A Majority of Chinese Expect War With Japan Is Inevitable: Poll

This year, American and European leaders are remembering the anniversary of the start of World War I. In China, the Communist Party is already gearing up for next year’s 70th anniversary of the day Japan surrendered in World War II. China’s state-owned television networks have received orders to increase airtime devoted to “patriotic”—that is, anti-Japanese—programming. And according to a new poll, perhaps the party’s nationalist propaganda machine is already exceeding its own expectations.

In late July, Genron NPO and China Daily surveyed (PDF) just over 1,500 people in mainland China about their attitudes toward Japan: 53 percent of Chinese respondents said they believed that “there will be a military conflict between Japan and China in the future,” either in a few years or the more distant future. (A parallel poll found that 29 percent of Japanese surveyed expected war with China.)

As Philip J. Cunningham, an American who has worked in TV and film production in Asia since 1986, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed: “China has a long tradition of producing war movies for propaganda purposes, mostly good-versus-evil dramas drawn from the all-too-real and brutal war against Japan. … In recent years, such government-sanctioned dramas have taken off, fueled by increasing tensions between China and Japan”—especially over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea—”and Beijing’s strategy of stirring up nationalism for domestic political purposes.”

In the poll, which is taken annually, both Chinese and Japanese respondents agreed, roughly, about one key question last year: In 2013, 56 percent of Japanese respondents and 43 percent of Chinese respondents said the U.S. would “lead future world politics”—no other country ranked higher than the U.S. last year.

However, this year Chinese respondents saw a larger leadership role for China: In 2014, 43 percent of Chinese respondents said China would “lead future world politics,” and just 31 percent said the U.S. would. Meanwhile, among Japanese respondents, only 16 percent saw China as a global leader—up a bit from 11 percent last year. Almost half (45 percent) of Japanese still looked to the U.S. to lead future world politics.

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