Hong Kong unrest fuels negative image of China among Japanese

  • One-party rule and territorial disputes with Tokyo also weigh on perceptions despite governments striving to improve ties
  • Chinese citizens on the other hand show an increasingly optimistic attitude towards Japan
Topic |   Hong Kong protests

An annual study on perceptions of China has found that nearly 85 per cent of Japanese citizens have an “unfavourable” impression of their neighbour, with unrest in Hong Kong

 and simmering territorial disputes cited as key reasons.

Conducted in September by the Japanese think tank Genron NPO together with China International Publishing Group, the survey of 1,000 respondents aged 18 or older showed 84.7 per cent of Japanese residents had a negative attitude towards China.

The figure was actually down 1.6 percentage points from the previous study, but comes as the two governments are making visible efforts to improve bilateral relations that have been fraught for years.

Abe reportedly touched on the Hong Kong situation during the discussions with Wang, calling for a “peaceful resolution”. He asked Beijing to show restraint and resolve the crisis through dialogue so Hong Kong could return to the “one country, two systems” formula under which the city has been governed since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

According to the study, 43 per cent said their negative perception of China was due to the “one-party rule of the Communist Party”, while 8.3 per cent cited “entrenched nationalism”. A further 12.2 per cent identified Beijing’s response to its trade war with the US

 as negative.

Yasushi Kudo, the head of Genron NPO, said the survey was conducted at a time when incidents of violence in Hong Kong’s ongoing anti-government demonstrations were being covered extensively in the Japanese media.

“Many people have sensed the powerful and high-pressure response of the Chinese government and that has given them a negative image,” he said.

Why are Japanese so condescending to Chinese tourists?
The movement has grown to take aim at a wider list of grievances, including anger at the police’s response to earlier protests. Rallies have frequently turned violent, and radical demonstrators have trashed and burned shops, bank branches and subway stations, with some even assaulting bystanders taking issue with their actions.

Beijing has labelled the movement part of a “virus of street violence” and called it a campaign to overthrow the Hong Kong government.

The number of Chinese tourists to Japan has soared. Photo: Bloomberg
The number of Chinese tourists to Japan has soared. Photo: Bloomberg

Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University in Hokkaido, said Japanese perceptions were largely formed through local media coverage.

“The Hong Kong situation has worried people here, undoubtedly,” he said. “It’s not so much concern about democratic principles, but it is about freedom. We see those images and we realise that China is a less free society, a totalitarian state.

“Also, Japanese people don’t like confrontation and violence and there is a strong sense that they should be avoided at all costs, so we are uncomfortable when we see that happening.”

The Japanese people surveyed also said they were wary of Beijing’s growing economic and geopolitical power in the region and further afield.

“China has got much bigger and much more powerful in a very short space of time and that is perceived as a substantial threat to Japan,” Watanabe said. “And as Beijing has become more powerful, they have also become more pushy on things like territorial issues.”

Sino-Japanese border disputes revolve around the Doyayu islands

 in the East China Sea, also known as the Senkakus, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing. The argument over the sovereignty of these remote and uninhabited islets appears to have calmed down in recent months, but one false move on either side could bring tensions to the boil.
The Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are the subject of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing. Photo: Kyodo
The Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are the subject of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing. Photo: Kyodo
The unfavourable impression of China comes amid a soaring number of Chinese visitors

 to Japan. In the first half of this year the nation saw 4.5 million arrivals from China, up 11.7 per cent from the same period in 2018, according to official figures. The most-visited cities were Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo and Nagoya.

Conversely, Chinese respondents questioned in a separate study by the same two organisations showed an increasingly optimistic attitude towards Japan, with 45.9 per cent holding a “favourable” or “relatively favourable” impression. That figure was 3.7 percentage points higher than in the previous year.

About 1,500 Chinese citizens were surveyed in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and seven other cities in September and October, and the results were released on Thursday.

A greater number believed the Sino-Japanese relationship was improving, with 34.3 per cent classing it as “better” against 30.3 per cent in 2018. It was the fourth year in a row of improvement.

Meanwhile, just over 55.5 per cent of the Chinese questioned perceived Japan as a military threat, down 13.2 percentage points from last year.

Source :

South China Morning Post

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