Friend or enemy? Japan-China relations complicated after 50 years

TOKYO — Friend or foe? Or both? In the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between japan and china remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two Asian countries normalized relationships as part of the process that brought Communist China into the international fold.

Chinese state media and school textbooks commemorate the victims of Japan’s brutal World War II invasion, even as young city dwellers sip ‘ramen’ soup noodles in a row of two-story restaurants resembling the narrow alleys from Tokyo.

In the real Tokyo, Japanese flocked to a festival last weekend to try Chinese dumplings, even as they fretted over their much larger neighbor’s growing military prowess and designs on the self-governing island of Taiwan – which happens to be a former Japanese colony.

Politics is politics, it has nothing to do with the exchanges between us,” said Zheng Bin, baking a Chinese leek pie at the Yoyogi Park festival. He has spent half his life in Japan, as a student 30 years ago, and now runs six Chinese restaurants in the Tokyo area.

Politics sway people, however, and critical opinions are rising as the two countries mark the 50th anniversary of the agreement to establish diplomatic relations on Thursday, which followed US President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China earlier in 1972. .

A survey last year by Japanese think tank Genron NPO found that 90% of Japanese people had a negative image of China and 66% of Chinese people had the same feeling towards Japan, up from 53% the previous year.

“It’s normal for there to be trouble on the 50th anniversary,” said Li Tingjiang, director of a center for Japanese studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He cited geopolitics and the social and economic differences between the two countries. “But we must not deny the longstanding positive impact of mutual understanding and cultural exchange over the past 50 years.”


Japanese student Momoe Unou went to the Tokyo festival to scout the food – she wants to sell Chinese dumplings and buns at an upcoming event with exchange students from China.

Until a high school trip to China, his view of the country was based solely on textbooks and TV news — and it wasn’t positive. Once there, she was struck by her Chinese counterparts’ eagerness to communicate, which prompted her to major in Asian studies.

“I would have considered China a scary nation if TV news was my only source of information about it,” she said.

The Japan-China Exchange Festival returned last weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers hope this will help restart cultural exchange despite strained political ties Japan is drawn into a growing rivalry between the United States and China.

Festival adviser Yasuo Fukuda, a former prime minister who is an active supporter of better relations with China, said the pandemic has reduced communication between the two nations.

“The lack of dialogue increases the chances of misunderstanding…and things that don’t happen under normal circumstances could happen,” he said in an interview with the AP.

“I hope this festival will give you the opportunity to reflect on that day 50 years ago and find our way forward,” he said as he opened the two-day event. days.

Festival-goer Masaki Makita, who studied and worked in Shanghai for nearly a decade, has issues with China’s policy toward Taiwan and its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. He believes the media coverage has affected people’s opinions in both countries, likely more due to the isolation of the pandemic.

“I think the news about China that we see in the Japanese media might be somewhat biased, while I don’t think China is right either,” he said. “But I have a lot of Chinese friends, and that has nothing to do with politics.”


A greasy, garlicky smell greets visitors to the Yume Wo Katare restaurant in the Chinese capital. And do they come, sometimes queuing for the approximately 90 bowls of Jiro-style ramen served daily at the shop in the row of Japanese restaurants.

Owner Shi Xin, who has lived in Japan, expressed a sense of achievement in bringing back the hearty soup with its thick noodles and winning fans among Chinese and Japanese people living in Beijing.

“Although it’s nothing huge, through small things like food, I hope to promote friendship between China and Japan and contribute to cultural exchanges,” he said before the rush. dinner at his 6-year-old restaurant.

Beijing residents expressed a friendship towards Japan and a fondness for Japanese culture, although some added that the wartime past could not be forgotten, especially as China’s National Day approached on Saturday.

“If it’s a time like National Day, I think it’s expected that our generation and younger generations can still remember the history of the fight against Japanese aggression,” he said. Su Mengtong, 35, waiting for friends to receive COVID-19 tests at a booth near the Museum of Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.

“After all, the invasion is a great trauma for our country,” he said.

The past few decades have brought Japanese food and pop culture, including movies, TV shows and “manga” comics, said Li, who is currently a visiting scholar in Tokyo.

Ramen, a Japanese export now popular in many countries, actually has Chinese roots, dating back to the 19th century when noodle soup was brought to Japan, according to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Japan.

But Japan’s soft power is not immune to its wartime past. Chinese police arrested a woman posing for photos in a kimono in a Japanese-style shopping area in the city of Suzhou in August, shortly before the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.

The incident sparked heated discussion online, with some saying love for Japanese culture doesn’t make a person unpatriotic, and others accusing the woman of hurting the feelings of Chinese people as a birthday approaches. of war.

Social media has been the main platform for dissatisfaction about Japan. Tens of thousands of people have left unfavorable comments on former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe after his assassination in July, because of his association with nationalists who deny or minimize the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in China.

Liu Wei, who is in his 50s, said China must stand firm on territorial issues – Japan and China have competing claims to the East China Sea islands – but more generally prefers to look forward instead. only backwards.

“That time is already over,” said Liu, who was walking near the war museum. “If you continue to stick to it, it does not generate too much positive impact on the future.”

Associated Press video producer Caroline Chen and writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.

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