- Explain how a specific narrative provides an important basis for a country’s foreign policy. You could write about how a narrative constrains the options for policy or action, or, how it provides a consistent resource of justification (i.e. how narratives of American exceptionalism fuel certain kinds of US policies). This speaks to the arguments we talked about in class regarding the role that strategic narratives play in framing how leaders and publics understand, rationalize, and argue for particular policies and obligations.
For this blog entry, I will talk about how narrative for Japanese invasion of China for both first and second Sino-Japanese war contribute to a consistent justification for Chinese government’s claim over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
It is often argued that there is a rising anti-Japanese sentiment in China nowadays, given evidence by regularly break out of anti-Japanese protests and strong reaction towards Japanese governmental behaviors such like officials went to visit controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Many regard this as a historical problem after the Japanese invasion in China and the legacy of the war continuously shadow over the relationship between two countries. However, it may be too hasty to say that Japan and China have always struggled for historical issues after the end of war. In fact, after Japan established a formal foreign relation with China in 1978, China and Japan was in “honey moon” period for almost two decades. As a tacit unofficial war compensation to China, Japanese government provide a huge amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to China over years. An example from IR field will be that when China was criticized by almost all western countries for its cruel crackdown on student demonstration in Tiananman Square 1989, Japanese government did not exercise too much financial constrain or public criticism. Instead, Japanese emperor and empress actually visited China after the event and this was interpreted as a sign of support for the Chinese government by Japanese government.
If the anti-Japanese sentiment is not so much a product of history—or at least, not always so—what cause Chinese people today appear to be so anti-Japanese? I argue that it is not so much about history itself, but the narrative of history that the state is trying to create. There is a change in perspective about history between Japan and China. When China and Japan established formal diplomatic relation, both countries agree to leave the disputes over history for the future generation and build relationship for now. This consent agreement of putting economic cooperation in front of historical dispute make China and Japan close partners even until today. The history education did not emphasis on the part about Japanese invasion, nor did broadcast program or national propaganda. It is believed that the Chinese government do so in order to focus on work with Japan for economic development.
The narrative changed, however, when China’s economy grow fast and become a rising power in the world. The national education campaign put much more emphasis on patriotism toward PRC and the narrative behind is that China suffer from “a century of humiliation” by invasion of foreign nations and it finally rise up again as a big power in the world. The patriotism education call youngsters to know the suffering of their nation’s past to appreciate development of China today, it also warn youngsters to be aware that “if you leave behind, you will be bitten by others” which refers to what happened to China in last century. The implication will be that if China stop growing economically and militarily, it will once again face the crisis and humiliation in history.
Japan is a big part of this narrative. And de depiction of Imperial Japan as a “thief”, “robber”, and “murder” which take away many territory of China under “humiliating” concession is prevailed in history textbook, documentary, movies, dramas, and even news report. The narrative is set in such way that the resistance of Japanese government or officials to acknowledge or admit some historical views that are in discussion (for example, number of victims in Nanking Massacre) is a danger sign that Japanese militarism is still alive and it may come back one day to reproduce the tragedy in history again.
Then some may ask, but how does this link to the island dispute? In my opinion, the narrative established here is very crucial for Chinese government’s justification for its claim over islands, especially to convince Chinese people. Chinese claim over Senkaku/ Diaoyu island has three key component: First, Diaoyu Island is historically a part of Taiwan; Second, Taiwan is always a part of China, and therefore Diaoyu, as a part of Taiwan, should be always a part of China as well. Thirdly, China ceded Diaoyu as a part of Taiwan in Shimonoseki Treaty with Japan 1895. Shimonoseki Treaty is a treaty signed by China’s Qing government after lose to Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war. Shimonoseki treaty is regarded or told by Chinese media and textbook as a humiliation to Chinese nation, and “robbery” of Imperial Japan which take away territories from China.
Therefore, the narrative set the tone in such a way that Diaoyu island is a part of Chinese territory should be “returned” to China and Japan is ruthless invader who occupy China’s Diaoyu Island since it defeated China in its first invasion war. Chinese scholars further attack that this island should be returned under Japan’s statement for unconditional surrender, however due to protection from Western countries like the U.S., it is not returned to China. However, such claim is never voiced out clearly by the Chinese official when occupy period ends and U.S. return autonomy to Japan, it is never openly discussed when China and Japan establish formal diplomatic relation. This power narrative now is used as a justification by Chinese government to claim that this island was always a part of China until it is lose to Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war; Japan should return it after the ending of the Second World War, but it never done so and continued to occupy Diaoyu island. Therefore, it is in every right of China to “tack back” Diaoyu island which lost to “foreign invader.” The implication of this whole set up of narrative is clear: China is no longer the Qing Empire in the century of humiliation; China is again return as world’s big power and will never allow formal invader like Japan to insult China by occupying Chinese territory which Japan “robbed” from China. This narrative is a powerful one, since it has historical assertion, backed up by strong nationalism sentiment, and also warned Chinese people for “Japan’s reviving militarism.” I would therefore argue that this narrative is the strong source of justification for Chinese foreign policy towards Japan especially regarding territorial dispute issue.