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ASIAN PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 30, No. 4, 2006, pp. 167-174. Commentary SINO-JAPANESE DISCORD AND KOREA Jae Ho Chung Sino-Japanese relations and the dynamics of the friction between the two countries have long been a popular subject of research for academic and policy communities around the globe. While new developments in this bumpy bilateral relationship are constantly updated, it nevertheless makes one wonder what more there is to say beyond the usual cliches. Is there really a new bottle out there to hold the old wine? Any conceivable answer to the question seems to reside in the negative. The only reasonable alternative appears to be pouring the same old wine in several different glasses of one's own selection so that they may look and smell more palatable. This commentary provides reflections on Sino-Japanese fric­ tions and their relevance to the Republic of Korea (ROK and hereafter Korea) by first examining five main traits of the SinoJapanese discord (and exploring its outer boundary), and then by identifying the relevance of the Sino-Japanese rivalry to Korea's strategic and diplomatic positioning. The main argument is that Sino-Japanese discord, rooted deeply in history and memory, is here to stay, and due to the vagaries of domestic politics in both Japan and China, frictions will continue. In addition, Korea, still harboring the scars inflicted by Japanese imperialism, will not be able to assume the role of a neutral broker. Instead the role of the United States will be crucial in conditioning the future position­ ing of Korea vis-a-vis China and Japan. 168 Jae Ho Chung Traits of Sino-Japanese Frictions While Japan-China relations have undergone ebbs and flows typical of any bilateral relationship between two great powers, they are nevertheless characterized by extreme fragility and vul­ nerability. The following five traits epitomize the longstanding rivalry between the two countries. Old Wounds and Salt-rubbing Rights and wrongs in history are often very difficult to dis­ cern. However, that does not mean that history matters any less. In the case of Japanese imperialism in Asia, using history to pinpoint its victims is not a daunting task. Yet, unlike the "German issue" that is no longer considered a problem in Europe, the "Japan ques­ tion" still remains a serious issue of contention in Asia. Whether the origin of the whole problem is attributed to the San Francisco system established in 1951, through which America "exonerated" Japan, or to the intergenerational transmission of enmity in Asia at large, painful memories still live on and old wounds never seem to heal. More serious is the salt occasionally rubbed on these old wounds. For various reasons, Japanese politicians intermittently offer comments designed specifically to deny the wartime atroc­ ities of Japanese imperialism. Historical facts ranging from the Nanjing Massacre to wartime sex slaves were whitewashed over and over again, infuriating the neighboring countries, most notably China and Korea. Healing takes time, but if salt is con­ stantly rubbed on old wounds they may never heal. In fact, Japanese whitewashing has cultivated strong forces of antiJapan nationalism within China and elsewhere, which in turn provides fertile ground for reactive anti-Chinese sentiments in Japan. This cycle of reproducing enmity, which appears to have been almost institutionalized, makes it impossible to believe that Sino-Japanese discord will go away in the foreseeable future. Vagaries ofDomestic Politics It is a cliche that foreign policy is an extension of domestic politics. In Japan, as in other countries, politicians exploit certain Sino-Japanese Discord and Korea 169 public sentiments for the purpose of vote-maximization. Accord­ ing to annual surveys by Japan's Cabinet Office, the Japanese public's favorable view of China consistently declined from 69 percent in 1988 to 32 percent in 2005. This provides ample room for a wide range of frictions in Japan's relations with China. According to a recent NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) survey, 73 percent of the respondents considered China a "rival" whereas 27 percent considered it a "partner."1 Japanese politi­ cians, therefore, have abundant political fodder to play with. The more serious problem is that emotions are mutually reinforcing. While Chinese government officials do not play the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2288-2871
Print ISSN
0258-9184
Pages
pp. 167-174
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-23
Open Access
No
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