Islands row has China -Japan ties 'at ground zero'
John Garnaut, Beijing
October 21, 2010
A LEADING Japanese statesman who helped mend relations with China in the 1980s says China's ''diplomatic shock and awe campaign'' over disputed islands has reduced the relationship to ''ground zero''.
Yoichi Funabashi, editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun, said consequences of China's aggressive response would have a larger impact in Japan than US president Richard Nixon's secret meeting with Chairman Mao in 1971.
''Japan and China now stand at ground zero, and the landscape is a bleak, vast nothingness,'' wrote Mr Funabashi, in a letter sent to dozens of high-ranking friends in China.
If China continues to undermine its own ''peaceful rise'' doctrine then ''Japan would discard its naivety, lower its expectations, acquire needed insurance and, in some cases, cut its losses'', he wrote.
In the 1980s Mr Funabashi worked to restore ties and send thousands of Chinese students on exchange programs to Japan.
Many Chinese commentators are also concerned that China's rising assertiveness is harming its relations across the region.
''The Asahi Shimbun is the best Japanese newspaper and its standpoint is neutral. This is why Funabashi's article is so shocking,'' wrote Wang Shuo, editor of one of China's leading news outlets, Caixin. Mr Wang posted Mr Funabashi's letter and his response on the Caixin website.
Tens of thousands of Chinese students took part in mass demonstrations in several cities over the weekend.
Some damaged Japanese cars and others brandished placards of racially inflammatory slogans.
The Chinese government has taken measures to contain those protests and has recently toned down its propaganda onslaught.
Chinese and Japanese diplomats are believed to be working to get their prime ministers and foreign ministers together for a peacemaking meeting on the sidelines of next week's ASEAN summit in Hanoi.
But Japanese anger appears unabated. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe this week likened China's growing territorial ambitions to those of Nazi Germany and Lebensraum - Adolf Hitler's philosophy that the German people needed more ''living space'' in which to grow.
''Perhaps the party's leaders, despite their fear of meeting the same fate as the Soviet Union, are unable to resist the call of the People's Liberation Army for a military build-up,'' Mr Abe said.
Professor Peter Drysdale, of the Australian National University, said the mainstream of Japanese politics was nevertheless working to rebuild relations between the two countries, given Japan's reliance on investments in, and exports to, China.
''The practical hardheads that understand this know that Japan is into China up to its armpits … and they are trying to sort this out,'' he said.
The dispute began in September when the Japanese coast guard arrested a Chinese fisherman in what it considers its territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands, north of Taiwan, for ''ramming'' Japanese ships.
China's diplomatic and propaganda machine went into overdrive when Japan renewed its detention of the captain of the ship. China repeatedly summoned Japan's ambassador to Beijing and implemented what the Japanese government says was an embargo on rare-earth exports from China to Japan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara this week criticised Beijing's ''hysterical'' reaction to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said he was ''deeply shocked that a foreign minister of a country could make such remarks''.