More talent needed to promote China-Japan mutual trust

By Liu Di Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/29 10:25:31

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Shinyichirou Shiranishi, chairman of the Executive Council of the Japan-China Society, passed away in October. He had always been a strong advocate of China-Japan cultural exchange despite strained bilateral ties in recent years.

Prior to the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations in 1972, friendly associations connected the two nations. Japan-China friendly exchanges transcended partisan and ideological differences and they evolved into a national movement that was rooted in Japanese society. Japanese people held a belief that no more wars would break out at that time, giving impetus to the development movement which served as an important principle for the two countries and the world.

Today, there are no charismatic leaders from civil society like those in the 1950s who did their utmost to promote bilateral ties regardless of their exhausting journeys to and fro between the two states. The four agreements China and Japan have signed after 1972 failed to lift deteriorating ties. More concrete efforts should be made apart from signing documents.

Mutual understanding between China and Japan is promoted by those committed to cultural exchange. About 3,000 Japanese youth visited China in the 1980s and left with good impression of the country. Those responsible for receiving the Japanese youth have since made enormous contributions to bilateral exchanges.

Despite the rapid growth of China-Japan business ties since the 1990s, mutual trust has suffered a generational hiatus as promoters of cultural exchange passed away one after another.

The historical status of Japan versus China and vice-versa continue to inform today's attitudes toward foreign policy. The First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 had first helped establish a dominant status against China and consequently provided an important resource for Japan's modernization. Such resource has, overtly or covertly, influenced Japan's China policy and its sentiments toward Chinese society. Likewise, the national unity achieved during the Chinese people's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in 1931-45 has been successfully integrated into China's national development.

The historical status, which was managed well by the civil movements and far-sighted politicians in the 1950s, has become a barrier to mutual exchange because of China reemerging as a major power, Japan's long-term economic stagnation and changes in global landscape. The antagonism caused by territorial and historical disputes between the two states can be controlled through exchange and seeking common ground.

However, Japan's younger generation is generally indifferent to China. Japanese academic circles reinterpret China with a new cognitive paradigm. Many media professionals in China and Japan who were educated in the 1990s are totally different from the older generation. Such a cognitive gap should not be ignored.

The civil communities have done better than governments in China-Japan cultural exchange. In recent years, a number of Chinese have visited Japan for sightseeing. Both sides need to think about how to combine tourism with mutual understanding, and how to motivate Japanese people to visit China.

Nationalism plays a role in state-to-state antagonism. We should mitigate the negative effects of nationalism. Back in the 1950s, China invited many Japanese people to visit the country, regardless of their different political views. When China and Japan had few avenues of exchange, they set up some institutions to facilitate mutual understanding. Now more young people should be attracted to the institutions to help explore new vistas and stay vigorous.

The global community is comprised of nation-states where information about the country is formed by its knowledge system. Scholars of international politics usually feature nationalists. So, how can one differentiate national interests and state interests in their studies?

The Chinese and Japanese governments have valued youth exchange and allocated funds for the purpose. Non-government institutions are authorized to conduct youth exchange programs. But we need to turn these programs into long-lasting non-government exchange system. One good way would be to make high schools organize youth exchange.

The ancient Chinese literati observed and analyzed problems based on the common knowledge framework in East Asia. They would forge solutions to address conflicts of national interest according to universal principles and common interest among human beings. Despite different nationalities, their truth-oriented efforts had transcended national boundaries.  

People-to-people exchanges have been restricted due to strained China-Japan ties in recent years. More stable communication channels in various areas of expertise should be established by transnational civil and scholar communities, which are likely to serve as ballast stone for bilateral relations. In a new historical era, China and Japan should cultivate new leaders of people-to-people exchanges to boost mutual understanding and build more civil and scholar communities.

Many years ago, Yoshiie Yoda, a professor from Japan's Waseda University, suggested establishing "Japan-China Friendship University" and received positive feedback. Some Japanese professors also reacted positively when I mentioned the idea again. 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Almost two generations have grown up after the treaty. In the future, peace should be passed on from generation to generation in the two nations.

The author is a professor with Kyorin University.

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