(NO CONFLICTS DESIRED) Creation of Ties that Dare to Touch Each Other's "Raw Nerves" – Based on New Japan-China Civilian Joint Declaration | Discuss Japan-Japan Foreign Policy Forum
Discuss Japan > Back Number > Nos.13-15 > (NO CONFLICTS DESIRED) Creation of Ties that Dare to Touch Each Other’s "Raw Nerves" – Based on New Japan-China Civilian Joint Declaration
Diplomacy, Nos.13-15  Mar. 3, 2013

(NO CONFLICTS DESIRED) Creation of Ties that Dare to Touch Each Other’s "Raw Nerves" – Based on New Japan-China Civilian Joint Declaration

Photo : Ding Ning

Ding Ning

Joint Declaration of Citizens from Japan and China

Today – Sept. 29, 2012 – is the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and the People’s Republic of China.

In the past 40 years, Japan and China have cooperated with each other to achieve remarkable economic growth and development. When we look back at this outcome, we’d like to express our appreciation to the people whose efforts achieved this normalization of diplomatic relations.

Japan and China which are only separated by a narrow stretch of water share a long history of interaction and amity. It has been a significant achievement for both countries to overcome their sorrowful history in the late modern era and build mutual cooperative relations. This also contributes to the lessening of tension in Asia and to world peace.

However the recent strained relationship between Japan and China is a very worrying issue. No one will benefit or be satisfied if we lack consideration for each other. Misunderstandings and resentment would be detriment to the peaceful relationship built in the past 40 years.
We have therefore gathered on our own volition and exchanged opinions in a sincere and frank way. We confirmed how important it is to treat our neighbors with sincerity, kindness and mutual respect. Today we shall present our declaration as shown below:

1) Sharing a sense of crisis in Japan-China’s relations, we strive to deepen mutual understanding and muster our wisdom to develop the relationship.
2) We admit that there are differences of awareness about the existing issues. We will try to work for both governments and citizens to maintain a sincere dialogue and solve problems peacefully.
3) We strongly condemn all violent behavior in both countries and will stand firmly against it.
4) We will work with both governments and all citizens in a concerted effort to avoid behavior that could lead to warfare.
5) We encourage civil interaction and an increase of opportunities of dialogue between Japan and China.
6) We strongly demand that media reports are based on facts, and deepen mutual understanding through objective and multifaceted reporting.
7) We think it is particularly now time to have dialogue and to strive to build mutual understanding and trust through various channels and means. We will maintain a constructive dialogue, disseminate the results of discussions and activities, and have an open mind for a diversity of opinions.
8) We believe that this declaration and related activities will be well received by all sensible citizens from both countries and contribute to a new development in the Japan-China relationship.

Sept. 29, 2012, Tokyo
Japanese Voluntary Citizens
Chinese Voluntary Citizens


Why Are We Issuing a Joint Declaration Now?

“Worst relationship since the normalization of diplomatic ties” — newspapers and TV news have carried depressing headlines totally divorced from a festive mood for the year that could have been a memorable one in the history of relations between Japan and China.

After anti-Japan demonstrations in various parts of China were widely covered in Japan in mid-September last year, I got my thoughts about them in order and put them on my Facebook site. I then recognized the presence of many people understanding or supporting them. They shared a sense crisis about a situation in which dialogue is impossible and were eager to avoid the worse-case scenario, namely an armed clash, at any cost.

On my Facebook page, therefore, I proposed creating an opportunity for lots of people to pour out their frustrations and thoughts so that Japanese and Chinese could get together and talk to each other. Face-to-face talks there enabled me to realize that ordinary citizens of Japan and China feel bruised, irritated and frustrated because of the unfavorable sentiment between the two countries.

Nevertheless, the situation has developed into such a furor largely because of mutual misunderstanding. The media in Japan repeatedly showed Chinese demonstrators ransacking Japanese-affiliated supermarkets and smashing Japanese cars, creating an image that all Chinese people are violent. Although some Chinese demonstrators undeniably became riotous, it was not squarely taken up by the Japanese media that many Chinese citizens opposed violence.

The Chinese media, for their part, criticized the Japanese government for “refusing to listen” to anything about the problem of the Senkaku Islands over the air day after day, prompting many citizens to feel that China is neglected by Japan. Needless to say again, ordinary Japanese citizens do not neglect China at all and many of them hope for dialogues and exchanges. Unfortunately, however, the unfavorable sentiment that Japanese and Chinese people have toward each other has grown worse due to the accumulation of such misunderstandings.

So I then thought of preparing and releasing a joint declaration between Japanese and Chinese citizens at least to help clarify mutual misunderstandings. The Japanese and Chinese governments normalized diplomatic relations 40 years ago, a great achievement, and their leaders issued a joint declaration. But now ordinary citizens with common sense have sought to voice their reasonable inner thoughts.

Everyone now can express their opinions to the world through the Internet and social media. It has become possible for people to send out information they have and share it with others, instead of just blaming everything to governments and media. Considering it important for rational citizens, who hope for dialogues and exchanges, to voice their thoughts by utilizing such tools, we decided to present a joint declaration by voluntary citizens to the public.

Of course, the two countries have their own positions on the Senkaku situation and cannot readily make concessions to each other. But there may be a direction toward “the greatest common denominator” of thoughts expressed by ordinary citizens on the basis of common sense, such as rejecting all kinds of violence and wishing for a peaceful solution through dialogues and exchanges. Based on the idea that such an approach can change the atmosphere, we compiled our joint declaration.

We also though that if we can demonstrate the presence of the many Japanese and Chinese citizens who support the declaration by putting it on the Internet, it will help people who wish for a reasonable solution feel that they are not “alone.”

It may be said that the compilation of the declaration through the accumulation of discussions by citizens was an attempt to turn the negative spiral into which Japan and China have fallen into a positive one.

“Real Debates” and Diversified Members

To prepare the declaration, three “real debates” were conducted on the grounds that face-to-face discussions were indipensable. Although the participants were mainly friends of mine on my Facebook site, my “friends’ friends” on the Internet, whom I had not been very closely acquainted with, also voiced in-depth views for putting the declaration together. An increase in personal friends is a valuable by-product of real debate.

The participants in the debates were company employees, organization staffers, students and others from diverse backgrounds that were not limited to occupations. Media workers were also present. A total of more than 60 Japanese and Chinese engaged in heated debates.

There were a number of things kept in mind for the debates. First, participants were given a certain level of advance knowledge through study sessions held by inviting an expert on marine problems and a journalist well versed in situations regarding Japan and China. In order to avoid participants falling into blind debate and falsely believing they understood matters in the absence of knowledge, we asked experts to sort out contentious points and clarified assertions by Japan and China on how the two countries see the Senkaku situation.

Secondly, we confirmed that we would not conclude our debate in a short period of time and end it with a declaration but continue our activities. Some participants called for including their views on the Senkaku situation and history problems in the declaration. On the assumption that there are various views on the Senkaku situation and history problems, however, we concluded the first and top priority was to seek “the greatest common factor” that can be shared by everyone.

We agreed to create opportunities for continuous and constructive dialogues to understand each other’s viewpoints and assertions instead of drawing a hasty conclusion on “who owns the Senkakus.”

Although various opinions were expressed in the debates, there was an agreement that a reasonable solution through dialogues and exchanges should be pursued. As in this case, I recognized anew that citizens can listen to each other and exchange frank views even when government negotiators cannot sit at the same table for dialogue.

We were heartened as we began to receive comments of support and encouragement from lots of people soon after the declaration was released on my Facebook page. Particularly impressive was a comment from a Chinese child who attends a junior high school in Japan. Though wishing for a good relationship between Japan and China, the student felt hopeless when watching TV news and classmates’ reaction of “hating China,” according to the comment. It also said that our joint declaration on the Facebook page made the student feel heartily relieved by knowing that there are people working for the betterment of relations between Japan and China and that both Japanese and Chinese are wishing for dialogues instead of violence.

The comment made us deepen our belief that it is possible to visualize “invisible popular views” in favor of rational solutions, aside from the “noisy people” the media prefer to take up, by resolving misunderstandings one by one through dialogues between citizens and spreading related information.

For Creation of Ties Beyond “Friendship”

Our civilian joint declaration avoids as much as possible the use of the world “friendship” that has been chanted like a slogan between Japan and China, for the following reasons.

When Japan and China normalized bilateral relations 40 years ago from a situation which could not be said to have been a state of war but was nonetheless anomalous, the governments and leaders of the two countries needed to send a big message about pursuing friendship. Under such circumstances, “friendship” must have been effective. Despite this, unfortunately, the two countries do not necessarily have a friendly relationship at present after 40 years of such ties.

Japan and China realized a miraculous normalization of diplomatic ties and laid the foundation for their relationship by accumulating “compromises” of a certain kind. I think compromises were needed at that time. But it is a fact that the foundation, built by our predecessors through strenuous efforts, has developed cracks in various parts. We are now directly witnessing the possibility of the foundation collapsing as the cracks have made it brittle.

It may be time to repair the cracks one by one and even bit by bit. Over the past 40 years, the two countries have been aware of the cracks, whether at national or personal level, but avoided touching them.

At the risk of being mistaken, I would say there is no denying that aspects of the friendship between Japan and China have been superficial, because they have avoided addressing matters of concern. Deepening mutual understanding and developing cooperative relations further are needed at a time when differences of view over the Senkakus could develop into a clash of physical force. I believe face-to-face talks are the only way to achieve this.

As the possibly most effective, though time-consuming, way of repairing the cracks bit by bit, the two countries need to take a step further from the approach of avoiding directly touching each other’s “raw nerves” so that they can pursue their arguments without going so far as to quarrel.

Undeniably, however, there is a language barrier between Japan and China in deepening understanding through dialogue. It is to be hoped that Chinese living in Japan and Japanese living in China, who understand each other’s language and society, can play the role of a bridge.

I was born in China and have lived in Japan for a long time. As a person who understands Japan to some extent, I consider myself responsible for acting as a bridge between the societies and peoples of the two countries. But Chinese living in Japan and Japanese living in China do not necessarily understand deeply the society and people of the country they reside in. I believe therefore that we must study.

To address the burdensome problems avoided over the past 40 years, it is essential to study the historical background to issues and keep striving to resolve them through tenacious dialogue.

To Avoid Recurrence of War that Hurt Everyone

We are fully aware that the civilian joint declaration has its limits, as it was based on arguments from Japanese and Chinese living in Japan. We will have to figure out how to convey reasonable views from Japan to China. We would like to seek wider support for the declaration from Internet users in China by holding online debates and releasing it through “Weibo” (Chinese version of Twitter). To get the declaration across to not only Internet users but also generations that do not use the Internet, we will have to seek ways of sending our messages through a variety of media.

As mentioned, furthermore, the declaration is designed to seek the greatest common denominator so that a lot of people can share it. We would like to gradually discuss history recognitions and the Senkaku situation in order to advance the work of deepening mutual understanding and eliminating misunderstandings by stages.

Exchanges between Japan and China have so far laid weight on “quality,” i.e. they have been led by people who are interested in and sympathetic with each other. From now on, ways of involving people, who are not so interested in each other, need to be considered in order to attach importance to the “quantity” of exchanges.

To this end, it will be important, first of all, to expand dialogues and exchanges between Japanese and Chinese citizens, on the assumption of mutual economic dependence between the two countries, and stress the economic benefits to be created through cooperation between the two countries.

A second question is whether it will be possible to utilize sentiment to avoid the worst-case scenario. While many Japanese believe Japan should do business with the United States and Southeast Asia while brushing China aside, they do not think that Japan “should go to war with China.” A large majority of them hope that peaceful relations between the two countries will continue. Now that interest in the relationship between Japan and China, which is hardly favorable, is growing stronger due to the Senkaku issue, we believe we should not miss this opportunity to draw a large number of people into dialogues and exchanges.

The work of repairing the cracks gradually by daring to touch “raw nerves” must be completed while the pains from the last war remain. People of the younger generation, like us, did not directly experience the war and are in a position to conduct cool-headed discussions because we feel less “restrained” by the past.

But we must admit that our knowledge of the past war and our antiwar sentiment are weak. Accordingly, dialogues between generations are vital. We hope that people who experienced the war will work together with us to share their memories with younger people.

Only 70 years ago there was a terrible war that left physical and psychological scars on everyone in Japan and China. The very lesson from that experience is that “such a war must not be repeated.”


Translation of an essay (pages 146-151) from the December 2012 edition of Sekai (published by Iwanami Shoten Publishers) after additions and revisions by the author

Ding Ning, co-founder of the Association to Create Common Future of Japan and China, was born in Shenyang, China, and came to Japan in 1998. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo and completed the master’s program in the Department of International Studies at the university. While studying at the university, he established the World Students Conference for dialogues between people in war-torn areas and Japanese students. He worked as an intern at U.N. organizations in Tokyo and New York and is a member of advisory panels to the mayors of Bunkyo and Shinjuku wards in Tokyo for the respective “New Public” and “Multi-Cultural Coexistence” programs. He is the secretary general of the Chinese alumni association of the University of Tokyo.