program Outline had stipulated alarm over China since the first one was compiled in 1976.


All these documents are of paramount significance, charting a clear-cut map for Japan's China policy.


Although China and Japan have been blaming each other on the historical issue, it did not prevent the two countries from establishing diplomatic relations and developing economic cooperation. They adopted a pragmatic and friendly approach towards each other on the basis of some tacit understanding on the historical issue.


Then why is the issue becoming the immediate cause of the diplomatic tensions between the two countries after their relations moved forward in a friendly way for three decades?


Koizumi has succeeded in turning the historical issue into a card, playing it to solicit votes and consolidating his political bedrock.


His homage at Yasukuni is a well-calculated strategic move.


Japan's management guru Kenichi Ohmae worries that if Japan cannot come up with appropriate arrangements, it will be relegated to the status of a small country beside China.


Obviously, Japan is not happy with this. It has been taking steps to go big, by getting a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, enhancing its security alliance with the US, developing its relations with India and the Pacific countries, and starting full-blown competition with China.


China-Japan relations moved forward on the wheels of economic cooperation without a strategic foundation.


The two countries have their own strategic concerns but no interest in developing strategic cooperation.


Given Japan's recent playing of ideological cards, the scenario of a strategic cooperation between China and Japan is becoming even more remote.


(China Daily January 4, 2006)


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