A new poll released in Beijing on October 22 showed that Chinese and Japanese citizens have made some improvement in opinions of each other, although overall impressions still remain negative. The Opinion Poll on China-Japan Relations 2015 is jointly issued by the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) and the Genron NPO in Japan.
In China, 78.3 percent of survey respondents viewed Japan unfavorably, which is a reduction of 8.5 percent from last year's numbers. Meanwhile, 88.8 percent of Japanese recipients had a negative impression of China, decreasing from as high as 93 percent, as captured in last year's survey.
Based on answers from 1,570 recipients in China and 1,000 recipients in Japan, the sample survey reveals some positive changes of how people in China and Japan view each other, Vice President of CIPG Wang Gangyi said at the press conference announcing the survey results on October 22.
"The number of people who want peace and cooperation are growing in the two countries," said Wang. "The voice of peace and common development is becoming mainstream, which has laid an important public foundation for warming bilateral relations."
As the poll showed, 70.1 percent of Chinese respondents believed that China-Japan relations are important. Last year, the figure was 65 percent. Notably, it is the first time for the figure of opinions about the importance of Sino-Japanese relations to have risen in the last five years. Reciprocally, 74.4 percent of Japanese citizens surveyed believe that it is important to improve relations with China, increasing by 3.8 percentage points from 2014.
Yasushi Kudo, President of the Genron NPO, said at the press conference that the number of Japanese respondents who reported positive feelings toward China had rebounded from the record low seen in 2013.
"Based on our analysis, this tendency might be attributed to several reasons," Kudo said.
Firstly, as Kudo pointed out, Chinese and Japanese leaders have begun to increase their level of contact and dialogue with one another, undoubtedly a good sign.
The second positive augur is that in spite of the outstanding disputes between the two nations, bilateral relations have remained stable and no new incidents have arisen to inflame relations.
Last but not least, Kudo claimed the surging number of Chinese traveling to Japan over the past two years has helped to promote people-to-people contact and to improve the views of the two peoples toward each other.
According to statistics released by the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan in the time span from January to August reached as high as 3.34 million, 2.17 times the figure of the same period last year. A staggering one out of four foreign tourists in Japan at present is Chinese.
Consolidating its country's status as a tourist destination is a major goal of the Japanese Government. To this end, Japan has taken many steps in recent years to attract visitors to its shores, not least opening new air routes from China to Japan, Wang Chong, a researcher from the Charhar Institute and an international relations columnist told Beijing Review .
Wang said that given the favorable visa policy and convenient transport, more and more Chinese tourists are willing to travel to Japan.
In addition, with growth of purchasing power, Chinese tourists are increasingly valued by more countries including Japan for bringing considerable revenue to the local tourism market, he maintained.
In the poll, as much as 88 percent of Chinese respondents expressed their wish to visit Japan. In turn, 66.9 percent of Japanese respondents said they are interested in going sightseeing in China.
Significantly, the surge in Chinese tourists also promotes people-to-people exchange and mutual understanding between the two East Asian neighbors, as reflected in the survey.
Asked what were the major reasons underlying their stated good impression of Japan, 57 percent of Chinese respondents answered that they perceived Japanese people as polite and well-mannered. Forty-three percent cited the excellent quality and reliability of products made in Japan. Another 40.1 percent of Chinese respondents said that Japan's beautiful natural environment leaves a good taste in their mouths.
Correspondingly, 34 percent of Japanese respondents said in the survey that they have derived good impressions of China through exchanges in person.
"The result of the survey shows that enhancing people-to-people exchanges is the right approach to take toward improving Japan-China relations," Kudo said.
However, tensions between the two countries still greatly influence opinions of the two peoples. Among all issues, territorial disputes are believed by 66.4 percent of recipients in China and 56 percent in Japan as the largest problem affecting bilateral relations. Historical issues, the second biggest problem in Sino-Japanese relations according to last year's survey, have been replaced by a "lack of mutual trust" in this year's poll.
With regards to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks on the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II on August 14, as high as 74.1 percent Chinese recipients answered that they were "discontent."
Kudo stated that it was a pity that Abe's remarks had triggered negative reactions in China, thus frustrating efforts to bolster bilateral relations.
"We must recognize the fact that history cannot be changed," Kudo said.
"In the annual surveys of the past decade, historical issues were always a major concern for Chinese respondents," Wang said.
Wang predicted that the Japanese Government's actions on historical issues, such as tacitly approving dubious changes to history textbooks and the paying of homage to the Yasukuni Shrine, would be the major factor disappointing Chinese people.
"The survey was carried out in the two countries from late August to late September," said Yuan Yue, President of Horizon Consulting Co., which was responsible for conducting the survey in China.
The survey sampled Chinese from 10 major cities across the country such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenyang.
"We selected these 10 cities for they are believed to represent the opinions of Chinese residents in different regions across this vast country," Yuan said.
"In line with the standards for a sampling survey, I believe it can provide an accurate reflection of the mainstream opinions held by Chinese people," Yuan said.
In addition to the public opinion, the survey also specifically targeted elite groups, including entrepreneurs, journalists and scholars in both China and Japan.
"We believe this elite group might possess a deeper understanding of China-Japan ties and that they are capable of forming their own judgments independent of outside influences," Yuan said.
The opinion poll is released each year prior to the Beijing-Tokyo Forum that is held alternatively in Beijing and Tokyo. The poll provides China and Japan the baseline to better understand national opinions about each other as well as serving as a reference data point for the conference.
The Beijing-Tokyo Forum, held annually since 2005, is dedicated to advancing Sino-Japanese ties and promoting mutual understanding between the two peoples.
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell and Eric Daly
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