It has been 14 years since we began our joint public opinion poll with China. It is truly rare for the opinions of the Chinese people to be surveyed continuously, and this is the only such survey in the world. During this period, the sentiments of the Japanese and Chinese peoples towards one another have remained unfavorable, and this has, in turn, had a serious effect on relations between the two countries. Our survey works together with our "Tokyo-Beijing Forum," a private talk aimed at improving such conflicting public opinions, to provide material for debate among many intellectuals.
The results of the 14th public opinion poll, published on October 11, reveal that among the Chinese, the impression of Japan as well as opinions on the bilateral relationship have largely improved over the past year. Furthermore, this improvement occurred across the board for the Chinese, quieting antagonistic sentiments and attitudes towards historical issues, which have constantly been a large obstacle to Japan-China relations, and strengthening optimistic views on the future of Japan-China relations.
Japanese opinions, on the other hand, did not improve like those of the Chinese, and this contrast became even more apparent this year. While pessimistic views among the Japanese towards Japan-China relations largely decreased this year, over 80% of the Japanese still have an "unfavorable" impression of China. There was also some exceptions to the improvement on the Chinese side. Over the past year, there was an increase in the perception of Japan as a military threat among the Chinese, making Japan the country that poses the greatest perceived military threat to China. Among the Japanese as well, there wasan increase in those who feel threatened by China's actions. Therefore, in terms of national security, tensions are spreading among both countries' peoples. The challenge posed by this year's survey is how we should understand such trends.
Why did the Chinese impression of Japan improve across the board?
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China, and full-fledged endeavors to cooperate and improve government relations are starting to come into motion. We will be conducting the "Tokyo-Beijing Forum," a track II dialogue between Japan and China, on October 14 in Tokyo. A week from the forum, Prime Minister Abe is scheduled to have a talk with Xi Jinping. Since early this year, we have seen many diplomatic efforts for the denuclearization of North Korea. The US-China trade war based on the United State's "America First" policy is intensifying. It is important to note these conditions under which this year's survey was conducted.
The first, greatest feature that came up in our survey was that the impression of Japan among the Chinese a lot improved. Among the Chinese, the impression of Japan as "favorable" rose from last year's 31.5% to 42.2%, while "unfavorable" impressions fell 10 points from last year's 66.8% to 56.1%. It was the first time in the 14 years that this survey has been conducted that over 40% of the Chinese had a "favorable" impression of Japan. If this trend continues, "favorable" may possibly surpass "unfavorable" by next year's survey.
Among the Japanese, however, there was no improvement in impressions of China this year, as nearly 90% (86.3%) of the Japanese still have an "unfavorable" impression of China, showing no real change from last year (88.3%).
The Chinese people's impression of Japan, which has significantly improved over the past few years, has been affected by the increasing direct contact with Japan and a diversification of information sources, especially among the younger generation.
While this structure itself has not changed from last year, the situation has changed. Opinions are improving among all classes, beyond differences in age and information sources. The context behind this change is the movement within both governments to improve Japan-China relations and the extensive effort on China's part through its existing media outlets.
First, there has been an increase in Chinese tourists to Japan. 2018 saw a further rise in momentum from last year's 7.36 million. This situation is confirmed in the opinion poll, as the percentage of Chinese who replied that they have traveled to Japan increased from last year (15.7%) to 18.6%. Furthermore, 90% of these visits have occurred over the past 5 years. 74.3% of these visitors further replied that their impression of Japan was "favorable," largely surpassing the 34.9% of "favorable" impressions among those who have never visited Japan.
Next we focused on the diversification of information sources. In last year's survey, we pointed out that there was a trend among those in their 20's and under to seek information through information apps on their cell phones. Those who relied on their cell phones for information had more favorable opinions of Japan than those who sought traditional media sources, and this trend was especially significant among those in their 20's. While this year's survey also revealed the same trend among those under 20, there was a smaller gap based on age and information sources, and the improvement in impressions could be found for all groups.
The percentage of those under the age of 20 with a "favorable" impression of Japan was a significantly large 63.1%, exceeding last year's result. Meanwhile, this percentage has also undergone complete change for those in their 30's and 40's, each coming out to over 40%. "Favorable" impressions further rose 13 points among Chinese respondents in their 50's and 20 points among those in their 60's.
At the same time, there was also a change among those who cited traditional media, such as television and newspapers, as their sources of information. The impression of Japan as "favorable" rose to 38.9% (as compared to last year's 25.4%) among those who cited television sources and to 42.2% (20% last year) among those who cited newspapers. There was, as it is, an improvement in impressions of Japan beyond differences in age and information sources.
This trend cannot be assessed without considering existing Chinese media broadcasts.
Movements to improve bilateral relations accelerated among Japanese and Chinese governments and politicians this year. The Chinese media also actively reported on such efforts. In this survey, nearly 90% (86.6%) of the Chinese responded that the Chinese media "contributed" to improving Japan-China relations, showing a 9-point increase from last year's 77.8%. In comparison, only 30.2% of the Japanese feel that the Japanese media "contributed."
Japanese opinions have not improved like the Chinese
A second characteristic of this year's survey was that Japanese opinions were on opposite poles from those of the Chinese. A few of the survey questions revealed that the Japanese feel uneasy about recent actions taken by the Chinese. This is the straightforward reason that the impression of China among the Japanese has not improved.
This year's survey also questioned why the Japanese have an "unfavorable" impression of China. The most popular response was "continuing territorial issues over Senkaku Islands and Japanese waters/airspace" at 58.6% (56.7% last year), followed by "actions that go against international rules" at 48% (40.2% last year). Both of these percentages rose as compared to last year.
We asked this same question to 400 intellectuals in Japan via email and found that this uneasiness about China was even stronger among the intellectuals. Nearly 80% (79.9% this year as compared to 68.2% last year) selected "seemingly selfish acts by the Chinese as a world power in international society," followed by 75.2% (61.1% last year) who selected "different political system (one-party rule of the Communist Party)." Furthermore, the percentages of intellectuals who chose these two choices have largely increased over the past year.
It must be added that this impression stems from the fact that the Japanese understanding of China still depends largely on indirect sources such as media broadcasts. Although less than for the Chinese, a slight improvement in impressions have been confirmed among the Japanese who have had experience traveling to China as opposed to those who have not. However, over the 14 years of this survey, there has been little change in the percentage of Japanese who have traveled to China, and the past two years have rather shown a decreasing trend. As a result, opinions on China among the general Japanese public have had to rely strongly on existing Japanese media sources, particularly Japanese television reports.
Current bilateral relations is "good"?
This difference in Chinese and Japanese opinions is clear in a number of other categories as well.
In terms of how both countries evaluate current Japan-China relations, efforts between governments have succeeded in producing an improving trend among both countries' peoples. This trend is again especially strong among the Chinese. For the Chinese, the view of current Japan-China relations as "bad" fell 20 points from last year's 64.2% to 45.1% . For the Japanese, this percentage fell below 40% (39%). It was the first time in 8 years that the view of Japan-China relations as "bad" fell under 50% for both countries' peoples.
However, this does not mean that both countries see Japan-China relations as "good."
A harsh outlook on relations is especially prominent among the Japanese. While the percentage of Chinese who view bilateral relations as "good" rose above 30% (30.3%) for the first time in 5 years, only 7.2% of the Japanese feel the same.At the same time, the Japanese also do not have as optimistic a view of future Japan-China relations as well.
While nearly 40% of the Chinese (38.2%) expect that Japan-China relations "will improve" in the future, only 15.6% of the Japanese feel the same. Rather, more of the Japanese feel that relations "will worsen" (18.3%) or "will not change" (37.6%).
Furthermore, I would also like to focus on how opinions on the importance of Japan-China relations have changed. Looking at the importance of Japan-China relations as seen by the two countries, 70% of both countries' peoples feel that Japan-China relations are important. While the 71.4% for the Japanese showed no large change from last year (at 71.8%), there was an increase for the Chinese to 74% this year (as compared to 68.7% last year).
However, when we expand our perspective on the importance of one another's countries out to the world, the differences start to stand out. To China, the most important foreign relation is, like last year, Russia at 30.9% (as compared to 32.6% last year), followed by the United States at 23.3% (28.4% last year). The percentage of Chinese who selected the United States fell significantly as compared to last year, meanwhile, those who selected Japan, which was the third country on this list, rose largely from last year's 12% to 18.2%.
In comparison, the Japanese view the United States as their most important foreign relation, at 57.8%. While this percentage fell from last year (64.5%), it is still strikingly high. In contrast, China was selected by only 8.2% of the Japanese (7.3% last year).
Why have the Chinese started to feel that Japan is the most important foreign relation?
Why, then, have the Chinese begun to be more aware of the importance of Japan over the past year?
What we can say from the survey results is only that, in terms of the importance of Japan-China relations, the only factor contributing to it that increased among the Chinese was that "Japan is the third largest economy in the world and is an important trade partner to China," which rose to 58.8% as compared to last year (55.6%).
At the same time, 67.4% of the Chinese expressed their anticipation that economic and trade relations with Japan will improve, nearly doubling the percentage from last year (36.7%). It is therefore certain that many of the Chinese attach importance to Japan's economic cooperation. As the trade war and economic opposition between China and the United States intensifies, the Chinese people have begun to develop an interest in economic and trade relations with Japan and have selected choices on the survey supporting extensive economic cooperation with Japan.
Over 40% of the Chinese also expressed their strong interest in the early realization of the Japan-China-South Korea FTA, cooperation on the One Belt, One Road initiative, as well at the TPP11, led by Japan.
In Japan, however, an understanding of this kind of economic partnership or cooperation with China has not spread widely, and few Japanese selected specific means of cooperation, contrary to the Chinese. Rather, over 70% of the Japanese replied "not sure" regarding issues and frameworks for cooperation, and only 7.3% replied that Japan should cooperate with China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative.
At the same time, there is extremely high interest in the world economy among the Chinese, especially with the China-US trade war. 80.5% of the Chinese and 65.1% of the Japanese believe that international cooperation based on multilateralism is important as a means of opposing nationalism and protective trade. Meanwhile 75.6% of the Chinese support the WTO reform, while this is only true for 39.7% of the Japanese. Although we cannot determine here how exactly the Chinese understand the content of the WTO reform, the high interest in it is yet again completely contrary to Japanese public opinion.
Both countries' interests are starting to gather on multilateral cooperation
Apart from economics, the importance of one another's countries still remains vague for both countries' peoples, with no indication of any concrete directions to be taken in the future. However, the survey results revealed that both parties are starting to direct their interests towards multilateral issues in Asia.
In the survey question mentioned earlier asking why Japan-China relations are important, Japan's status as an "important trade partner to China" was the only response that increased slightly among the Chinese. The most popular response still remained the fact that Japan is an "important neighboring country," at 61.3%. On the other hand, a 55.3% majority of the Japanese selected "necessity of Japan-China cooperation towards peace and development in Asia," while this response was only selected by 30.3% of the Chinese.
Both countries, however, agree on the need to cooperate in regards to Japan-China relations and issues in Asia, and both countries' interests are spreading out to multilateral issues. This year's survey also showed that 63.4% of the Japanese (62.8% last year) support such bilateral cooperation as well as multilateral cooperation in Asia, and this percentage also dramatically increased among the Chinese from (58.3%) last year to 70.4%.
Our survey further asked about what fields this cooperation should take place in. Significant responses among the Japanese were "North Korea's nuclear issue and complete denuclearization" chosen by over 70% (74.6%) of respondents and "environmental issues" selected by 62.3%. These are further followed by "food safety" at 38.8% and "building a stable and peaceful order in Northeast Asia" at 35.3%. In comparison, although responses among the Chinese are scattered and still lack a focus, two of the choices - "North Korea's nuclear issue and complete denuclearization" at 40.4% and "economic partnerships in trade investments like the Japan-China-South Korea FTA" at 31.8% - were selected by over 30% of the Chinese.
At this time, it is still difficult to assess whether such attitudes towards multilateral issues will come to stimulate Japan-China relations. However, it is not that the two countries have no expectations for new developments in bilateral relations. In terms of whether a new cooperating relationship should be established for stability and peace in the world economy and East Asia, over half of both countries' people - 63.5% of the Chinese (73.5% last year) and 53.5% of the Japanese (59.2% last year) - agree.
What should be noted, however, is that opportunities to develop such a cooperating relationship have not really increased, even amid movements by both country's governments to improve bilateral relations. Seen only within the context of this year, there has rather been a decrease in those who have expectations for such a new bilateral relationship.
40% of both the Japanese and Chinese feel that the principles of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship have not yet been fully realized
The important thing to consider for future Japan-China relations is the role assumed by both countries' governments. Four political documents, including the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed 40 years ago, pledge Japan and China's resolution to fulfill their responsibilities in establishing peace and prosperity in the Asia region. At the same time, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship also clearly states that the two countries shall settle all disputes by peaceful means and refrain from the use of threat or force. Furthermore, it states that the two countries shall not seek hegemony and that each shall be opposed to efforts by any other attempts to establish hegemony.
As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, we asked both countries to evaluate this treaty for the first time. What we noted was that 40.4% of the Japanese and 46.2% of the Chinese feel that the principles of the treaty have "not been realized." Especially among the Japanese, only 14.8% replied that the principles have "been realized," while "not sure" comprised the majority of responses at 44.6%.
For those who feel that the principles have not yet been realized, many are skeptical about Japan-China relations as well as the state of mutual understanding between the two countries. At the same time, military uncertainties between Japan and China also give rise to the doubts concerning the treaty's results.
Why does China feel the greatest military threat in the world from Japan?
The last characteristic I would like to mention is how both countries view national security.
What I would like to draw attention to here is that, while Chinese opinions on Japan are improving overall, it is only in regards to national security that they are stagnant.
Nearly 70% of the Chinese (68.7% this year, 59.1% last year) feel that certain countries pose a military threat to their country. Of the countries that pose a threat, Japan was selected by 79.4% of the Chinese this year, largely exceeding the 67.6% last year. Over the past year, Japan has become the country that poses the largest perceived military threat to China, followed by the United States at 67.7% (65.7% last year).
In comparison, 72.7% (80.5% last year) of the Japanese responded that certain countries pose a military threat to their country. Of the countries that pose such threat, 57.5% of the Japanese selected China, also largely exceeding last year's result (45.3%). This means that tensions between the two countries in regards to national security have, on the contrary, intensified over the past year. Trends in Japanese opinions can be understood more readily by considering our simultaneously administered survey with Japanese intellectuals as an indicator.
The perception of China as a military threat among Japanese intellectuals rose to 86.6% this year (79.7% last year), while North Korea fell from last year's 87.2% to 70.9%. As talks have begun between the US and North Korea on the denuclearization of North Korea, the Japanese intellectuals' interests migrated back from North Korea to China. While this change is not as evident among the general public, the overall trend is similar to that of the Japanese intellectuals.
Although the majority of the Japanese general public still perceives North Korea to pose the greatest military threat, at 84.8%, there has been a slight decrease in this opinion as compared to last year (89.2%). The question is how the opinions of the Chinese should be understood. A 70.1% majority of the Chinese cite "Japan's attempt to besiege China ... in cooperation with the United States" as their reason for perceiving Japan as a military threat to their country. This response, however, has also decreased from last year's 79.5% and it is difficult to understand what reason led to the change in opinion among the Chinese this year.
Let us therefore observe the changes in opinions this year among the Chinese intellectuals, who were also surveyed simultaneously. Among the Chinese intellectuals, 64.1% also view Japan as a military threat, showing an increase from last year (60.2%). As reasons for this perceived threat, the only factors that increased this year were "Japan's positioning of China as a hypothetical enemy in their defense program" at 71.2% (59.6% last year) and "Japan's attempt to besiege China ... in cooperation with the United States" at 68.2% (64.6% last year), both of which comprised the majority of responses among the Chinese intellectuals.
Such Chinese sentiments also influenced their understanding of the possibility of military conflict between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. 56.1% of the Chinese feel that military conflict will occur in the next few years or in the future, slightly exceeding last year's 53.3%.
In comparison, only 27.7% of the Japanese believe that military conflict will occur, with no real change from last year's result (27.6%). Although the "Maritime and Air Liaison Mechanism" began its operation in June of 2018, our survey this year made it clear that 36.7% of the Japanese and 26% of the Chinese believe that it alone is insufficient for avoiding unintended military confrontations.
A Multilateral Framework for Security is Necessary in Northeast Asia
Under such conditions, both countries have seen an upsurge in the opinion that a multilateral framework for security in Northeast Asia is necessary. Over half of the Chinese (59.7% as compared to 48.3% last year) and 42.8% of the Japanese (37.9% last year) expressed this opinion, both exceeding last year's results. However, there is a slight difference in opinion between the two countries regarding which countries should participate in this framework. The Japanese imagine a 6-party talk between Japan, China, the United States, South Korea and Russia. Over 60% of the Chinese, on the other hand, selected China, Japan and the United States. From this, we can see that the Chinese are strongly aware of the opposition between China and Japan/the US.
Lastly, let us mention the issue of denuclearizing North Korea. Due to the intentions of our Chinese partner in this joint survey, this issue was limited to one question regarding whether North Korea's nuclear issue should be resolved through diplomatic efforts. The survey revealed that 36.6% of the Chinese and 40.2% of the Japanese believe that this course of action is "correct but insufficient." In Japan, 19% believe that the issue "cannot be resolved by diplomatic efforts alone," and 5.7% of the Chinese feel the same.