Jin Ding/China Daily
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a pronounced effect on international relations, including Chinese public opinion on Japan, and vice versa. Amid such developments, the 2021 annual survey on China-Japan relations conducted recently by the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, a public diplomatic communication platform between China and Japan, has become a key channel for the two countries to gauge what people on one side think about the other, and use it to promote mutual understanding.
First, although 60-70 percent of the respondents in both China and Japan said Sino-Japanese ties are important, they were unhappy with the current state of affairs and not confident about the future. Only 10.6 percent of the Chinese and 2.6 percent of the Japanese respondents said the two sides have good relations.
Also, more than half of the respondents in China and over 60 percent in Japan said the China-US rivalry has had a negative impact on China-Japan relations. In fact, a majority of the respondents in both countries said the two sides should "minimize the impact of the China-US competition and promote China-Japan cooperation".
Notably, about 55 percent of the Japanese respondents said they don't want Japan to choose sides between China and the US, while 24.9 percent said they paid greater attention to the United States.
Second, both the Chinese and Japanese respondents had the same opinion on regional cooperation and global challenges. For example, they said the two countries should pay more attention to global cooperation in the post-pandemic era, and acknowledged the importance of peaceful coexistence, and the positive impact free trade and multilateralism would have on the global economy.
Besides, the majority of the Chinese and Japanese respondents said they attached great importance to anti-pandemic measures, climate change and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Among the Chinese respondents, 72.6 percent said there was a need to boost global cooperation on vaccines, while 71.3 percent of the Japanese respondents had the same view.
As for regional affairs, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, China-Japan maritime and air crisis management, energy conservation and environmental protection were the main concerns of the respondents on both sides.
The survey also showed that the Chinese and Japanese respondents differed on some issues. For instance, 70 percent of the Chinese respondents, compared with only 40 percent of their Japanese counterparts, said it is necessary to establish a new China-Japan cooperative relationship.
According to the survey, most of the respondents in China acknowledged Japan's national strength, while their counterparts in Japan recognized China's fast-paced growth. Yet less than 3 percent of the Chinese and Japanese respondents said the other side played a key role in stabilizing the global situation.
However, the fact is, as the world's second- and third-largest economies, China and Japan have more global influence than the respondents' subjective understanding. As such, the two sides should establish a new type of communication mechanism to recognize the significance of each other's contributions to global peace and prosperity, and develop a new type of bilateral relationship.
Third, the pandemic has halted people-to-people exchanges between the two sides since last year, acutely influencing Chinese and Japanese peoples' attitudes toward each other, especially the Chinese people's impression of Japan.
The impact of history, as well as territorial and security issues, remain key factors affecting the opinions of the Chinese and Japanese peoples on bilateral relations. About 80 percent of the Chinese respondents and nearly 60 percent of their Japanese counterparts said history is a major impediment to better China-Japan relations. And 60 percent of the Chinese, and 70 percent of the Japanese respondents said they felt threatened due to the other side's military buildup.
However, about 40 percent of the Chinese respondents said they don't think East Asia faces the risk of conflict, while about half of the Japanese respondents said they are not sure about that. And about 40 percent of the Chinese respondents said a conflict could possibly break out across the Taiwan-Straits, 26 percentage points more than their Japanese counterparts, indicating cross-Straits ties are a big concern for the Chinese people. But few respondents in both countries said they feared a conflict could break out over the Diaoyu Islands.
Fortunately, the talks between Chinese and Japanese leaders earlier this month mapped out a new path for the development of bilateral ties, and the two countries agreed to maintain high-level communication, deepen cooperation and properly manage their differences.
Yet there is no reason to assume that easing of tensions necessarily means the problems can be easily solved. At the same time, we should not lose confidence in the future due to the difficulties, given the complexity of Sino-Japanese relations.
Against such a backdrop, the Chinese and Japanese governments should pay attention to the survey and work accordingly to improve bilateral ties.
(Jin Ying, a researcher at the Institute of Japanese Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of this platform.)