Friend or foe? Japan-China ties complicated after 50 years

Sep 28, 2022, 6:53 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm
FILE - In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shak...

FILE - In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they pose for photographers before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Oct. 26, 2018. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic communique that former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka signed with former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. (Li Tao/Xinhua via AP, File)

(Li Tao/Xinhua via AP, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two Asian countries normalized relations as part of the process that brought Communist China into the international fold.

Chinese official media and textbooks memorialize the victims of Japan’s brutal invasion during World War II, even as young urbanites slurp “ramen” soup noodles in a two-story restaurant row made to look like Tokyo’s narrow alleyways.

In the real Tokyo, Japanese flocked to a festival last weekend to try Chinese dumplings, even as they worried about the growing military prowess of their much larger neighbor and its designs on the self-governing island of Taiwan — which happens to be a former Japanese colony.

“Politics is politics, it has nothing to do with the exchanges between us people,” said Zheng Bin, baking a Chinese leek pie at the festival in Yoyogi Park. He has spent half his life in Japan, coming as a student 30 years ago, and now runs six Chinese restaurants in the Tokyo area.

Politics influences people, though, and critical views are on the rise as the two countries mark the 50th anniversary on Thursday of the agreement to establish diplomatic relations, which followed U.S. President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China earlier in 1972.

A survey last year by Japanese think tank Genron NPO found that 90% of Japanese had a negative image of China, and 66% of Chinese felt the same way toward Japan, up from 53% the previous year.

“It’s normal that there are problems at the 50th anniversary,” said Li Tingjiang, the director of a Japanese studies center at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He cited geopolitics and the social and economic differences between the two countries. “But we shouldn’t deny the longstanding positive impact from mutual understanding and cultural exchange over the past 50 years.”

___

TOKYO: CAN PEOPLE EXCHANGES OVERCOME TOXIC TIES?

Japanese college student Momoe Unou went to the Tokyo festival to scout out the food — she wants to sell Chinese dumplings and buns at an upcoming event with exchange students from China.

Until a high school trip to China, her view of the country was based solely on textbooks and TV news — and it wasn’t a positive one. Once there, she was struck by the eagerness of her Chinese counterparts to communicate, prompting her to major in Asian studies.

“I would have thought of China as a scary nation if television news were my only source of information about it,” she said.

The Japan-China Exchange Festival returned last weekend after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers hope it will help restart cultural exchange despite tense political ties as Japan is pulled into a growing rivalry between the U.S. and China.

Festival adviser Yasuo Fukuda, a former prime minister who is an active proponent of better ties with China, said the pandemic has reduced communication between the two nations.

“Lack of dialogue increases risks of misunderstanding … and things that do not happen under normal circumstances could happen,” he said in an interview with the AP.

“I hope this festival provides an opportunity for you to think of that day 50 years ago and find our path for the future,” he said in remarks at the opening of the two-day event.

Festival goer Masaki Makita, who studied and worked in Shanghai for nearly a decade, has issues with China’s policy toward Taiwan and its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. He feels media coverage has affected people’s views in both countries, probably more so because of the isolation from the pandemic.

“I think news about China that we see in the Japanese media could be somewhat biased, while I don’t think China is right either,” he said. “But I have many Chinese friends, and it has nothing to do with politics.”

___

BEIJING: CAN SOFT POWER OVERCOME WARTIME HISTORY?

A fatty, garlicky smell greets visitors to Yume Wo Katare restaurant in the Chinese capital. And come they do, lining up at times for the 90 or so bowls of Jiro-style ramen served daily at the shop in the Japanese restaurant row.

Owner Shi Xin, who has lived in Japan, expressed a sense of achievement at bringing back the hearty soup with its thick noodles and winning over fans among both Chinese and Japanese living in Beijing.

“Although it’s nothing huge, through small things like food, I hope to promote friendship between China and Japan and contribute to cultural exchange,” he said ahead of the dinnertime rush at his 6-year-old restaurant.

Beijing residents expressed a friendliness toward Japan and a fondness for Japanese culture, though some added that the wartime past could not be forgotten, particularly in the runup to China’s National Day on Saturday.

“If it’s a period like National Day, I think there are expectations that our generation and the younger generations can still remember the history of fighting against Japanese aggression,” said 35-year-old Su Mengtong, who was waiting for friends getting COVID-19 tests at a booth near the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.

“After all, the invasion is a big trauma for our country,” he said.

Recent decades have brought Japanese food and pop culture, including movies, TV shows and “manga” comics, said Li, who is currently a visiting scholar in Tokyo.

Ramen, a Japanese export now popular in many countries, actually has Chinese roots, dating from the 19th century when noodle soup was brought to Japan, according to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Japan.

But Japan’s soft power is not immune from its wartime history. Chinese police detained a woman posing for photos in a kimono at a Japanese-style commercial area in the city of Suzhou in August, shortly before the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.

The incident sparked a heated discussion online, with some saying that a love for Japanese culture doesn’t make a person unpatriotic, and others accusing the woman of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people close to a wartime anniversary.

Social media has been the main platform for discontent about Japan. Tens of thousands of people left unfavorable comments about former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe after his assassination in July, because of his association with nationalists who deny or minimize the atrocities committed by Japan’s military in China.

Liu Wei, who is in his 50s, said China needs to stand firm on territorial issues — Japan and China have competing claims to islands in the East China Sea — but more generally favors looking forward rather than back.

“That time has already passed,” said Liu, who was taking a walk near the war museum. “If you keep holding onto it, it doesn’t generate too much positive impact on the future.”

___

Associated Press video producer Caroline Chen and writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              A child gestures holding a gun as he poses near a canon at Lugou Bridge also known as Marco Polo Bridge where it is generally remembered as the place from which an incident in 1937 started the Second Sino-Japanese War in Beijing, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Visitors wearing masks look at captured Japanese flags at The Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance against Japan in Beijing, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              A visitor looks at diorama portraying Chinese soldiers at The Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance against Japan in Beijing, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Visitors look at Japanese products on display at the Japan Mall exhibit at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
            
              Residents bring their child play near a drawing depicting people wearing kimonos view the Mount Fuji scenery, outside a Japanese restaurant in Beijing, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents visit an area known for its Japanese restaurants in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Shi Xin, owner of the Yume Wo Katare restaurant which specialise in the fatty, garlicky smell Jiro-style "ramen" noodle speaks during an interview in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Customers at the Yume Wo Katare restaurant enjoy the fatty, garlicky Jiro-style "ramen" noodle in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Shi Xin, owner of the Yume Wo Katare restaurant prepares the fatty, garlicky smell Jiro-style "ramen" noodle popular with his customer in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              A woman walks past a Japanese restaurant in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Friend or foe? Or both? On the streets of Tokyo and Beijing, the ties between Japan and China remain complicated and often contradictory, 50 years after the two countries normalized relations as part of a process that brought communist China into the international fold. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Yasuo Fukuda, former Prime Minister of Japan, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Tokyo. Fukuda said effort to increase communication is important especially at a time of strained relationship. He has regularly visited China even after retiring from parliament in 2012 and is known for his support for people exchanges between the two sides. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
            
              FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, left, toasts with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao after a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Dec. 28, 2007. The Japan-China Exchange Festival in Tokyo, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back on Sept. 24 and 25, 2022, ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Greg Baker, Pool, File)
            
              Yasuo Fukuda, former Prime Minister of Japan, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Tokyo. Fukuda said effort to increase communication is important especially at a time of strained relationship. He has regularly visited China even after retiring from parliament in 2012 and is known for his support for people exchanges between the two sides. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
            
              Organizers and guests participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the annual Japan-China Exchange Festival at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park in Tokyo on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, marking the opening of the two-day friendship event and also marking the 50th anniversary of the Sept. 29, 1972, normalization of the ties between the two countries. The festival, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
            
              Dancers perform at the annual Japan-China Exchange Festival at the Yoyogi Park in Tokyo on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, marking the 50th anniversary of the normalization of the bilateral relations on Sept. 29, 1972. The festival, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
            
              A woman prepares to close their booth as the raining was getting hard in Tokyo, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, during an annual event called Japan-China Exchange Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of the bilateral relations. The festival, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
            
              WeiWei Wuu plays erhu as she sings in front of festivalgoers in Tokyo, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, during an annual event called Japan-China Exchange Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of the bilateral relations. The festival, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
            
              Festivalgoers eat Chinese food during an annual event called Japan-China Exchange Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of the bilateral relations in Tokyo, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The festival, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
            
              FILE - Chinese tourists take a break after shopping in Tokyo's posh Ginza district on April 11, 2010. The Japan-China Exchange Festival in Tokyo, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was back last weekend ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of the normalizing of relations between the two Asian neighbors and economic powerhouses. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
            
              FILE - Anti-Japan protesters hold picture of the dipusted island, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, as they march to the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong on Sept. 16, 2012. Recent surveys taken in 2021 showed a significant increase in Japan of negative sentiment toward China, while the effort of the normalization has faded. Negative sentiment toward Japan in China also grew but at a milder extent from the previous year. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
            
              FILE - Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C Orion surveillance plane flies over the disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea on Oct, 13, 2011. Recent surveys taken in 2021 showed a significant increase in Japan of negative sentiment toward China, while the effort of the normalization has faded. Negative sentiment toward Japan in China also grew but at a milder extent from the previous year. (Kyodo News via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira, left, receives a photo of a panda named Huan Huan from Chinese Prime Minister Hua Guofeng in Beijing in December 1979. Tokyo's Ueno Zoo received Huan Huan from China in 1980, after Lan Lan, another Chinese gift, died in 1979. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic communique that former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka signed with former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. (Kyodo News via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka toast each other at a banquet in the Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 28, 1972. Zhou announced then the two countries have decided to establish diplomatic relations and terminate the state of war between them. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic communique that Tanaka signed with Zhou. (AP Photo, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they pose for photographers before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Oct. 26, 2018. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic communique that former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka signed with former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. (Li Tao/Xinhua via AP, File)

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Friend or foe? Japan-China ties complicated after 50 years