Analysis: Japanese "mainstream" nationalism clouds China ties

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (BestGrowthStock) – A stagnant economy, fraying social norms and China’s growing clout are making nationalism more attractive to a broader swathe of Japanese, potentially complicating Tokyo’s efforts to mend strained ties with Beijing.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply last month after Japan detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese patrol ships near disputed isles in the East China Sea.

The strains have raised concerns about fallout for business, although analysts note a chill earlier this decade did little to deter a flood of two-way trade that made China Japan’s top trade partner last year, replacing the United States.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has come under fire at home for appearing to cave in to Chinese pressure by freeing the skipper.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Tokyo on two recent weekends, waving national flags and carrying placards denouncing China’s claim to the islets and Japan’s response. Among them were couples with toddlers and young mothers wheeling prams, a far cry from past gatherings of men dressed in military fatigues.

“Unlike before, a full-time job doesn’t guarantee lifelong stability and even a college graduate can’t get a job as employment is becoming more fluid amid globalization,” said Masahiro Abe, a lecturer at Konan University.

“Vague worries about a changing society seem to be creating a mentality of embracing something big and strong, such as nationalism, anti-foreign movements and religion.”

Battered by a rising yen that is flirting with postwar highs, Japan’s fragile economic recovery has stalled, even as China takes over its No.2 global economic ranking.

The same economic stagnation that fans nationalism, however, makes China’s dynamism indispensable for Japanese growth.

“As we see Japanese companies unveil their (second-quarter) earnings just now, it is clear many of them are benefiting greatly from their China business. I don’t think they are going to conduct a major review (in their ties with China),” said Xiao Minjie, chief economist at FuNNeX Asset Management in Tokyo.

“ANGER INSIDE”

Still, signs that nationalism is going mainstream could make it harder for Tokyo’s leaders to manage ties with China, even as Beijing grapples with anti-Japanese protests of its own.

Chinese and South Korean property purchases have sparked public concern. Kan told a parliamentary panel the government would look into the situation, although his foreign minister said care was needed given a policy of promoting foreign investment.

“It is not clear how much impact the recent protests will have on the government. But if this turns into a wider grassroot movements, the government will surely be hit at the voting booth,” said Kensuke Suzuki at Kwansei Gakuin University.

Toshio Tamogami, a former air force chief who helped organize the two major rallies this month, said movements like his were attracting a wide group of people including youth and women.

“They believe something is wrong with the Chinese side, but they also believe something is wrong with the Japanese government, which cannot take a firm stance (in the dispute),” Tamogami, who was sacked in 2008 for writing that Japan was not an aggressor in World War Two, told Reuters in a phone interview.

Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) swept to power last year pledging to pay more heed to consumers’ interests after more than half a century reign by the conservative Liberal Democrats.

But its support for local voting rights for permanent foreign residents voting alienated many conservatives.

Groups with sharp anti-foreign rhetoric are also taking root.

The Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Rights for Koreans in Japan, which says it has 10,000 members, opposes extending rights reserved for Japanese citizens to Korean residents, many descended from those brought to Japan as forced labor during Tokyo’s 1915-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.

It also wants strict enforcement of immigration laws and has been loudly critical of China over the territorial dispute.

“If a thief pays you a visit, you get mad and club him. That’s what’s done in any house or country,” a member of the group told passersby at a demonstration in a posh Tokyo shopping district, referring to China’s claim to the islets.

“Please get in touch with the anger inside you again.”

(Editing by Linda Sieg)

Analysis: Japanese "mainstream" nationalism clouds China ties