Facebook’s ‘Dislike’ Button Is Going to Get a Lot of Use in Asia
When it comes to being friends and playing nice in Asia, there’s not a lot of love to go around.
China’s massive parade on Sept. 3 in Beijing marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s signing of its official surrender ending World War II was as notable for what it said about the current state of Asian public opinion about intra-Asian relations as it was an act of historical commemoration.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not in attendance. Nor was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. But Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korea’s Park Geun-hye were there, as was Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain.
The attendees and the no-shows reflected the current state of public attitudes toward Japan and China throughout the region. And those views underscore the lingering regional tensions that may complicate stability in Asia for years to come.
Seven decades after Tokyo’s failed effort to create a Japan-centric Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, there is little residual animosity toward Japan in most countries. A median of 71 percent across nine Asia-Pacific nations have a favorable view of Japan, with positive views exceeding negative sentiment by more than five-to-one, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
This is not the case in China, however, where long-standing historical animosities and recent territorial tensions suggest Japan’s prime minister would not have been welcome at the festivities in Beijing. Just 12 percent of Chinese express favorable views toward Japan, with 81 percent expressing an unfavorable view of Japan. And among these 53 percent of Chinese say they have a very unfavorable assessment of Japan. Moreover, only 18 percent of Chinese have a lot or some confidence in Abe to do the right thing regarding world affairs. More than twice that number (38 percent) have no confidence in him at all.
As a whole, the Chinese believe that Japan has not apologized sufficiently for its military actions in the 1930s and 1940s, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Nearly eight in 10 Chinese (78 percent) say Japan has not done enough to atone for its actions.
Abe’s comments on the issue in mid-August, during which he expressed “profound grief” for the “immeasurable damage and suffering” Japan inflicted during World War II, were apparently not enough to satisfy the government in Beijing. “Japan should have made an explicit statement on the nature of the war of militarism and aggression and its responsibility on the wars,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
But the Japanese have their own differences with China. More than eight in 10 (83 percent) Japanese are concerned about territorial disputes between China and neighboring countries, including 52 percent who are very concerned. And they don’t understand why the Chinese can’t forgive and forget about the transgressions of Imperial Japan during World War II. Nearly half the Japanese (48 percent) think they have apologized enough for their country’s military actions during that period. This disagreement about the past manifests itself in present attitudes: 89 percent of Japanese have an unfavorable view of China and among these 49 percent see China in a very unfavorable light.
The presence of South Korean president Park at the Beijing ceremony provides an interesting contrast to Abe’s absence. Roughly six in 10 (61 percent) South Koreans have a favorable view of China. But only 47 percent of Chinese hold a positive opinion about South Korea. The bond between the two countries, at least, can be seen in their mutual disregard for Japan. Only 25 percent of South Koreans see Japan in a favorable light. One reason may be because 98 percent of South Koreans believe that Japan has not apologized sufficiently for its colonial occupation of Korea before World War II and for its actions during the war, which included the use of Korean “comfort women” by the Japanese military.
Nor was the attendance by Pakistan’s president a surprise. More than eight in 10 (82 percent) Pakistanis have a favorable view of China and 59 percent of Pakistanis say they have confidence in Xi. Perhaps that’s not unexpected: from 2001 to 2014, China supplied Pakistan with $135 billion in foreign aid, according to data from the Rand Corporation.
But the absence of Modi and Aquino should not have been a surprise, given public views of China in those nations.
Only 41 percent of Indians see China favorably and just 29 percent have confidence in Xi. This may be because 62 percent of Indians are concerned about China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors (China claims part of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.)
And the Philippines has its own territorial dispute with China, over contested reefs in the South China Sea. Some nine in 10 (91 percent) Filipinos are concerned about such disputes, which may explain why just 54 percent have a favorable view of China and 51 percent voice confidence in Xi.
Finally, the presence of Russian president Vladimir Putin in Beijing for the commemoration highlights an emerging disparity in how the Russian people see China compared with how the Chinese see Russia. Nearly eight in 10 Russians (79 percent) have a favorable view of China. And that number is up 15 percentage points since 2014.
The perspective on the relationship in China is somewhat different. Only 51 percent of Chinese see Russia in a positive light; that’s actually down 15 points in the last year.
Beijing’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II was an understandable tribute to the estimated 20 million Chinese who lost their lives during that conflict. But it was also a reminder that deep and potentially dangerous animosities remain between some countries in Asia.
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images