Negative perceptions about China have worsened in Japan, according to a new survey, with people in both countries more pessimistic about bilateral ties.
Wartime history, territorial disputes in the East China Sea, China’s growing rivalry with the United States and China’s increasing military power were among the top reasons for the negativity, the organisers of the annual China-Japan Joint Opinion Survey reported on Wednesday.
The Japanese think tank The Genron NPO worked with the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in China to survey 1,000 Japanese and 1,547 Chinese interviewees between August and September.
In all, 90.9 per cent of those in Japan said their impression of China was “not good”, a slight rise from last year’s 89.7 per cent and the fourth-worst level since the poll was launched in 2005.
Meanwhile in China, about two-thirds of respondents said they had a negative perception of Japan, up from 52.9 per cent last year. Those with a “good” impression of Japan fell sharply to 32 per cent from last year’s 45.2 per cent.
It was the first time negative sentiment in China had risen since 2013, when ties between the two countries suffered in the aftermath of the Japanese government decision to nationalise the disputed Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyus.
The Genron NPO chief Yasushi Kudo said recent visits by some Japanese politicians to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honoured among the millions of casualties from World War II, likely inflamed public sentiment in China.
“There are no diplomatic efforts between the two governments despite growing security concerns amid US-China tensions, leaving anxieties felt by Japanese and Chinese people unaddressed,” Kudo said.
CIPG deputy head Gao Anming said Japan’s foreign policies, its alliance with the United States and the Covid-19 pandemic had largely restricted visits by Chinese tourists to Japan, complicating Chinese views on Japan.
“The two countries have shown a high degree of convergence in their concerns regional cooperation and global challenges,” Gao said.
“However, the wartime history, territorial disputes and security remain prominent issues [in bilateral ties], and the volatility of the Sino-US relationship is increasingly affecting relations between China and Japan.”
In the survey, roughly the same proportion of respondents in both countries said they felt threatened militarily by the other – 68.9 per cent of Japanese and 51.1 per cent of Chinese.
But the sense of general threat from China rose from last year, up from 63.4 per cent to 70.5 per cent and close to the 76.6 per cent of Japanese respondents who felt the same kind of threat from North Korea.
The survey reflected widespread pessimism about bilateral relations – in Japan, over half, or 54.6 per cent of respondents said ties were “bad”. In China, 42.6 per cent of those surveyed said the relationship was “bad”, up from last year’s 22.6 per cent.
Reasons for the negative impressions differed in each country.
In China, respondents cited “a lack of apology and remorse over a history of invasion”, “the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands” and “inappropriate behaviour by some politicians” as major reasons.
In Japan, “confrontations over the Senkaku Islands” was seen as a “top obstacle to the development of Sino-Japanese relations”, followed by “a lack of trust between governments”, “a lack of trust between people” and “China’s military build-up”.
The organisers of the survey also reported a sharp increase over the past year in the number of people on both sides who considered the “Taiwan Strait” to be a flashpoint for potential military conflict in East Asia.
In a cordial sign, Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first world leaders to offer congratulations to Fumio Kishida when he was elected as Japanese prime minister earlier this month. Xi urged Kishida to properly manage “sensitive issues on history and Taiwan”, and the two leaders agreed to maintain communications, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
But hopes for a quick improvement in bilateral ties remain dim – during his campaign, Kishida said countering China would be his priority if elected and Japan should work closely with the US and other “like-minded” democracies to counter China’s growing influence.
According to the survey, the number of Chinese citizens who say that the leaders should visit each other as soon as possible fell sharply, from 30.7 per cent to 18.4 per cent, while the number who say that the leaders’ visits should be dropped rose from 9.5 per cent to 18.3 per cent.