A recent Asia News Network despatch reported that China is tightening controls on its domestic media reporting on Japan to rein in anti-Japanese views. This is supposed to be an attempt to prevent bilateral relations with Japan from deteriorating.
I can understand the reason for the measure. Nationalist sentiment in China is very strong. So strong that it is often irrational, with individuals hitting out in emotional outbursts whenever perceptions of slight against the Chinese people are evoked.
And Chinese sentiment against Japan has always been strong as a result of the latter's wartime atrocities. During the Asian Cup football championship held in China in July and August, the crowd regularly jeered the Japanese team, and supported any other team that played against Japan.
Singapore also became the target of mainland Chinese ire when then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan (see my earlier post, "Lee Hsien Loong's Taiwan visit unleashes storm from China").
Such expressions of negative sentiment are obviously unproductive. China may be an emerging giant, but it still cannot afford to alienate its neighbours and friends.
Clamping down on the media, however, may not be the most constructive way of handling the situation. At a time when China is supposed to be opening up to the world, what the Chinese people need is more information, not less. And controlling the official media does not prevent negative sentiments from being disseminated through the Internet.
Perhaps a more constructive way of handling the situation is by combating negative public views with positive ones. Government officials could point out the many benefits that China derives from its relations with Japan, such as investment and technology transfer, while downplaying past grievances.
The only problem with this, of course, is that such a course of action requires more effort on the part of the Chinese government and takes longer for the results to become obvious.
So it looks like we are stuck with China continuing to use the old technique of media control to achieve its official aims.