Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Changing European Views on China
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

June 22, 2005
The recent anti-Japan demonstrations in China seem to have provided an important turning point for traditional European views on China. European excitement surrounding the country has mostly revolved around Sino-European economic relations but the fundamental value system of these two cultural spheres overlap little. The current ongoings have shown anew that potential risks involving a country whose government has been framed in an undemocratic structure.

The Economist magazine pointed out in its editorial the similarity between "Japan in the 20s and 30s"--with its rise of blinkered nationalism—and present-day China awash with its anti-Japan riots and its cries of 'Patriotism is innocent'. With regards to the damage suffered by the Japanese Embassy and Consulate General in China by riots' stone-throwings, the Chinese government refused both apology and recompense on grounds that "Japan is at fault"; this sort of behaviour is diplomatically unacceptable. Since its adoption of the reform policy, China has made a concerted effort in several fields to follow its credo that "moulding itself upon the global standard model is the road for China to become a responsible member of the international community." Chinese behavior of late is tantamount to negating this credo.

Another factor which dampened European sentiment for China was the anti-secession bill which endorses the stifling of Taiwanese independence even by military intervention. It is not surprising that the EU parliament and some of its member countries, who attach importance to the value of human rights, showed strong mistrust at China's high-handed adoption of the bill at such a delicate time when the European Union has been deliberating over the lifting of the arms embargo. Europeans were once again made to realize that China does not share values such as human rights and democracy with the West.

European attitude towards China has vacillated greatly in the past 15 years. The Tiananmen Square incident of June 1989, which triggered the arms embargo, evoked much criticism from Europe. France, which now is the most lenient towards the lifting of the embargo, at that time was the most critical of China; the then President Mitterand went so far as to say that the existence of such a country as China was deeply embarrassing.

Tiananmen Square incident also had great impact on the democratization of eastern European countries. The democratization of eastern Europe was just under way at the time, and China became the model of "ineffectiveness of economic reform without political reform". Thereafter East European policy shifted from democratization through gradual economic reform towards democratic reform concomitant with political reform.

The mid-90s witnessed the resumption of Sino-European relations, and this is by no means unconnected with the increasing allure of China as an export market. The Asian currency crisis of 1997 also played an important role in further altering the European perception of China. Amid the general plunge of other Asian currencies, China managed to refrain from slashing its own currency and thereby earned a reputation as a "responsible member of the international community." At a certain point Europe seems to have adopted the idea that "were China's open economic policy to continue, China would eventually transform itself into a democratized country."

Recent events have given a warning to Europe's previously rather optimistic outlook of China. It is hoped that the recent episode would give Europe a good occasion to review its relations with China from a wider perspective.

First up for review would be European relations with countries surrounding China. For Europe the importance of economic relations with China might remain unchanged, but it has now become necessary for Europe to show that it is not opting for China for economic gains at the sacrifice of countries like Japan, with which it shares common values such as human rights and democracy and that Europe is not indifferent to the East Asian security environment.

Secondly, it is imperative for Europe to recognize the risks associated with China. It is the common analysis of many specialists that the reason for the Chinese government's refusal to apologize for the riots stems from its apprehension that the people might redirect their pent-up dissatisfaction towards their own government. Only just underneath the surface of the recent economic boom is a country that is extremely volatile. Europe must realize that outbursts from an undemocratic China could be a severe blow not only to Asia but the rest of the world.

The Writer is Senior Editorial Staff Writer at the Mainichi Newspapers.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2005年 6月 22日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟