The results of a recent opinion poll carried out jointly in Japan and China by the non-profit organization Genron NPO and a Chinese news agency underscore the deep-seated negative views that Japanese and Chinese continue to hold toward each other. The poll was produced for the 5th Beijing Tokyo Forum held in mid-October.
The poll shows, for example, that for many Chinese, Japan remains a “militarist country.” It reveals that there is still little direct contact between the two peoples and not much desire by Japanese and Chinese to know more about each other. Relying on the media for their information, Japanese and Chinese retain misperceptions and biases toward each other that should have evaporated years ago, based on the poll results.
Still, there are some signs of improvement in attitudes, as seen in this, the fifth annual survey sponsored by Genron. In each country, 80 percent of those surveyed admitted that the Japan-China relationship was “important”, and a growing number of Chinese are seeing current relationship with Japan as being in good shape. Japanese were less sure, with a large percentage unable to say whether bilateral ties were in good shape or not.
The Japan part of the joint poll was carried out May 19-June 17, 2009, using a direct interview method with effective responses from 1,000 adults over 18. The China side of the poll, carried out June 10-30, focused on five large cities, with 1589 Chinese responding. Due to the timeframe, the poll obviously does not reflect the Asia-friendly policy of the Democratic Party of Japan that won the national election on August 31, replacing the Liberal Democratic Party as ruling party. Some of the salient results of the poll are summarized below.
Asked what kind of image they had of China, a total of 74.2% of Japanese responded negatively, with 62.7% choosing, “If I had to choose, my image is not good,” and another 10.5% choosing, “Not good.” Only 26.6% of Japanese answered that they had a good image of China (24.1%, “If I had to choose, my image is good,” and a mere 2.5% choosing “good.” Asked whether their image of China had changed over the last year, 63.8% of Japanese answered that it had not.
The image of Japan by Chinese was not much better, with two-thirds of respondents having a negative view (35.6%, “If I had to choose, my image is not good,” and 29.6%, “Not good.”) Chinese with a negative view of Japan outpaced those with a positive image of Japan by two-fold. As for the reasons (multiple choices), 73.2% cited the past war and 56.8% also picked, “Because the historical issue has not been resolved.” Asked if their image of Japan had changed over the last year, 59.8% of Chinese replied that it had not.
Over 80% of Japanese and Chinese polled deemed the bilateral relationship as “important.” But on the question of whether relations with the United States were more important than Japan-China ties, the U.S. had the edge with a majority of respondents in both Japan and China.
The question was asked of both sides, “What do you think of the current state of bilateral relations?” The Japanese response revealed an improving trend. Although 36.9% answered that the relationship was “bad,” this was a 10-point drop from the 2008 poll response of 46.1%. However, the most chosen response for Japanese, 48.1%, was, “I cannot say for sure.” The response last year was 40.6%. So almost half of all Japanese are unclear what the state of the bilateral relationship is.
In China, a remarkable 71.0% picked the answers “Very good” or “If if had to choose, good” to describe the current state of the bilateral relationship. Only 20.5% thought the relationship was in bad shape. Almost no one chose the response, “I can’t say.”
Another key question asked was, “Do you think that bilateral relations from now on will get better or worse?” The Chinese response was significantly positive, with 51.2% answering that they thought it would “get better” or “if I had to choose, it will get better.” Only 4.6% thought that relations would worsen.
For Japanese, the most-picked answer with 39.3% was, “It won’t change.” Another 31% thought that the relationship would get better. Only 13% responded that they thought it would get worse.
The follow on question was, “Pick three issues you think will be obstacles to progress in bilateral relations?” The top five choices for Japanese were: safety of Chinese products (46.2%), the territorial issue (i.e., Senkaku Islands) (39.1%), China’s “anti-Japanese” educational system (36.1%), dispute over oceanic resources (in the E. China Sea) (28.3%), and “Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese acts” (24.5%).
The top four responses from Chinese were: the territorial issue (49.2%), issue of Japanese views of history (38.2%), dispute over oceanic resources (29.3%), and economic frictions (29%).
The poll followed with the question (multiple answers), “On the bilateral issue of history (centered on Japan’s wartime acts), what issues do you think are difficult to resolve?” In response, 55.7% of Japanese chose, “Contents of China’s anti-Japanese education and textbooks,” 41.9% picked, “Issue of the prime minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine (where Class-A war criminals are enshrined), and 41.5% selected, “Issue of Japanese history textbooks.” In contrast, 72.1% of Chinese chose, “Nanking Massacre,” 48.3% picked, “Yasukuni Shrine visits by Japan’s prime minister,” and 48.3% chose Japanese historical textbooks.
The poll asked, “Where do you get your information regarding the other country and bilateral relations?” Almost all picked their own country’s news media. The poll also revealed a gap in direct grass roots contacts between the two peoples, with 14.5% of Japanese answering that they had visited China, and less than one percent of Chinese saying they had visited Japan.
APP Senior Fellow
November 8, 2009