Author Archives: Graham Webster

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Is Yasukuni Really out of the Picture?

The Yasukuni Shrine may be making an exit from the rhetoric of Sino-Japanese tensions. The Chinese ambassador to Japan said in a report published yesterday that China and Japan have “finally overcome this political impediment damaging bilateral relations.”

“The political stalemate has been broken,” the ambassador, Wang Yi, said in an interview with Xinhua. But don’t think this means China will be letting Japan out of the grips of history-infused public diplomacy. If Abe Shinzo decides to visit the shrine—he hasn’t said whether he will—then the Yasukuni rhetoric may make a solid comeback.

Meanwhile, Wang turned to great power competition as a rhetorical frame for China–Japan tensions.

“Many of the conflicts and friction in China–Japan relations in recent years have surfaced over the Yasukuni Shrine issue, but the broader background is that the national strength of both countries has risen to differing degrees,” he said.

Wang also suggested that Tokyo was having trouble accepting China’s emergence as a regional power with trade and political clout.

“A senior Japanese official told me that China’s development and rise is a fact we must face up to, but just as the United States in the 1980s could not adjust to Japan’s rise, now many in Japan are not mentally prepared to accept China’s development,” Wang said.

That’s no joke when you look at recent numbers from the Pew Global Attitudes Project that show populations of Asian states aren’t exactly warm toward their neighbors. Foreign Policy‘s Passport blog interprets the numbers to mean Asians aren’t buying China’s “peaceful rise” narrative (as enunciated primarily by Zheng Bijian). I think that might be a leap of logic, but either way, 70 percent of Japanese and 71 percent of Chinese have unfavorable views of each other. There is no shortage of minds to be changed.