Blog: Dave LeggettChina and Japan squaring up

Dave Leggett | 14 April 2005

Watching the TV news late last night and trying hard to stay awake (election coverage is generally very soporific for me – but at least the Conservatives are making me laugh with that ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ slogan) there was an item about riots in China that got my attention. Riots in China? A democratic upsurge against their totalitarian state? Down with communism! (Actually, these days in China, it is communism in name only, more state capitalism with an Orwellian twist.) No, it is not exactly spirit of ’89 and Tiananmen Square all over again.

The rioting was in fact against Japan.Yes, Japan. It has been sparked by arguments over history and just-published school text books in Japan that - allegedly - kind of gloss over certain unpalatable things that the Japanese military got up to in China in the 1930s.

There is also long-standing quiet rivalry between the two countries that is now hotting up as China starts to flex its newfound economic muscles and compete with Japan as an economic and political superpower in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan trying for a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council and riling the Chinese in the process reinforces how power balances are changing in that part of the world.

The upsurge of Chinese anti-Japanese sentiment seemed to be taking a number of forms including the vandalism of Japanese brand cars.

The scenes are sure to send shockwaves through the Japanese business world, including automotive companies, where offshoring manufacturing activity to low-cost China has soared in recent years. The Japanese car companies took a while to get going (China invited Europeans and American firms in first) but they have really cranked up their Chinese investments in recent years.

The worrying thing is, will this die down quickly? I fear not. The Chinese government is probably happy to have popular discontent focussed on something outside, though it will not want it to go too far. But Chinese politicians’ pronouncements recently haven’t exactly diffused the current tension.

And memories of past Japanese imperialist military atrocities run deep. Emotions are getting pretty stoked up at the moment.


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