Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY

Through Chinese Eyes: Gui Yongtao Part 1

3 June 2011 14:34

Interview with Gui Yongtao, Associate Professor at Peking University's School of International Studies on China-Japan relations by Peter Martin and David Cohen. They are conducting a series of interviews with reader submitted questions on behalf of The Interpreter with Chinese academics and journalists. Part II can be found here.

Mu Haishi from China asks: Is Japan to blame for the history problem?

I would say yes, from the Chinese perspective. But as a scholar, I would say that you cannot expect people to sincerely believe that they are responsible for crimes committed by their grandfathers. There are two parts, justice, and reconciliation. And this should have been pursed right after the war. 

But because of the Cold War, that generation, that should have dealt with this, did not do so. The government has the responsibility to do that, but I would say the Japanese government is too late to do this.

So if you ask, who is blame, the Japanese government is still to blame, but the general public, not really. People say they don't have any knowledge of history, but Americans, or others, are much like that. But with the older generation, because they are conservative, anti-Communist, anti-China, it's more complicated.

Amy King at Oxford University asks: Is the Japanese 'triple disaster' likely to be a game-changer for China-Japan relations?

In terms of Sino-Japanese relations, I don't like to say so, but it's become an opportunity to restore the official relationship. Since last year's ship collision incident, in September, China suspended ministerial-level exchanges with Japan. But this provided an opportunity, and the Chinese leadership has restored its relationship, basically to pre-September last year.

So nationalists think the game should change, they think that, before, we could not say this or do that because we were weak. Now we are stronger and you should talk to us differently. So some may expect that Japan will voluntarily change its way of dealing with China because it is no longer so much stronger. I am personally not of this view, but I have heard some scholars expressing this expectation.

Aidan Dullard asks: Is the decision to send aid to tsunami-affected Japan popular in China? What have been some of the reactions of the so-called 'angry youth' nationalists?

There are a very small number of people on the internet saying we should not give any aid to Japan, because that's our former enemy, and they could use this aid to build weapons. But that's not influential at all, but we are aware of this kind of view. Similarly, South Korea also has similar responses. 

This time, not only the government, but also people, seem to be very much active in sending aid. The Global Times, that's a nationalist newspaper, took the lead in advocating aid to Japan. Right after the earthquake, they published a letter signed by a hundred scholars, including me, calling for the public to send aid to Japan. But to tell you the truth, I myself was sort of concerned about the feedback to this sort of aid to Japan. I was concerned that people would criticize my sort of people, saying, 'You see! Peking University professors are doing this, helping Japan!' I'm not concerned about that now, but I was then.

Alex Statman, at Stanford University, asks: At the treaty of Shimonoseki, the Chinese and Japanese negotiators acknowledge that one of the grounds for peace should be that the two nations 'have the same written language'. Is there any sense in which people today might say something similar: that Chinese and Japanese language and culture are still so similar as to form a potential basis for long-term diplomatic friendship or cooperation?

In the 1980s, that was very much a conducive factor, because the Japanese elites had a very good education about Chinese traditional culture. One of China's favorite Japan prime ministers, Ohira, could write poetry in Chinese. When he came to China, he saw the Great Wall, and he was so moved, he wrote a poem about that — in ancient Chinese. But that's that generation, and in that generation your education in traditional culture showed your status, but in the younger generation, I would say not necessarily. 

I would say that things have changed. And one extreme is that the last prime minister before one, Aso, he is not young, but he's a fan of manga. You even cannot find any word in Japanese kana in manga, it's pictures. But the problem is that after he became prime minister, he made a mistake in pronouncing a Chinese character in public, a character that even should be recognized by a primary school student. But generally speaking, we still feel, not intentionally, but we still feel some closeness, because when Chinese people or Japanese people go to the other country, they feel comfortable, even if they do not speak a word of the other language, they can go anywhere, just looking at the signs, they can read the menu.

Colin Feehan, from the US, asks: Which would be more destabilizing for Sino-Japanese relations:  heightened nationalism in Japan or in China?

On the Japanese side, it's not necessarily nationalism, but their fear, or uneasiness, about the rising power of China. In the Chinese case, nationalism is general, the public and the elite, and in many cases it can be directed against Japan. And in the Japanese case, only a very small set of political elites, and some commentators and scholars, have strong nationalism. But the public, not really.

But there is a stream of nationalist or a conservative hard-line, just like the Americans have in Washington DC. It's sometimes very influential, depending on circumstances. If the conservative elites can utilize these events to flare up nationalism, the general public will follow that direction. But one year after, they simply return to the center.

But that's probably short-term, so generally I would say Chinese nationalism.