China mounts fierce propaganda campaign against Japan

Japan and China, two East Asian regional powers, have been unable to hold summit talks since they started feuding with each other over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan's relationship with China-a country that is mounting an offensive against Japan by making the best possible use of anti-Japan propaganda over historical issues-can now be rightly described as a "cold war."

In a series of articles, we will look at the current state of the worsening Japan-China bilateral relations and the possible challenges lying ahead.

On Jan. 25, the final day of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting held in Davos, Switzerland, a panel discussion was held as a sort of conclusion for this year's forum, titled "global challenges in 2014."

At the session, Jiang Jianqing, a panelist and chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, said: "During World War II, Japan was the Nazi of Asia...Whether things would develop into a real conflict, I think is up to Japan."

The Davos forum is a global conference attended by 2,500 opinion leaders from about 100 countries. The event, with nearly 300 events of various sizes, is held every year.

This year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drew attention at the forum when he delivered his keynote address on the first day of the forum.

Surprisingly, China sent nearly 40 officials as panel chairpersons or panelists-at least twice as many as Japan sent.

Most of these Chinese officials repeatedly criticised Japan.

For example, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: "Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of Japanese militarism. The prime minister's visit to the shrine is a challenge to international justice and order."

A source close to Abe said: "Japan-China relations deteriorated after the administration under then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda nationalised part of the Senkaku Islands. Since then, China has sent a large number of state-owned vessels to waters near the islands, and has unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defence identification zone over the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, exposing itself to strong criticism from the United States and European countries.

"By highlighting the issue of Yasukuni Shrine, China has been trying to divert such criticism away from China," the source said.

Yasuyuki Ishida, a research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, was almost certainly right when he said, "To create a situation favourable to itself, China is trying to call to mind Japan's past militarism so former victor nations of the United States, Britain, France and Russia, and those Asian countries that suffered from Japan's militarism [during the war] will lose trust in Japan."

Nevertheless, China's one-sided criticisms of Japan were not necessarily as well received generally as they were by panelists at the forum.

When Wang later said: "China has been a peace-loving country. China has never invaded or bullied others," some in the audience snickered in contempt.

Yet we cannot afford to make light of China's fierce propaganda against Japan over historical issues.

Unless Japan solidly refutes China's assertions, some people in other countries might accept the criticisms without questioning them or closely examining what has been said.

A major diplomatic challenge for Japan is how well it can solidly strike back in the war of public opinion launched by China.

Of course, China's anti-Japan propaganda campaign centering on historical issues is not limited to the Davos forum.

Within slightly more than one month after Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine late last year, Chinese ambassadors and other diplomats in 73 countries and territories carried out an intense anti-Japan campaign by contributing op-ed articles to prominent media and arranging interviews with them.