People from China and Japan gain more nuanced knowledge of each other
By Li Fangfang  ·  2022-12-12  ·   Source: NO.50 DECEMBER 15, 2022
A concert co-organized by the Consulate-General of China in Osaka and the Japanese Nara National Museum takes to the stage in Nara, Japan, on November 14, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries (XINHUA)

This year is the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. Despite the ups and downs of the bilateral relationship in recent decades, people-to-people exchanges continue to expand and their perception of each other is becoming more nuanced.

"The world is in urgent need of the philosophy of harmony," Yukio Hatoyama, former Prime Minister of Japan and President of East Asia Community Institute of Japan, said during the 2022 Hehe Culture Global Forum on November 29. The forum was one of many activities hosted by both governments and nongovernmental organizations to commemorate the anniversary and gathered Chinese and Japanese experts and scholars to discuss Hehe Culture, which advocates concepts of peace and harmony.

"Japan and China should use the Hehe method to better manage divergence and maintain the ties and the peaceful development of Asia and the whole world," Hatoyama said.

"The philosophy of harmony without uniformity comes from China and has become a shared cultural perception in East Asia," Hajime Takano, Editor in Chief of Japanese magazine Insider, told the participants.

Economic partnership

The shared cultural links have also facilitated the economic synergy between the two countries. Bilateral trade increased from $1.03 billion in 1972 to $371.4 billion in 2021.

"In 2021, the return-on-investment rate of Japanese enterprises in China reached 15.1 percent, higher than that in any other country," Ryusuke Takashima, Director General of the Beijing Office of the Japan External Trade Organization, said.

Takashima said more Japanese companies are realizing the huge potential of the Chinese market amid rising living standards. He called on those companies to upgrade their products and services when investing in China and explore new methods of cooperation.

A public opinion survey on Sino-Japanese relations found that 77.4 percent of Chinese respondents believe it's important for the two countries to enhance economic cooperation. The figure among Japanese is 73 percent. The annual survey was jointly published by China International Communications Group (CICG) and Japanese nonprofit think tank Genron NPO on November 30.

The rise of e-commerce has made Japanese products more accessible and more affordable for Chinese consumers in recent years.

Although she returned to Beijing after living in Japan more than five years ago, Li Jinqiu still prefers some Japanese products, mainly cosmetics and household appliances. She told Beijing Review that she usually buys them from flagship stores of Japanese brands on online retail platform Taobao or asks for help from surrogate buyers in Japan.

According to the survey, 70.3 percent of Chinese and 52.9 percent of Japanese respondents believe that the trade volume of the two countries will "continue to increase" or "maintain the current level" in the future, 18 and 13.8 percentage points higher than the survey data in 2021, respectively.

At present, there are more than 10,000 Japanese enterprises operating in China, mainly in the manufacturing industry. However, with China's economic development and rising labor costs, the number of processing trade projects has decreased dramatically, according to Takashima. "Today, most Japanese enterprises in China no longer rely on low-cost labor force, but on high-caliber skilled workers and complete industrial chains, such as the automobile industry," he told on October 2.

In his eyes, Japan and China's industries are complementary. For example, the healthcare industry will be an important cooperation area as the Japanese are increasingly interested in products containing traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients.

Younger views

Li, a 30-something former media worker, said she would like to revisit Japan when she has the opportunity and says she most misses the cities of Kyoto and Osaka.

Visits to Japan by Chinese travelers increased from 10,000 in 1972 to 9.6 million in 2019. And Japan was also the top source of foreign visitors to China in 2019.

Frequent exchanges between the two peoples enhance their understanding of each other's society. Chinese online influencers are providing more inclusive and nuanced observations while visiting Japan.

Travel vlogger Broke Bros posted a six-episode series showing the duo's experiences in Japanese cities on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing platform that mainly targets younger users. The videos had received more than 25 million views and 75,758 comments as of December 7, 1.5 years after being posted.

There are hundreds of thousands of Japan-related accounts on Chinese social media platforms. What makes Broke Bros stand out is their hilarious style and their clear-cut views on sensitive issues in the bilateral relationship.

The last episode of their Japan series touched on the topic of the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A World War II war criminals, are worshipped. The vloggers said they don't agree with some historical descriptions there, particularly the Japanese rhetoric of rationalizing previous external aggression. This video received more than 3 million likes and nearly 70,000 comments. The top comment, liked 18,000 times, reads: "I am a Chinese person first, and an anime fan second."

According to the survey, approximately 85 percent and 57 percent of Chinese and Japanese respondents, respectively, hold that issues left over from history are among the biggest challenges to positive relations.

Nevertheless, the Japanese Government published a poll in January that showed its people aged 18 to 29 hold a more positive attitude toward China and the relationship than they did a year ago.

Another survey of younger Japanese people's attitudes toward China, published by CICG on November 23, showed that 47.15 percent of those surveyed today have a better impression of China than they did last year. They attributed the improvement to the interactions between Japanese and Chinese athletes during the Beijing Olympic Winter Games in early 2022 and the new opportunities brought by the 50th anniversary of the bilateral ties. Over 90 percent of them hope to have Chinese friends, and many are interested in exchanging views with their Chinese peers on topics such as education, employment and marriage.

"Increasing numbers of Japanese young people are thinking deeply on the issues that challenge relations with China and would like to see bilateral ties improve," Wang Zhongyi, Editor in Chief of CICG Asia-Pacific, said when he announced the survey results.

"Putting aside disputes and maintaining lasting peace in Northeast Asia, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and China-Japan maritime and air crisis management are among the top concerns of Chinese respondents," Gao Anming, Vice President and Editor in Chief of CICG, commented at the survey announcement ceremony.

"If you want to jump high, you need a big run-up. Five decades have passed since China-Japan diplomatic relations resumed, so we should take this opportunity to aim high," Wei Jianguo, Vice Chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said during the 18th Beijing-Tokyo Forum on December 8. The forum, launched in 2005 and currently cohosted by CICG and Genron NPO, is an annual event for nongovernmental exchanges and has the longest history of any such platform between the two countries.

"This year, participants from both sides are more candid and open, no matter the questions or answers. It was rare to see that in the past few editions of the forum," Wei told People's China, a monthly magazine under CICG. 

(Print Edition Title: Deeper Perceptions)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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