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Why China Worries About Japanese Prime Minister Noda

by Elizabeth C. Economy
August 31, 2011

Japan's Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda stands up as he is chosen as the party's new leader while the party lawmakers clap their hands during Japan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan leadership vote in Tokyo on August 29, 2011.

Japan's Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda stands up as he is chosen as the party's new leader while the party lawmakers clap their hands during Japan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan leadership vote in Tokyo on August 29, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy of Reuters)

In her First Take on Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, my colleague Sheila Smith suggests that Mr. Noda is moderate, fair, and an experienced hand in Japanese and global financial affairs. That all sounds pretty good. But apparently from China’s perspective, the new prime minister is nothing but trouble.

While Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have offered up short congratulatory statements to the new prime minister, most Chinese commentary has ranged from bleak to belligerent. Chinese analysts point out that the prime minister has not renounced his comments to the effect that Class-A Japanese wartime leaders should no longer be considered criminals nor has he committed not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. He also has made reference to China’s rising nationalism and naval activities as posing a risk to regional stability. To top it all off, the new prime minister has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan defense alliance.

Given the new prime minister’s apparent policy predilections, it seems to me that Chinese analysts have some reason to be concerned. Indeed, many U.S. security analysts were similarly worried when Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama assumed power in 2009 with a seeming commitment to upgrading relations with China, while downgrading relations with the United States. However, while many U.S. commentators urged a “wait and see” approach to Prime Minister Hatoyama, the Chinese media have come out swinging. Xinhua noted, for example, that “though fast-burgeoning bilateral trade has made China Japan’s largest trading partner since 2009, the two major powers in East Asia still run into disputes from time to time, threatening the peace and stability of the region. And Japan has to be blamed for that.”

Some Chinese press have also seen fit to offer a series of recommendations to the new Japanese prime minister:

  • Japan should give up any idea of leadership in the Asia Pacific: “Japan’s future lies in whether it can adapt to the changes in the Asia-Pacific region. It should bear in mind that it cannot either dominate the restructuring of the region, or lead it.” Furthermore, “some previous Japanese prime ministers have been trouble-makers and lacked the broad mind a leader of a world economic power should have.”
  • Beijing is open to joint exploration of the resources in the waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands. The only precondition is that Tokyo recognize “China’s complete sovereignty over the archipelago.”
  • Noda’s cabinet must “carefully craft and implement a proper policy in treating Japan’s war past to soothe the resentment among the Chinese public toward Japan.”
  • Japan should acknowledge China’s legitimate requirement for military modernization to defend its growing national interests…and “call off its dangerous practice of invoking China’s rise as an excuse to discard the defense-oriented policy after WWII from its own military expansion.”

I can’t imagine that many of these policy proposals will make it on to the new prime minister’s agenda. No doubt, over the coming weeks, more moderate Chinese voices will emerge with real ideas for improving Sino-Japanese cooperation. But until they do, the Chinese media have virtually assured that Prime Minister Noda will simply write them off. Then again, maybe that’s the point.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Prudent Man, CFA

    China is all take, no give. If the Japanese, unlike the U.S. Administration, doesn’t give we could be in for some volatile times in the region. If we had a pro-Free Enterprise Administration and Establishment elite we could economically take advantage of the situation. I doubt that our current class of crony leaders of big business, big labor and big government have the foresight, ability or guts to step into the breach as those of “The Greatest Generation” did after WWII.

  • Posted by Masahiko

    Mr. Noda simply recognizes the fact that under Japanese law, convicted people convicted of war crimes by a court that had no authority in Japan, are not war criminals. We also know that the US used dirty tricks to wrongly convict many so-called war criminals.

    I would like to add that although Japan signed the San Francisco Treaty accepting the judgments of Allied kangaroo court, it was done so as defeated, occupied nation under duress.

    I agree with prudent man above, China is all take and no give, especially concerning false accusations against Japan in WW2. Japan has given enough to the rest of the world and we need to curb this undeserved attack on our history. Mr. Noda direct challenge of the lies of Japanese war crimes and criminals is the first step.

  • Posted by Hodor

    Japan does itself no favors with its right wing weaselling over the textbooks and the shrine. While it is correct not to give into Chinese pressure, it needs to recognize that most of the belligerence from Beijing is reluctant and completely bottom up. Japan has a lot to atone for, given its history of glorification of brutality and racial superiority. Even if its opponents have dealt cynically with Japan in the past, its own history has earned it a great deal of rightly deserved enmity.

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