“I have never visited Japan and I don’t care to...unless I must visit Japan for business,” a US-educated Chinese businessman who makes it a point not to buy Japanese products for his house in Beijing, told me this week.
In New York, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao avoided meeting his Japanese counterpart and warned of consequences if Tokyo does not unconditionally release a Chinese fishing boat captain detained after a Chinese trawler and Japanese coast guard vessels ‘collided’ off disputed East China Sea islands claimed by both nations.
The public sentiment is riding Beijing’s rhetoric. The businessman said a relative who was a soldier during the Japanese invasion of 1931-45 influenced his family’s anti-Japanese sentiments. “The Chinese who now work for Japanese firms hide their feelings about Japan. China has made strong statements against Japan. They should take strong action too.’’
Chinese resentment against Japan flares every few years, and this year’s dispute coincides with the 79th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China. Chinese state media is stoking nationalistic sentiments. “China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted actions. The pain has to be piercing,’’ said Global Times.
“China and Japan are highly interdependent in trade. When Japan’s miscalculation genuinely hurts interests of its own citizens, Tokyo will consider a retreat,” an analyst told China Daily. But Chinese businessmen won’t let sinking political ties affect business. Since 2009, China is Japan’s largest trade partner and figures put bilateral trade at $147 billion. “In 2005, when relations were last at their nadir, Japanese investment into China hit a record,’’ said Wall Street Journal.
A Beijing-based travel agent whose Chinese group tour to Japan was cancelled this month, said that Chinese businessmen are still flying to Tokyo. As I filed this column, the cell phone rang. The Shanghai-based Chinese CEO on the line mentioned he was off to Japan next week.