president of The Genron NPO
The annual joint public opinion survey in Japan and China started in 2005, and the latest poll was the 10th. When the findings of the latest one are compared to those of the survey last year, the views of the polled toward each other's country and their ideas about the current situation between the two countries worsened among the Japanese but slightly improved among the Chinese. Through the whole of the period under review, the findings continuously worsened among the peoples of the two countries, though the direction was different.
For instance, Japanese people's views about China worsened this year compared to last year. Of the Japanese polled, 93.0 percent had an unfavorable impression of China. The surveys for the 10 years through this year showed the number of Japanese people who have unfavorable feelings about China continued to increase, except for a brief period after 2006. The latest result was the worst.
Of the Chinese people polled this year, 86.8 percent had an unfavorable impression of China. This was an improvement from the worst ever result of 92.8 percent recorded last year, but the percentage remained far above 80 percent.
The ratio of people who believe that current Japan-China relations are in bad shape came to 83.4 percent, up from 79.7 percent last year and the worst result ever.
The comparable figure for the Chinese people polled significantly improved from 90.3 percent for last year. Still, 67.2 percent of the polled saw the current Japan-China relationship negatively. This was another severe result following the one for 2013.
Against a backdrop of these severe views, 36.8 percent of the Japanese polled expected Japan-China relations to worsen further, up from 28.3 percent for 2013. The corresponding figure for the Chinese polled grew to 49.8 percent from 45.3 percent last year. The pessimistic evaluations were the worst findings over the 10 years.
The series of changes attest to a few tendencies in the views of both countries' peoples.
First, the influence of the Japan-China rivalry over a group of disputed uninhabited islands in the East China Sea on the annual opinion poll lessened somewhat this year among the polled in both countries. However, their views toward each other's country remained very severe for the whole of the 10 years involved. Particularly, Japanese people's unfavorable views toward China have been growing. This must be kept in mind.
Second, the prevailing sentiment of both countries' peoples can be greatly influenced by the state of government-to-government relations. This tendency is more conspicuous for China. As for Japan, public sentiment has continuously worsened and the influence of government-to-government relations is rather limited.
To mention a third factor, 2010 was a turning point in the views of Japanese and Chinese people toward the issues of mutual concern. The findings of the opinion surveys have become even severer on both sides since then.
Note: To summarize developments in government-to-government relations between Japan and China in recent years, the two countries agreed on the importance of strategically reciprocal mutual relations in 2006. Since then to 2010, six heads of government and state visited each other's country. Following these developments in government-to-government relations between the two countries, Japanese and Chinese peoples' views toward Japan-China relations improved significantly, but their opinions toward each other's country improved only temporarily. Since 2010, the opinions of both countries' peoples have been worsening greatly in a quite unconventional manner.
What happened in 2010? Moves to better Japan-China relations continued early in the year. An international expo was held in Shanghai and the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Japan. But a collision involving a Chinese fishing boat and a Japan Coast Guard vessel occurred in waters near a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea in September that year. The incident came at a time when anti-Japanese demonstrations were reignited in China. In addition, China's gross domestic product surpassed Japan's in 2010, too. In 2012, the Japanese government nationalized the disputed islands. This led to serious antagonism between the two countries and interchanges of government officials came to a standstill again.
Territorial dispute, history issue as primary impediments
The bilateral territorial dispute and the differences in historical perceptions were the most frequently cited factors as reasons for the worsening of the two peoples' feelings toward each other's country, and as impediments for the improvement of bilateral relations. This was unchanged from last year. The territories in question are called the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. However, the number of people who chose the territorial dispute as the reason for the worsening bilateral sentiment decreased significantly from last year in both countries.
In the latest poll, 64.0 percent of the Chinese polled referred to the territorial dispute as a reason for their unfavorable impression toward Japan as against 77.6 percent last year while 59.6 percent cited Japan's lack of a full apology and remorse about its history of invasion of China as against 63.8 percent for 2013. Both percentages declined from last year, but the two factors proved to be the most frequently cited reasons, just like last year.
Meanwhile, the bilateral conflicts on the same two issues were also the most frequently mentioned factors for the Japanese polled as reasons for their unfavorable impressions of China. Of the Japanese polled, the Japan-China rivalry over the disputed territories was mentioned by 50.4 percent, against 53.2 percent for 2013, and China's criticism of Japan over its perception about wartime incidents was cited by 52.2 percent, against 48.9 percent.
Over half of the Japanese polled also referred to China's behavior, which is incompatible with international norms, specifically at 55.1 percent. China's allegedly selfish acts mainly in natural resources development was cited by 52.8 percent. This indicates that concerns over China's tendency of strongly demonstrating itself to be a great power led to the unfavorable impressions among the polled Japanese toward China. In other words, Chinese people view today's Japan based on their opinions about Japan's acts in the past while Japanese people feel negatively toward China in light of its current actions.
Though the emotional confrontation between the two countries' peoples deepens further, the latest survey shows what may be seen as fresh signs toward an improvement. Specifically, an increasing number of people in both countries see the lack of mutual confidence between the Japanese and Chinese governments and peoples as the very obstacle to efforts to improve Japan-China relations.
The territorial dispute and the gap in the historical perceptions over wartime incidents remained as the most frequently cited obstacles to the furthering of Japan-China relations among the polled in both countries. Of the Japanese polled, 58.6 percent referred to the territorial question. This was followed by China's anti-Japanese education, mentioned by 42.9 percent. Of the Chinese polled, the largest percentage of 64.8 percent mentioned the territorial dispute as an obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations. This compared with 77.5 percent for 2013. The second-largest percentage of 31.9 percent cited Japan's historical perception and its education about the historical facts. This was down from 36.6 percent last year.
In the latest survey, the lack of confidence between the two countries' governments was cited by 35.0 percent of the Japanese polled as an obstacle to Japan-China relations. Meanwhile, 25.5 percent of the Japanese polled referred to the lack of confidence between the two peoples. With the two figures combined, about 60 percent of the Japanese were concerned about the lack of government-to-government or people-to-people confidence between the two countries. The percentage of the Chinese polled who aired similar views surpassed 40 percent; 25.4 percent cited the lack of government-to-government confidence while 15.5 percent referred to the lack of people-to-people confidence.
Furthermore, the latest survey shows that not a few Japanese and Chinese are concerned about the worsening mutual feelings among the two countries' peoples.
Specifically, 79.4 percent of the Japanese polled and 70.4 percent of the Chinese polled replied that the spread of unfavorable feelings among the two countries' peoples was undesirable, and a matter of concern, or that something must be done to improve the situation. This is a calm, but firm voice from the public. The existence of this kind of voice behind public opinion should be taken seriously.
Importance of bilateral relations broadly recognized
Despite the series of unfavorable findings regarding the feelings among Japanese and Chinese, the peoples of both countries understand that Japan-China relations are important to their respective countries.
In the latest survey, over 60 percent of the polled in both countries acknowledged the importance of relations between the two countries. Specifically, 70.6 percent of the Japanese polled believed that Japan-China relations are important while 65.0 percent of the Chinese polled believed so. However, the findings for the whole of the 10 years under review show that the ratio of Japanese who see the importance of Japan-China relations remained at about 70 percent. There have been no major changes in the figure. But the percentage of Chinese people with similar views was far higher at about 90 percent until around 2010, against the background of improvements in bilateral relations at that time. When compared to the 2010 figure, the latest result was down nearly 30 percentage points.
Why are Japan-China relations important? Both countries' peoples understand the importance of the bilateral relationship only in general terms. They are not fully aware of the specific meaning of Japan-China relations for the whole of Asia and the world.
Frequently cited reasons for the importance of Japan-China relations were rather less fundamental on both sides, among them "Because we are neighbors" and "Because we are the second- and third-largest economies in the world, and the actions of the two countries will be influential to the global situation." Of the Japanese polled, 55.8 percent chose the alternative "Because cooperation between Japan and China is necessary for peacefully developing Asia." This was cited by 29.4 percent of the Chinese polled.
The views of Japanese and Chinese people about the importance of relations between the two countries have strong bearings on their ideas about the future of their own countries and Asia as a whole, and how the bilateral relations should be in the future. In this regard, more than half of the Japanese and Chinese polled replied that they pin their hopes on peaceful coexistence and co-prosperity, but they are uncertain whether this will be achieved. This is an interesting finding. The percentage of those who are optimistic that peaceful coexistence and co-prosperity can be attained came to only 7.8 percent among Japanese and 16.5 percent among Chinese.
The opinion survey included questions that compare the importance of Japan-China relations to that of their respective relations with the United States and South Korea. "Both relations are equally important" tends to be most frequently cited in this kind of question. Differences between Japanese and Chinese people in how they feel can be seen when other answers are analyzed.
In response to the question to compare the importance of relations with the United States to that of Japan-China relations, "Both are important" was cited by 50.1 percent of the Japanese polled. The comparable figure for the Chinese polled was 40.3 percent. Of the Japanese polled, 36.4 percent replied that relations with the United States are more important than Japan-China relations while 22.5 percent of the Chinese polled see relations between the United States and China as more important. A roughly equal 22.0 percent of the Chinese replied relations between Japan and China are more important, an increase from the year-before level of 10.2 percent.
When Japan-China relations are compared to their respective relations with South Korea, the alternative "Equally important" was cited by 47.0 percent (*) of the Japanese polled and 43.5 percent of the Chinese polled. Meanwhile, 33.3 percent of the Chinese polled replied that relations with South Korea are more important. Only 6.5 percent of the Chinese saw relations with Japan as more important.
The polled people in Japan and China were also asked how close they feel to each other's country, and to the United States and South Korea. Those who have a sense of closeness to each other's country were limited among the polled in both countries. Only 4.4 percent of the Chinese polled replied they feel closer to Japan than to the United States while 44.4 percent of them had no sense of closeness to either Japan or the United States. Those who feel closer to the United States came to 30.7 percent. On the part of Japan, 55.7 percent of the Japanese polled replied that they feel closer to the United States. Only 5.6 percent of them felt so to China.
As to a comparison in terms of perceived closeness to Japan and South Korea, only 3.5 percent of the Chinese polled felt closer to Japan while a much larger 52.7 percent replied that they feel closer to South Korea.
* Please see the data of the second joint Japan-South Korea public opinion survey, carried out from May to June 2014.
Japan-China summit cited as necessary step
Of the Japanese polled, 48.9 percent viewed that intergovernmental diplomacy between Japan and China is not functioning effectively. Those who disagreed came to only 4.5 percent. Conversely, 51.0 percent of the Chinese polled replied that intergovernmental diplomacy is functioning effectively between the two countries. Those who do not think so came to 29.6 percent.
To analyze the different perceptions about the current state of governmental diplomacy, it is believed that Japanese people regard the lack of progress in government-to-government negotiations as an indication that governmental diplomacy is not working while the lack of negotiations tends to be seen as stemming from a judgment in governmental diplomacy on the part of China. Still, 30 percent of the Chinese polled view that governmental diplomacy is not functioning effectively, indicating the lack of negotiations between the two countries is seen as a matter of concern.
When asked about what was behind the replies that intergovernmental diplomacy is not functioning effectively, the most frequently cited reasons were the disputes over the ownership of the East China Sea islands and over the historical perceptions about wartime incidents. The second most frequently mentioned answer was the attitudes of the two countries' political leaders. Other calm views also can be found in the latest findings. Of the Japanese polled, 39.5 percent cited Japanese leaders' political attitudes as a reason for their negative views about the current state of governmental diplomacy. Chinese political leaders' attitudes were referred to by 15.4 percent of the Chinese polled and the domestic political situation in both countries by 26.4 percent of them.
Will a summit between Japan and China solve the problem? As a leaders' meeting will be held among the member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing in November, efforts to realize a Japan-China summit on that occasion are under way. As of July, when the latest survey was carried out, 64.6 percent of the Japanese polled believed such a bilateral summit is necessary. A similar view was aired by 52.7 percent of the Chinese polled. However, 37.1 percent of the Chinese replied that a summit between Japan and China is not necessary.
The two countries' peoples were slightly divided over topics that they hope will be addressed at a summit between the two countries.
The territorial dispute was cited by 49.2 percent of the Chinese polled as a topic they hope most strongly will be discussed between Japanese and Chinese leaders. This was followed by 38.1 percent for issues related to the historical perceptions about wartime incidents.
Of the Japanese polled, the territorial dispute was cited by 32.2 percent, the second most frequently mentioned alternative. The percentage of those who cited the historical perceptions was rather limited, at 13.9 percent. If the Chinese hold fast to their stance on the two thorny issues, it is expected to be even harder for the two countries to clinch any specific agreement toward a solution. In the meantime, the largest percentage of 45.8 percent among the Japanese polled pinned hopes on wide-ranging discussions toward improving bilateral relations. This alternative was also chosen by 35.7 percent of the Chinese polled.
Hopes that a proposed crisis management mechanism will be discussed in order to avert an accidental military clash in such areas as the East China Sea were aired by 17.8 percent of the Japanese polled and 14.2 percent of the Chinese polled.
Fear of military clash mounts in both countries
An increasing number of Japanese and Chinese people hope to see mutual concessions made toward resolving the long-standing issues between the two countries. But their views are actually far apart over specifically how to solve the territorial dispute and military-related issues between the two countries. Fears are rather lingering over the possibility of a military clash.
The existence of the territorial issue between Japan and China, and their confrontation over the disputed islands were recognized by 64.3 percent of the Japanese polled and 76.2 percent of the Chinese polled. The Japanese pinned the strongest hopes on finding a solution to the territorial question under international law. Specifically, 48.4 percent cited a peaceful solution through intergovernmental negotiations while 41.2 percent called for an appeal to the International Court of Justice. The Chinese polled supporting such solutions were rather limited; a negotiated solution was favored by 32.6 percent and a move to bring the case to the court by 13.7 percent. The most frequently cited answer on the part of the Chinese was a toughening of effective controls on the territories in question, supported by 63.7 percent. Meanwhile, 47.1 percent of them called for making Japan admit the existence of the territorial issue between the two countries. Overall, Chinese people are increasingly aware of the need to enhance China's preparedness toward Japan.
However, certain percentages of people on both sides supported efforts to avoid an accidental military clash in the waters near the disputed islands without hurriedly seeking a solution. Specifically, this view was favored by 27.1 percent of the Japanese polled and 26.1 percent of the Chinese polled. Both figures increased from last year.
Those who mentioned each other's country as states posing a military threat increased both among the Japanese and Chinese polled. North Korea was most frequently mentioned, by 68.6 percent, as a military threat by the Japanese polled. China was regarded so by a roughly equal 64.3 percent of the Japanese polled. The Chinese polled felt the strongest military threat from the United States, referred to by 57.8 percent of them. Japan was cited by 55.2 percent of the Chinese polled. As the percentage regarding the United States sharply declined from 71.6 percent last year, the United States and Japan almost came in line with each other.
As reasons for China's military threats felt by Japanese people, 71.9 percent of the Japanese polled cited China's incursions into the Japanese claimed territorial waters around the disputed islands, while 65.2 percent of them referred to the rivalry between Japan and China mainly over the territorial issue. China's moves to increase its military strength were cited by 53.8 percent of the Japanese polled.
On the part of China, the largest percentage of 58.2 percent felt a military threat from Japan, mentioning Japan is trying to militarily encircle China in step with the United States. Of other answers, 52.4 percent of the Chinese said Japan is becoming less repentant for its acts of invasion in the last war while 51.9 percent cited Japan's failure to acknowledge the existence of the territorial issue. Japan's recent moves in diplomatic and defense policy areas did not draw such strong criticism as reasons for a military threat felt from Japan. Specifically, only 21.8 percent of the Chinese polled cited Japan's alleged leanings to the right while 14.5 percent mentioned Japan's decision to allow itself to exercise a right to collective self-defense. Those who believe Japan is actually attempting to be a military power again were limited to 7.4 percent.
In these circumstances, more than half of the Chinese polled, specifically 53.4 percent, foresaw a military clash occurring between Japan and China "in a few years' time" or "in the future." The figure compared with 52.7 percent for 2013. The corresponding figure for the Japanese polled came to 29.0 percent.
Direct, diversified people-to-people exchanges indispensable
What must be discussed finally is the current state of mutual understanding between the two countries' peoples, coupled with factors in the background. The surveys so far show that direct interchange has been extremely limited between the two countries and as a result, most Japanese and Chinese people rely on media reports in their respective countries, notably TV reports, as sources for forming their views of each other's country. This tendency was basically unchanged in the latest survey.
Of the Japanese polled, 14.3 percent replied they have visited China, as against 14.7 percent for 2013. Meanwhile, 21.1 percent of them said they have acquaintances to talk to on some occasions, almost unchanged from 20.3 percent last year.
Chinese people who have visited Japan are even more limited. Reflecting an increase in foreign tourists to Japan in recent years, the percentage of Chinese who have visited Japan grew from the year-before level of 2.7 percent but only to 6.4 percent. Those with acquaintances or friends to whom they sometimes talk were only 3.1 percent, down from 3.3 percent for 2013. This tendency was almost unchanged in the past 10 years.
As a result, both countries' peoples came to rely on indirect information as a base for their views of each other's country. For example, 70 percent to 80 percent of Japanese and Chinese polled replied that they obtain information for forming their understanding of each other's country mainly only through media reports available in their respective countries. Specifically, 73.9 percent of the Japanese and 80.1 percent of the Chinese replied so. More specifically, 96.5 percent of the Japanese polled and 91.4 percent of the Chinese polled cited news from media organizations in their respective countries as their information sources. Further, most of them relied on TV news reports.
Information sources cited by the Chinese polled were somewhat diversified, with TV dramas, information programs and movies mentioned by 61.4 percent, and Chinese books, including school textbooks, by 37.4 percent as tools for obtaining Japanese-related information.
More important is a major difference in the evaluations of Japanese and Chinese people about news coverage by media companies in their respective countries. Of the Chinese polled, 73.9 percent thought that news reports about Japan-China relations by Chinese media companies are objective and impartial. Conversely, only 26.8 percent of the Japanese polled thought the same about news coverage by Japanese media companies. Discussions on the Internet were favored only by 9.6 percent of the Japanese polled as reflecting the views among the public in an appropriate manner. The comparable figure for the Chinese polled was far higher at 38.6 percent. This indicates that China's public opinion can be greatly influenced by news reports by the Chinese media.
In short, the views about and understanding of each other's country are rather vulnerable to the state of intergovernmental relations, and media reports about incidents and developments on each occasion. As the tendency becomes more conspicuous when the situation is unfavorable, the base for people's perceptions about each other's country is fragile.
Another point that we must consider is that this fragile structure is seen to be protracted. As the basic understanding between the two countries' peoples remains immature, fears about each other's country are continuously growing.
For instance, 69.0 percent of the Japanese polled regard China as a socialist or communist country. But, looking back at the 10 years covered by the joint opinion surveys, 40.1 percent of the Japanese polled referred to China as a totalitarian state under one-party rule, up from 37.4 percent for 2013, while those who described China as a hegemony-seeking country came to 22.6 percent, as against the year-before figure of 23.0 percent.
Meanwhile, the largest percentage of 39.7 percent among the Chinese polled referred to Japan as a capitalist country. Nearly 40 percent of the Chinese respondents described Japan as a hegemony-seeking country, 36.7 percent, a nationalist country, 37.5 percent, and a militarist country, 36.5 percent.
The doctrines Japan has upheld throughout the postwar years were understood only by about 10 percent of the Chinese polled. Specifically, the percentage of Chinese who are aware of Japan's pacifism stood at 10.5 percent while 14.4 percent of the Chinese understand Japan as a democracy and 6.7 percent as a country in favor of international cooperation. This unfavorable tendency became rather clearer.
As far as the findings of the joint opinion surveys in Japan and China are concerned, mutual understanding and fundamental understanding between the two countries' peoples have not improved significantly. Rather, the reappearance of unfavorable moves in government-to-government relations between Japan and China from 2010 on has helped to hamper efforts to improve mutual understanding.
In that sense, attempts to improve intergovernmental diplomacy between the two countries, such as for realizing a bilateral summit, should pave the way for repairing the situation between the two countries. But this will be insufficient. Calm media coverage and, more importantly, direct and diversified exchanges between Japanese and Chinese people, and in their private sectors should be indispensable.