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Get over China-Threat Syndrome
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By Feng Zhaokui

Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in Nagoya on February 26 that Japan could be subject to China's strong influence in the context of China's "rising military spending". He went on to say: "If something goes awry in Taiwan in the next 15 years, then within 20 years, Japan might become just another one of China's provinces."

Nakagawa's trumpeting of the "China threat" sounds extremely biased. However, his strong suspicions over the growth of China's military strength is representative of the opinions of Japan's political elites. Worse, his remarks could fan the Japanese public's misgivings about the "rise" of China.

Liu Jinqing, the late honorary professor of Tokyo Keizai University, once observed: "The Japanese are psychologically tormented. They looked down upon the Chinese in the past. They have considered themselves as No 1 in Asia since the Meiji Restoration. They did wrong in the first half of the 20th century. They made impressive advances in the latter half of the 20th century, taking advantage of the Cold War, and were far ahead of China.
China, however, has made spectacular progress since the reform and opening-up were started in the late 1970s and is now doing better than Japan in some respects. Some Japanese are thus thrown off balance psychologically. They suffer mental tortures and they need to readjust their assessment of China.

This kind of psychological dislocation constitutes the foundation of the "China threat" theory subscribed to by many Japanese.

This response to China's "rise" has its roots in the unique Japanese psychology.

First, the Japanese have a strong sense of crisis, which leads to excessive worry over China's development.

Second, the sense of hierarchy still exists in some Japanese minds. This means that some Japanese are not psychologically prepared to get along with other countries on an equal basis.

In the 1980s, when China trailed far behind Japan, Japan condescendingly offered Official Development Assistance to the "inferior" China. But with China's economic take-off, some Japanese feel ill at ease.

Third, some Japanese are subject to the sway of a near-abroad complex. They harbor misgivings about the development of China, which used to be one of the centers of ancient civilization. China has a population 10 times that of Japan and territories 25 fold that of the Japanese archipelago. They are worried that Japan could be marginalized in East Asia.

Driven by the combination of all these factors, some Japanese politicians strive to strengthen the alliance with the superior United States so that China could be forever kept in an inferior position.

To prevent China from leaping over Japan in the international hierarchical echelon, the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put the strategy of adherence to the United States at the very top of its agenda, doing Washington's bidding on many important matters in economic as well as military fields.

While following the US closely in virtually everything, Koizumi emphasized "self respect and dignity" in dealing with issues left over by history such as Japanese leaders' paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine.

China badly needs stability in its near abroad now that it is committed to bringing about a moderately prosperous society. China has no intention of confronting the United States, challenging the US-Japan alliance or elbowing the US out of Asia, much less invading and annexing Japan.

As some American researchers have remarked, China has drawn lessons from the tragedies of the rise of Japan and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. China has become ironclad in its determination to take the road of peaceful development.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily March 6, 2007)

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