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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Commentary (April 28, 2005)

China Would Continue to be Anti-Japanese Even After Democratization

Hiroyasu AKUTSU (Chief Researcher, The Okazaki Institute)


One of the important questions that have emerged from the issue of the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China is whether China would continue to be anti-Japanese even if it is democratized. This question resembles the question of whether anti-Americanism would ever disappear as democratization in Middle East progresses. The answer to the latter question seems to be promising because the Palestine issue is beginning to be solved. In the case of Chinese anti-day nationalism, in contrast, it is highly questionable whether it disappears simply by Chinese democratization or collapse of the Communist Party one-party dictatorship. This is the very question this short article aims to raise here.

The Democratic Peace Thesis and Chinese Anti-Japanese Nationalism

There is a proposition in the Western-centered academia of international politics that democracies do not go to war against one another. This proposition is supposed to have been mostly proved except for some important exceptions, and it has received treatment as a theory rather among liberal scholars of international politics. Of course, many scholars oppose the linear and simplistic application of this view to a still undemocratic state. However, it may be safe to say that this view is widely accepted as an academic theory but also as a foreign policy principle among US political elite that provides justification for promotion of global democratization. Even in Japan, at least there exists the consensus that Chinese democratization is good. According to the logic of democratic peace theory, democratization would mitigate Chinese belligerent stance toward Taiwan or stop China from dispatching its submarines to Japanese territorial waters. Moreover, non-academic intuition leads us to conclude that democratization would make the country more peaceful to a foreign country because various functions are built into a democracy to prevent it from going to war or because a democratic state tends to respect each other's democratic system.

Democracy is one thing, and being non-nationalistic quite another

However, it is hard to think that a democratic state turns into a perfectly peaceful state in the sense that a utopian pacifist would argue for. This is because some form of strategic thinking in intelligence and military affairs is found in any country whether it is democratic or not. Or at least, any country tends to hold a spirit of competition in economic and cultural realms. Probably, this will be clear even in the case of Japan, which has often been dubbed as "peace-addicted." Furthermore, democratization does not necessarily mean disappearance of outward nationalism. It could even strengthen nationalism. Especially, in the initial stages of democratization, nationalism could be a driving force for development as in the initial stage of modernization. Moreover, in the democratic state, the peaceful demonstration of an anti-day will be performed even in democratized China because the peaceful demonstration is legally permitted. Although the Chinese Communist government's regulations against the mutual appeal on the network of demonstrators may be effective at present, if such regulation is eased in democratized China, the scale of an anti-Japanese demonstration could be even huger. Therefore, it must be said that it is too optimistic to think that Sino-Japanese relations would be immediately improved simply by Chinese democratization.

The South Korean Example

Furthermore, it is hard to believe that anti-Japanese sentiments would no longer be used as tools for domestic strife among political forces in China. South Korea is a good example. Although South Korea is a democratic state with a fairly-developed economy but anti-Japanese sentiments have long been used by opposing domestic camps over political influence. Likewise, in a democratized China, divergent political forces would likely find anti-Japanese sentiments of the Chinese people useful in rallying their support.

Concluding remarks: A need to prepare for anti-Japanese movements in a democratized China

Thus, supposing Chinese anti-Japanese nationalism would not disappear, even if China is democratized from now on, Japan should consider how with Chinese anti-day nationalism to associate from a longer-term perspective.

Anti-Japanese patriotism under the current Chinese government is already widely recognized both in the West and Japan as having been created by the Communist Party after the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989 in order to self-preserve the legitimacy of the Communist regime. However, even if Japan continued to emphasize this to the Chinese ordinary people, their deep-seated grudge against the Japanese over Japanese colonization of China would unlikely be forgotten. Some Japanese intellectuals argue that the Chinese people will forgive the Japanese people if China truly turns into a great power and the Chinese people acquire more confidence, but this will take more time. This means that the Japanese will have to keep swallowing anti-Japanese criticism until they finally receive the Chinese amnesty. That is, according to their argument, only time and the Japanese patience will solve a problem. However, it seems to have already become an irresistible trend even among pro-Japanese intellectuals in the US and the West to ask for the Japanese government's more vocal reflection on Japan's past conduct in its colonies. If so, the Japanese people would have to continue to swallow criticism not only from China and South Korea but also from American and western friends of Japan. Some intellectuals also criticize the Japanese government as not having taken an adequate policy for advertising its stance over the issue of history. Others criticize that the Chinese government has not been adequately regulated the anti-Japanese demonstrations. These criticisms may be right, but only criticizing won't do any service. There needs a long-term perspective in dealing with anti-Japanese nationalism in China.

This article has only aimed to raise the question of whether China would remain anti-Japanese even after its democratization. Regarding specific measures for anti-Japanese nationalism in China, the author would like to discuss them on some other occasions. However, one thing should be clearly emphasized: when we look at China, we must do so from the viewpoint of security which focuses on China's foreign policy intention and military capabilities rather than from the viewpoint of the degree of democratization.

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