False Equivalence Watch: East Asia / Mea Culpa Edition

It's not just for Americans any more.

A reader with a Japanese family name writes:

I know that false equivalence is a favourite topic of yours. Therefore, I'm going to suggest that when you wrote the following, you might have been indulging in a little false equivalence of your own:

"Japanese leaders have made repeated inflammatory visits to the wartime Yasukuni shrine; Chinese state media have run nonstop anti-Japanese war dramas on TV; both sides have pushed the dispute over the Diaoyu / Senkaku islands. You can also think of officials in each country who would back off (and have, in the past few months) if the hostile attitudes threatened to provoke actual hostilities."

I agree that visiting the Yasukuni shrine is not the most tactful thing one could do. I also agree that there's some ugly right-wing rhetoric coming out of Japan. But how is this at all equivalent to the venomous, wide-spread and officially-sanctioned anti-Japanese propaganda, the resulting, seething hatred and the subsequent, anti-Japanese riots that we have all seen? There's a marked difference in degree, as far as I can tell.

Fair point. There is an asymmetry in Chinese-Japanese relations.

Japanese politicians have frequently pandered to part of the Japanese nationalist right wing by visiting the Yasukuni shrine, above. (To oversimplify: this would be like a German leader going out of his or her way to visit Nazi-era shrines.) The Japanese educational and media systems, based on what I've observed and learned, so thoroughly downplay the history of the 1930s and 1940s that most Japanese citizens naturally view their country as the major victim of World War II, because of the atomic bomb. The result is genuine puzzlement and ignorance about why older Chinese, Singaporeans, Filipinos, but again mainly Chinese might bear a grudge.

On the Chinese side, much as the reader says, the government tolerates and/or fosters flat-out hate-Japan propaganda. Ordinary Japanese people can be affected by passive lack of awareness of their country's history. Ordinary Chinese people can be affected by deliberate agitprop.

Both of these are unfortunate, but they're not really "equivalent." China's government is more culpable than Japan's in drumming up and maintaing ill-will. On the other hand, when it comes to the specific issue of the Diaoyu/ Senkaku islands, I think it's fair to say that the governments have been roughly comparable in ramping up (and when needed damping down) hostilities. Thanks for the clarification.