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Japan starts picking on China
Feb 8th 2001 | TOKYO
>From The Economist print edition

As its economy shows no sign of recovery, Japan is getting angrier. Some
that anger is being directed against China

LIFE is not always full of thrills for the mushroom bureaucrats of
agriculture ministry. Yet in recent weeks the atmosphere at the
forest-products division has been little short of electric. A flood of
imports is threatening Japan's 30,000 shiitake growers. An investigation
afoot, involving colleagues from the exalted finance and trade
For the first time since 1955, when Japan joined what is now the World
Organisation, talk has turned to invoking its "safeguards"-emergency
or import quotas. Officials are also considering a move against imports
of a
type of onion, and of the bulrushes used for weaving tatami mats. What
three cases have in common is that the targets of Japan's proposed
retaliation are Chinese.
It used to be said that the relationship between Japan and China was
good if
their ageing leaders pronounced it so. These days, a more accurate
description is that, despite official assurances, relations are bad and
getting worse. For this, the Japanese blame Chinese aggressiveness, in
and in foreign policy. Yet a good part of the reason can be found in
There, old policies of "engaging" the Middle Kingdom are under sustained

attack from an assertive new generation of politicians, academics and
journalists. Even foreign-ministry officials have begun to pay
Official China policy has suddenly begun to harden.
The China hawks have an attentive audience: as happens the world over,
's sick economy and persistent high unemployment are fanning the flames
chauvinism. Racial violence is still infrequent. But milder forms of
prejudice are flourishing. Illegal Chinese immigrants infest the
industry, grumble the Japanese, undercutting honest native workers.
crime syndicates are bringing confusion to Japan's carefully-ordered
society. Chinese burglars are masterminding a surge in petty crime.
The authorities are taking things seriously. Police statistics on rising

crimes by "foreigners" (ie, mainly, Chinese) are followed with keen
interest. Until they were hurriedly removed recently, posters put up by
police in Tokyo urged that, since there had been a recent spate of
burglaries by "Chinese and other people", "if you notice anyone speaking

Chinese, call the police."
Trade friction is also rubbing away at the relationship. Although China
enjoyed a trade surplus with Japan every year since 1988, the Japanese
not worried much until recently. Most Chinese imports, after all, come
Japanese manufacturing plants built in China, underlining Japan's
role as a supplier of capital and technology to China, in return for
to cheap Chinese labour and natural resources.

But this pattern has begun to change, especially in the ever-sensitive
of agriculture. New refrigeration techniques, better distribution and-in

these difficult times-more cost-conscious Japanese shoppers are bringing

wheelbarrowfuls of Chinese tomatoes, aubergines, onions and garlic bulbs
Japanese supermarket shelves. Japan's inefficient, and often elderly,
farmers cannot compete. On Tokyo's wholesale markets, for instance,
shiitake sell for less than a third of the price of Japanese mushrooms,
have quickly snapped up a 40% share of the market.
A threat to its cherished farm lobby is something that even the
politicians of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which dominates the
coalition government, can unite behind. In the past, the favourite
for Japan's protectionists was always America, says Yoichi Funabashi, a
columnist with the Asahi newspaper. Increasingly these days, it is
Japanese nationalists of various hues, meanwhile, are starting to call
for a
more assertive foreign policy towards China. Hawks such as Ichizo Ohara,
leader of the Liberal Party, and Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's
governor, are finding growing favour, especially among younger Japanese.

Unburdened by war guilt, younger voters feel frustrated and humiliated
Japan's low international profile and dependence on American soldiers
its defence.
Japan's China diplomacy, thunder politicians such as Mr Ishihara, is
weak-kneed. It appeases Chinese territorial assertiveness in the South
seas and across the Taiwan Strait, while allowing generous Japanese aid
soft loans to be met with Chinese insults and demands for apologies for
wartime atrocities. These politicians, and their admirers in academia
the media, want a "normal" Japan-a country that can exercise independent

diplomacy backed by independent armed forces.
To these Japanese, the disclosure this week of a private e-mail by
Lieutenant-General Earl Hailston, the commanding American officer in
(which hosts 16,500 American troops), says it all. Following an indecent

assault in January by an American soldier on a Japanese schoolgirl, the
latest in a string of attacks over the years, the Okinawan assembly
passed a
resolution demanding fewer American troops on the island. Local
General Hailston advised his officers, "are all nuts and a bunch of
Even urbane foreign-ministry types are waking up to the new mood in
Ministry officials have managed to fend off calls by LDP politicians
Shizuka Kamei, the party's powerful policy chief, to slash Japan's
aid budget by 30%-cuts that were clearly aimed at China. But after an
official review last year, aid to China is nevertheless about to fall.
China's leaders are not deaf to Japanese hostility. During a recent
visit to
Japan, for instance, Zhu Rongji, its prime minister, refrained from the
usual demands for another official apology for Japan's wartime sins,
although he could not resist mild needling on the subject. But neither
Chinese nor the Japanese government seems fully abreast of the forces at

work in Japan. As Takeshi Sasaki of Tokyo University points out, Japan's

economic crusade has largely sublimated its nationalist urges since the
But, since the crash of the early 1990s, years of recession and
crisis have upset that delicate accommodation. Japan is getting angrier.
it is unlikely to stop after taking out its frustration on Chinese

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