Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Love Thy (Asian) Neighbor

September 26, 2006
The Wall Street Journal

Remember Sir Norman Angell? The late British economist predicted that trade would bridge political animus -- right before World War I broke out. We're not predicting a conflagration like that in Asia anytime soon. But a recent survey gave us pause for thought.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project poll released last week, only 21% of Chinese polled had a "favorable" view of Japan; 28% of Japanese felt the same about China. That's normal in China, but a huge switch in Japan. Only four years ago, more than half of Japanese liked their mainland peers.

India and Pakistan, too, harbor ill feelings. Half of Indians had an "unfavorable" opinion of their Pakistan peers; 67% of Pakistanis returned the sentiments.

This animosity is springing up at a time when intra-regional trade in Asia is on the rise. While the U.S. remains Asia's largest trading partner, China's importance is growing. The mainland receives about a quarter of the nonindustrialized Asian economies' exports, and 10% of exports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. Japanese exports to China are steeply rising, and vice versa. Intraregional equity portfolio flows in Asia nearly tripled from 2001-04.

So how to explain China's ill humor about Japan? Some 81% of Chinese don't think Japan has apologized sufficiently for its World War II-era crimes, despite numerous mea culpas from Tokyo. Japan's changing views could be affected by growing concern about China's militarization, which 93% of Japanese view as "bad." Japanese also showed more skepticism toward South Korea, with 43% taking an "unfavorable" view, compared with only 18% in China.

Perhaps one thing the two can agree on is cultural pride. Eighty-three percent of Japanese agreed with this statement: "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others." Some 75% of Chinese say the same for their homeland. There's nothing wrong with loving your country. But it helps to love your neighbors, too.


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