Chinese people warming to Japan through friendly exchanges

By Yue Li and Li Jia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/25 22:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The annual survey by the China International Publishing Group and Japanese nonprofit institution Genron NPO was released on December 14. It showed that Chinese people's impressions of Japan have improved markedly, with 31.5 percent of those surveyed expressing a positive view. This is the fourth-highest of 13 yearly surveys conducted so far. Compared with last year, the growth of nearly 10 percentage points ranks third in all surveys.

Chinese people with a positive view of Japan plummeted to the lowest point of 5.2 percent in 2013 due to the Japanese "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands. But the rate has recovered since then and basically reached 31.8 percent of 2012.

Chinese people's opinion of Japan has improved for three reasons.

First and foremost, the Chinese have felt the positive changes in China's political relations with Japan. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations, while 2018 is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship. At this critical juncture, both countries want to bring bilateral ties back on track, hence more frequent political exchanges between them this year and signs in favor of better ties.

For instance, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe experienced a U-turn in attitude and expressed public willingness to join the Belt and Road initiative. He sent Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, known for his pro-China stance, to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May in Beijing and deliver a letter to President Xi Jinping.

In late September, Abe attended celebrations at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo for the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and also the 45th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations, becoming the first Japanese prime minister to attend the event in 15 years. 

This year Xi met Abe twice and after the recent meeting in November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also met Abe on November 13. These interactions helped remove anxiety and uneasiness of some Chinese about Japan.

Besides, an increasing number of Chinese people are able to enjoy direct contact with Japan. People-to-people exchanges have been the mainstay and driving force of Sino-Japanese ties. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese have visited Japan for sightseeing, shopping, study and business. They see with their own eyes everything about Japan through exchanges with Japanese in terms of language, culture, thinking, technology and business. As a result, Japanese people are no longer a national stereotype, but individuals.

The latest survey shows that nearly 60 percent of Chinese that have been to Japan hold a favorable stance toward their neighbor in comparison with no more than 30 percent of those who have never been to Japan. The people-to-people exchanges have played a unique role in gradually changing the Chinese public's impression of Japan.

Moreover, Chinese people now have broader channels to learn about Japan. This year, 205 new Japanese animated series were introduced to China and aired on major online video platforms such as iQiyi, Youku, Mango TV, Letv and QQlive. An account on China's Sina Weibo microblog, which translates funny Japanese tweets and comments to Chinese, has nearly 16 million followers. Another Weibo account that introduces Japanese pop culture has 2.17 million followers, while that of the Japanese Embassy in China has more than 670,000 followers.

Today, Chinese people learn about Japan not only from traditional media like television and newspapers, but from new media like Weibo, WeChat, apps and websites. What they are interested in is no longer limited to Japan's politics, economics, diplomacy and technology, but has expanded to culture, education, music, entertainment and food, every aspect of the country.

Meanwhile, Chinese can know what's happening in Japan through live broadcasting and real-time transmission. All these media have brought Chinese and Japanese closer.

Looking at surveys of China-Japan relations over the past decade, the rise and fall of Chinese impressions of Japan is both a wind vane of bilateral relations and a barometer of bilateral people-to-people exchanges. There is still broad space left for the peoples of the two countries to promote bilateral ties.  

Yue Li is director of the Pangoal Institution Northeast Asian Studies Center. Li Jia is a research fellow with the Pangoal Institution.


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