As Japan, China and South Korea interact in seeking common goals, these East Asian neighbors must rise above unilateralism and nationalism.
The leaders of Japan and China have not visited each other in three years. On a grass-roots level, Chinese soccer fans in August reacted violently toward Japanese players and fans at the Asian Cup final in Beijing.
These facts are clear signs that Japan-China relations have fallen to their worst point since the two nations normalized diplomatic ties in 1972. Although the two countries' economic relationship is heating up, their political connections are cool.
Japan has always had trouble deciding how to deal with China. Backed by remarkably high economic growth, China has emerged as a regional power that is well on its way to becoming a major player in the world. This unexpected situation has left Japan at a loss on how to react.
Historically, the relationship between the two nations has gone through three phases since they normalized ties.
In the 1970s, a friendly mood prevailed. After 1980, the relationship became that of a donor and an aid recipient. Fifteen years later, when China began making economic advances just when the Japanese economy entered a slump, their relationship was changed tremendously.
China's military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 also provoked anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan.
Nationalism is on the rise again in both countries. Meanwhile, their economies have become completely interdependent.
One problem is that government policy has yet to catch up with new developments and changing public awareness. When Japan's economy was brisk, all this country had to do was to hand out aid while maintaining close relations with the United States.
China, on the other hand, thought it could keep its relationship with Japan on an advantageous footing by playing the ``history problem'' as its trump card. Both are examples of old-fashioned thinking.
That changed two years ago when a new way of thinking toward Japan emerged in China. Advocates of this new idea call for China to develop closer ties with Japan and to set aside the history problem. Although these voices do not form the mainstream, it is noteworthy that such new strategic thoughts about Japan are being voiced in China.
What about here in Japan? It appears as if our leaders don't know how to deal with this new ``rising power.''
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to visit Yasukuni Shrine in defiance of Chinese opposition. The publication of history textbooks with neonationalistic ideas shows that Japan, too, is not above playing the history card.
But I would urge Japanese political leaders to instead adopt a new way of thinking toward China.
China is facing countless problems. While public opinion there is diverse, at present it only seems to loudly complain about Japan-China relations. However, in the future, the voice of the Chinese people can be expected to grow bolder, criticizing even the country's leadership.
Agriculture in China, meanwhile, is in crisis as farmers and rural communities struggle to rise from destitution. The current government could face uprisings from farmers, those people who once overthrew the dynasties that had for generations ruled the land. These people also drove out the Kuomintang.
The country's social infrastructure of compulsory education and medical service is also in critical condition. And the prosperity of China's coastal areas is on such a fragile footing that it could collapse at any time.
I propose two things: First, Japan must maintain its own self-confidence, earned through this country's experience, advancement and great contributions to development in East Asia since the end of World War II. It seems to me that the emergence of neo-nationalism is likely a sign of Japanese leaders' lost confidence.
Second, as Japan, China and South Korea interact in seeking common goals, these East Asian neighbors must rise above unilateralism and nationalism.
In the past, each of these countries has gone through periods of intense nationalism. But now, in this global age, such thinking is a burden. The region must strive to build a framework to respond together to deal with emerging problems-the economic and energy crises, the destruction of the natural environment and rising numbers of refugees. In doing so, we can learn to transcend nationalism.
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The author is a professor of contemporary China studies at Waseda University. She contributed this comment to The Asahi Shimbun.(IHT/Asahi: December 22,2004)