No love lost but Japanese can't do without China products

CASUAL wear giant Uniqlo's high-tech underwear and Nikon's lower-end digital cameras are made in China.

But though a survey released by the Cabinet Office last November found that eight out of 10 Japanese have no fond feelings for China, it has not stopped them buying China-made products.

Last year, Chinese imports into Japan jumped 17.4 per cent to a record 17.6 trillion yen (S$217.7 billion). It's not just made-in-China Japanese brands that they buy. Even items ranging from plastic cups to neckties sold at Japan's ubiquitous "100 yen shops" are also mostly sourced from China.

"The reality is that if the Japanese do not buy China-made products, it would not be possible for us to carry on with our daily lives," said Mr Hidehiko Mukoyama, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.

The Japanese media tends to focus on the negative aspects of China and many bookshops display covers that scream "kenchu", which means "anti- Chinese sentiments". Former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, known for denigrating the Chinese at every turn, also had a big impact on public opinion.

When he famously called for public donations to purchase the disputed Senkaku islands - located about 1,900km south-west of Tokyo and referred to by the Chinese as Diaoyu - 1.4 billion yen poured in from around the country.

Third-year college student Hidehito Munakata, 21, who said he liked China, believes that most Japanese know too little about their biggest neighbour.

"The people who responded to the Cabinet Office survey mostly have no basic understanding of China. What they know is through the news or hearsay. As a result, it is natural that they hold bad opinions of China," said the social science major.

Beijing's repeated deployment of naval vessels around the disputed islands has not helped.

"I am simply astounded that in this day and age, China still wants to practise imperialism," said sales executive Akio Akutsu, 36, who has no love for Beijing.

But Japanese attitudes towards the Chinese people remain largely positive. Mr Akutsu said he found Chinese people "generally cheerful and pleasant".

Chinese tourists were the top spenders in Japan for three consecutive years till 2012, helping fill hotels and move merchandise off shelves. The number of Chinese arrivals to Japan fell sharply because of the territorial dispute last year, before rebounding.

Still, Japan received only 1,314,000 Chinese visitors last year, down 7.8 per cent from the previous year.

China scholar Koichi Sato of JF Oberlin University in Tokyo believes that, like it or not, the two countries are intertwined economically.

"Even if Japan and China have political squabbles, economically we cannot divorce each other. We should aim to build a relationship where both sides can feast to their hearts' content," he said.

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