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    If wishes were horses

    Maybe this is why my Atsushi has such contempt for The Asashi Shimbun. One of its op-eds today is by a veteran correspondent about Japan-China relations, which is a topic that certainly demands attention. I’m not so sure the “high-minded” approach recommended by Yoichi Funabashi has legs, though:

    This summer, I met a number of Chinese officials and business people in Shanghai and Beijing who are well versed in Japanese affairs. Here’s what some of them said:

    “China is about to acquire reflexes not to make China-U.S. relations worse than they are from a strategic viewpoint and is learning to be patient. But China-Japan relations show no signs of maturing. I’m worried that they could fall into a bottomless pit.” (A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official)

    Yeah, I bet China’s “about to acquire reflexes not to make China-U.S. relations worse than they are from a strategic viewpoint”–also known as trying to destabilize and unseat a rival quietly enough to avoid arousing its suspicions. I mean, I’m no hardened geopolitical strategist, but I’m not a Pollyanna, either. Antagonizing China is a dumb idea–can’t dispute that. Market liberalization in China, distorted and disfigured as it is by being filtered through the appalling corruption in every crack and crevice of its economic and political systems, will keep taking the country in all kinds of unpredictable directions. As a free market guy, I believe in making people, ideas, and capital mobile. But the unequal way its happening in the PRC is going to continue to cause unrest in the short term that could boil over. We can’t afford to ignore that, however much we don’t want the place to go back to its old policies.

    But Funabashi glosses over the conflicts of principle. With unintentional comedy, he waxes nostalgic about a former high Chinese official:

    In advancing such initiatives, we must not forget that China once had a leader who seriously worked at reconciling Japan and China. This person was former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Yaobang, who aimed for political reform and was ousted. In my view, no postwar Chinese politicians had a higher opinion of Japan’s postwar peaceful development nor made a greater effort to seek cooperation with Japan than Hu.

    Three cheers for Hu, then. But, um, are we supposed to glide over that “aimed for political reform and was ousted” bit? Maybe I’m just tactless, but it kind of caught my eye. Granted that the China of today is not the China of 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean that we can just buy that the only factor that makes Japan-Korea and Japan-China relations different is who’s received a written apology for Japan’s wartime abuses. That kind of thing shouldn’t be underestimated, certainly–Japan, China, and Korea all set great store by ceremonial gestures of respect. Recommending that officials not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, or that they make public apologies to China for the occupation, is fine. But Japan and Korea, though no strangers to corruption, still have stable, dynamic free societies that make them more systemically compatible with each other than either is with the PRC. High-mindedness should not be indulged in to a degree that obscures that.

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