Members of the new rightwing Japan Restoration Party on the stump for the Dec. 16 general election in Osaka. (Photo/Xinhua)
The popular nationalistic stances adopted by Japanese political parties ahead of the Dec. 16 lower house elections, which have also been fueled by the country's media, has led to hyped anti-Chinese sentiment among the Japanese public, even as anti-Japanese feelings continue to run high in China.
China's emergence as the greater economic power of the two has led to the revival of militarism in Japan, with the two countries refusing to back down in their territorial dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.
Although both countries have seen the rise of populist politics as a result of this dispute, China's authoritarian style of government gives it a tighter grip on the situation. It uses popular anti-Japanese sentiment to its own advantage but is also able to calm things down should feelings threaten to get too out of hand and challenge the Communist Party's own authority, whereas in Japan the administration of Yoshihiko Noda has pandered to nationalistic voters over the islands but still looks likely to get the boot.
The Japanese politicians' populist strategy, aimed at winning votes, may encourage the rise of extreme nationalism, which could take a heavy toll on the Japanese economy or have other destructive consequences. In China, Korea and in parts of Southeast Asia there still lingers a pervasive feeling that Japan has not shown sufficient remorse for its brutal occupation from the 1930s until the end of the Second World War (earlier in the case of Korea) and a growing concern that the country's younger generation seems increasingly inclined to downplay or deny outright the historical atrocities Imperial Japanese forces carried out in mainland Asia.
Irresponsible political maneuvers by rightwingers in Japan have hindered diplomatic and defense talks between Tokyo and Beijing and may create a new cold war in East Asia.
Western media are also worried about this growing trend in Japan, with the Economist suggesting in an article published on Oct. 6 that the country's supposedly free and inquiring press has also been pandering to popular nationalism. China does this too, of course, but that is to be expected in a country where the media is controlled by the state.
If Shinzo Abe, head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, wins the election and becomes prime minister as expected, his past denial of Japan's war crimes and talks of resuming visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where officers executed for war crimes are among the spirits enshrined, will not help ease the tension between Tokyo and Beijing.
A group of former US national security officials, including Democrats Joseph Nye and James Steinberg and Republicans Richard Armitage and Stephen Hadley, also said in a confidential report to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that poor communications and serious misunderstandings between China and Japan have increased the risk of an escalation in the territorial dispute, according to Bloomberg News.
Since China under the new leadership of Xi Jinping plans to set aside the dispute and avoid confrontation in its relations with Japan, whether populist politics or the nation's genuine interests will prevail after the general election depends on the self-awareness, cool-headedness and most of all, tact, of Japanese politicians.