Hopes Fade Over Sino-Japan Summit

Amid claims that China is attempting to keep the peace at sea, a former defense ministry official has dampened speculation about a war between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. From Xinhua:

Tension behind China and Japan may currently be high amid some speculation of armed conflict between the nations, but Qian Lihua, a member of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said in an interview with Xinhua, “It is not rational or true that China and Japan are doomed to fight a war.

“A military solution is the last resort to settle problems. We should not talk about war and military actions in such a careless way when the two countries just have problems.”

China values its relations with Japan and has always targeted settling disputes peacefully through dialogue, said Qian, who used to head the foreign affairs office under the Ministry of National Defense.

“Once we sit down and talk, there will always be a way out,” the official added.

Despite these claims, tensions continue as Japanese automakers post lower sales in China. Another Xinhua article reports that National People’s Congress spokesperson, Fu Ying, blames Japan for the current dispute:

However, “one hand alone can’t clap,” Fu said, quoting a Chinese proverb to indicate that Japan has failed to engage in negotiations.
She said the Japanese government’s move to “purchase” part of the Diaoyu Islands last year went against the consensus reached by the two countries, which in turn shook China’s basis for maintaining restraint.

“If the other party chooses to take tougher measures and abandon consensus, ‘it is impolite not to reciprocate,’ as another Chinese proverb says,” she said.

“We wish Japanese society and all sides could listen attentively to the voice of the Chinese people and put what happened in the past and what is happening now in perspective, so the two countries find a basis for the dialogue,” said Fu.

While the dispute remains unsolved, China’s envoy to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, said that a high-level summit between the top leaders of the two nations is unlikely. From The South China Morning Post:

“The atmosphere facing bilateral ties between the two countries is at a very critical point now,” Cheng said on the sidelines of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference annual session on Sunday.

“There are no plans now to hold a high-level bilateral summit between leaders of the two nations.”

Mainland observers said the island dispute’s impact on bilateral exchanges was wide-ranging, so a high-level summit was unlikely in the coming months. “Some academics have also refused to attend conferences hosted by Japan,” said Professor Da Zhigang , an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences.

“There is no official order banning us from participating in the events, but the atmosphere between the two nations has made it difficult for us. It is embarrassing if we criticise Japan, but it is also out of the question for us to support Japan.”

Anti-Japanese sentiment has also escalated due to the territorial dispute. According to the China Policy Institute Blog, China has handled these outbursts of anti-Japanese sentiment through appeasement and repression:

Based on its foreign policy and domestic considerations, Beijing has adopted three different types of approach to public expressions of anti-Japanese sentiment and opinion: 1) tolerance or leniency, 2) tight control or suppression and 3) a two-pronged approach. When the political leadership had more incentive to burnish its nationalist credentials and appeared to lack internal consensus concerning the conduct of its relations with Japan, the authorities displayed a greater tolerance of or a more lenient attitude towards public anti-Japanese outbursts. However, when the leadership pursued a moderate and cooperative approach to Japan and had greater concerns about social stability, it sought to suppress or control anti-Japan public sentiment, voices and actions to avoid jeopardizing its efforts to maintain good relations with Japan as well as social stability. By contrast, when the leadership sought a tougher stance in the handling of dispute with Japan, it adopted a two-pronged approach to nationalist outpourings by selectively allowing (or tolerating) some mass anti-Japanese protests to increase pressure on Japan whilst simultaneously making efforts to avoid such outbursts from spiraling out of control.

The authorities’ suppression and tight control of nationalist sentiment has led to a narrowing of political opportunity for the nationalistic public to make their voices heard. However, Beijing’s tolerance or selective allowance of anti-Japanese popular protests for its domestic and/or international gains caused the Chinese government itself to face a dilemma by leading to a widening of political opportunity for the public to affect the government’s policy towards Japan. Anti-Japanese popular nationalism was able to play a greater role in China’s approach towards Japan when the public took advantage of the political opportunity created by the authorities’ tolerance to express their nationalist feelings and opinions in a collective way and to push Beijing into displaying a more assertive stance in the handling of relations with Japan.

Dispite efforts by the Chinese authorities to ease them, anti-Japanese sentiment in China still remains quite strong, which significantly limits Beijing’s available options to ease tensions over the territorial row. By appearing too keen to re-engage with Japan, Beijing may suffer a backlash from an angry public. There are few signs of the mounting tensions being defused so far. The diplomatic tit-for-tat between Beijing and Tokyo seems likely to continue until the two sides find a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute which would save their faces in front of their peoples.

Read more about the Diaoyu Islands dispute, via CDT.