RIETI Fellows' View on Incident at Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang

About the Shenyang Incident

SOEYA Yoshihide
Faculty Fellow, RIETI

Listening to the recent debate over Sino-Japanese relations, there are many elements of it that are difficult to bear. Most of the arguments over which the two sides are raising their voices are it must be said one-sided. The Japanese stance that China violated international convention and infringed on its sovereignty in the Shenyang incident has a measure of truth to it, but shouting these points is alone not productive. Vice versa, the same can be said for the Chinese rebuttal. While both sides insist upon the veracity of their own viewpoints, what is happening is just another case of them getting caught up in the viscous emotional cycle that colors Sino-Japanese relations of late.

Viewed from a long-term, macro-strategic perspective, Sino-Japanese relations should be of definitive importance to both sides. In that context, the response to the Shenyang incident by the Chinese government (just the government) was better steeped in a long-term strategy than that of the Japanese government. The Chinese government's response, which refrained from making a big issue out of the incident, and the restrained coverage of the Chinese mainstream mass media, sensitive as it is to government policy, may be viewed as reflecting multi-tiered factors. These include consideration of (1) China's deepening interdependence with international society, (2) China's relationship with North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and its Korean Peninsula policy, (3) China's regional strategy grounded in the weight of its economy, and (4) China's basic policy toward Japan amidst its overall geo-economic vision. The Chinese government's claims of "goodwill" or of justification under international law are nothing but tactical sloganeering.

Whereas much of the argument on the Chinese side stems from a belief in the government's tactical slogans, it would be hard to deny that the response on the Japanese side was devoid of strategy altogether. For example, the government's generally negative policy with regard to accepting refugees didn't begin just yesterday, and this has in essence nothing to do with Japanese righteous protests over the Chinese government's violation of international law. That these separate issues are mixed up in Chinese rebuttals is also related to the loss of a coherent line of logic in government criticism within Japan. If the Japanese Embassy in Beijing is to be criticized for its backward-looking posture with regard to accepting refugees, then a debate in Japan should be held on the incident relative to the logic of Japan's overall refugee policy, not in the context of Japan's China policy. With regard to the violation of international law as well, protests should be registered based on a rationale that holds true beyond China or anywhere else.

Not limited to the Shenyang incident, Japan's vantage point in discussing China policy must be positioned so that it transcends the bilateral dimension of the Sino-Japanese relationship. The policy of the Chinese government, which does not want to unnecessarily aggravate matters, is rooted in its economically centered regional strategy and its international strategy. In the past, China would most likely have strongly protested Bush Administration policies with regard to missile defense, Taiwan and other issues as being "provocative." China's self-restraint in this regard can, in the same context, be seen as part of its international strategy. At the same time, the Chinese government's restraint toward Japan with respect to historical issues reflects a Japan policy that also falls within this schematic.

To this macro-debate over China, there is one more important issue that ought to be added. China's being under a regime controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) notwithstanding, it will not be possible for the country to escape the raging waves of the globalization of democracy emanating from America. In fact, socio-political pluralization is occurring rapidly in Chinese society (as a result, the government's policy of restraint toward Japan is being exposed to the daily scrutiny of strong anti-Japanese sentiments on the part of the general public). How the pluralization of Chinese society will be received will continue to be a domestic issue of utmost importance for the CCP.

Pushed from behind by the government's economically centered strategy, the thrust of China's societal pluralization is no longer possible to stop. Catching this flow, Japan should form its China policy upon three pillars: a security strategy based on its alliance with the US; an economic strategy based on complementality with the Chinese economy; and a civil society strategy that takes into account the pluralization of Chinese society.

June 2002

June 1, 2002

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