Just as the Diaoyu Islands row between Japan and China intensifies over the detention of a Chinese fishing captain, whose detention has just been extended by a further 10 days, a war of words has broken out between prominent bloggers Yoshikazu Kato and Zhang Wen.
Yoshikazu Kato, bilingual in Japanese and Chinese, is currently a student at Peking University and writes extensively on international relations, including a column for FT Chinese and a popular blog on iFeng. Meanwhile, Zhang Wen is a leading Chinese journalist, media commentator and blogger, with experience in leading Chinese and Western media such as the Guardian.
Kato recently commented on the incident in a blog entitled ‘The fishing boat row is a good learning opportunity,’ which is viewed by Zhang as a specious argument used for defending aggressive Japanese behaviors.
A good learning opportunity?
First, Kato comments that the incident is a good opportunity for China to learn about how the Japanese government operates:
In the past, most Chinese don’t care about how the Japanese executive and judicial systems operate. They rarely distinguish between politicians, civil servants, diplomats and prosecutors, but rather view them as a single group under the order of one department. Hence, they think that the Chinese Foreign Ministry only needs to deal with one Japanese department. But the current incident is different from past ones. After the crash, Japan has employed judicial measures, which means that the incident is not only a diplomatic problem, but also involves judicial and executive aspects. The Japanese system is that diplomacy is under the jurisdiction of the government, but the judicial system is completely independent. Even the prosecutor and judge, who make the decision to detain the captain, enjoy a high level of independence within the judicial system.
Zhang criticizes the argument as complete non-sense:
This paragraph is completely illogical. It is inappropriate for Japan to handle the Chinese captain with Japanese domestic laws, not to mention the fact that the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands is disputed. Furthermore, this is a diplomatic row initiated by Japan. If it should not be resolved through diplomatic means, are you saying that China should send in prosecutors, officials, or even soldiers?
By claiming that the Japanese ‘judicial system is completely independent,’ Kato is putting the cart before the horse. Although I admit that the Japanese system is superior that the Chinese one, Japan should not employ domestic laws and judicial measures in the first place, especially under the situation that the sovereignty of the islands is under dispute.
The Chinese government and nationalism
Kato then praises the Chinese government for its control of anti-Japanese protests within China, so that the strategic and economic relations between the two countries will not be damaged:
The more difficult the situation is, the more the Chinese government should do to control citizens’ attitudes on foreign affairs, and not to let political opportunists to benefit from the incident. The government should let the people know that achievements in foreign affairs are dependent on political, military and economic strengths, not the adventurism of a few Diaoyu Protection and Anti-Japan activists. Therefore, citizens should first thank the state. Even if the government has the ability for a military showdown, it is not willing to be forced by these activists to do so.
Zhang again claims that Kato’s argument is dubious, and has hidden agenda:
This paragraph shows the cunning nature of the Japanese. Beneath the praise, it is satirizing the Chinese government. It is also belittling Chinese nationalism and damaging its relationship with the state. Killing two birds with one stone.
No doubt, this paragraph describes the intention of the Chinese government, but it also has a hidden agenda of using the Chinese government to clamp down on anti-Japanese activists. I am opposed to extreme nationalism, but I support rational nationalism. I will be disappointed if the Chinese keep quiet in this incident! I have to correct Kato that anti-Japanese people are not only a few, but many. Although anti-Japanese protests are not wide-spread due to government control, I believe that many Chinese feel humiliated by the incident.
By his own dubious conclusion, Kato equates anti-Japanese people with political opportunists. Worse still, he is speaking on behalf of the Chinese government: the [Chinese government] is not willing to be forced [into a military showdown] by these activists.
Finally, Kato concludes that this incident is a good opportunity for both countries to understand each other better:
The fishing boat row is a good chance for the citizens of Japan and China to learn about each other’s domestic politics. If it is dealt with satisfactorily, it will be a juncture for a rapprochement, and could even further lead to solutions to internal domestic problems which involve the opposite side.
And Zhang reiterates that Japan should be held responsible for the row:
I criticize the Chinese government for not acting more toughly, with the result that Japan is gradually grasping material control of the Diaoyu Islands. But my stance is real clear – that Japan starts the incident, and should bear historical responsibility for the deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations. Like the Japanese aggression on China during World War II, there is no room for Japan to defend.