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

Incident at Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang from China's Viewpoint

MENG Jianjun
Faculty Fellow, RIETI

I first heard about the Shenyang incident early in the morning of 9 May. I was on a flight to Hong Kong on my way to teach an intensive training course in a master's program in public administration at the Annex of Tsinghua University in Shenzhen, one of China's special economic zones. Onboard, I picked up an issue of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan Economic News) and was perusing a large article on the front page titled "Nissan's Joint Manufacturing Venture in China-100,000 Units of Four Models a Year..." when my eye caught an article next to it on the consulate incident. After reading it, I had the impression that the Japanese media had given it front-page coverage because it was the first time an incident of this type, common of late in other places, had occurred at a Japanese consulate-general office.

That evening in the university dorm, I zapped through the TV channels to catch the 7 o'clock news from China (through recent advances in telecommunications, some 50 channel, including both domestic and international satellite broadcasts, can be viewed over Chinese television). On each channel, all I could find was brief coverage of the incident. Then, turning to the Phoenix Info Channel (based in Hong Kong, it may be called the Chinese version of CNN, broadcasting 24-hour news in Mandarin), I was astonished to hear that the Japanese government had lodged a protest against the Chinese authorities. In China, the People's Daily and the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily did not carry an article on the consulate incident, only a statement from China's Foreign Ministry. Listening later to the news on Chinese television, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry explained the incident from the Chinese viewpoint and appealed to the Japanese side for calm. Conversely, in Japan the incident became amplified day by day in overheated reaction.

The scene of the North Koreans rushing into the consulate was also played on Chinese television. It was on the 16th when having learning about the heated Japanese reaction my students pitched me the following questions: "Why are the Japanese so excited? What do they expect to accomplish by it?" Even then, their attitude was on the most part cool and composed. Having come from Japan to teach the course, I felt some obligation to offer the students an explanation, so in the following day's session I introduced them to an article posted on RIETE's homepage by my colleague C.H. Kwan [OK?]. Having completed some 32 hours of marathon teaching over the 12-day course, on the evening of the 20th I returned to Tokyo via Hong Kong. Clicking on NHK the next morning, I found the news of the incident to be the talk of the town-and not in the least bit discreet.

I had perceived the incident as being all but over with in China. Now, witnessing the chain reaction taking place on the Japan side, I couldn't help but think that it demonstrated a lack of confidence in China on the part of the Japanese government and mass media. Even before the event, there has in recent years been a litany of errors in the Japanese understanding of China. This is because things are moving ahead so dynamically in China that virtually all analysts who view China from the outside are not able to keep abreast with realities on the ground. This fact notwithstanding, most Japanese "commentators" go about criticizing China nonchalantly, and so-called China experts, who haven't done any fieldwork in recent years, have the nerve to talk ideologically about Chinese society, politics and economics.

Another problem that should be addressed is the responsibly of intellectual society. In all parts of the world, be it East or West, it is the responsibility of intellectuals to exchange constructive views in an effort to lead the world and society as a whole in better directions. In Japan, however, this kind of person is becoming scarce. In short, what is needed first of all is not an understanding of contemporary China conjured up in the head through preconceived notions, but a shift to ideas generated through the feet-on-the-ground experience and observation.

Undeniably, Chinese society has a mountain of problems to overcome; and in moving ahead, it needs to carry far more baggage than must Japan. If Japan keeps taking an insincere little-difference-between-me-and-thee attitude, it is unlikely that a spirit to push the relationship forward will emerge. After all, it will be by paving a path to mutual prosperity through China's steady development that Japan's national interests will be served and the foundations for a healthy Sino-Japan relationship formed.

June 2002

June 1, 2002