Tokyo Report

Explosive Map Could Nudge Japan’s Public Toward Normalization

China’s attempts to shore up support could backfire and drive the Japanese in favor of collective self-defense.

Clint Richards
Explosive Map Could Nudge Japan’s Public Toward Normalization
Credit: Mushroom cloud via Shutterstock

A map printed earlier this week by a Chinese youth magazine with official ties to the government has provoked Japanese protest and is likely to add fuel to nationalist fires in both countries. While both Japan and China have taken provocative actions over the last several months that have contributed to the marked deterioration in ties since 2012, this latest image could well prove more harmful than most recent statements from the Chinese side. While the Chinese government may make the claim that it did not condone the image or have prior knowledge that it would be printed, its connection to the magazine will give Japanese nationalists all the evidence they need.

The Chongqing Youth News, based in the southwestern city and linked to the Communist Youth League, on Tuesday printed a map of Japan with mushroom clouds over the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with Tokyo being the only other place identified (although sans mushroom cloud). The map’s title read “Japan wants a war again,” with an article on the opposite page stating that, “as the butcher of World War Two, the blood on Japan’s hands has yet to dry,” although the magazine does not explicitly state that the map and article are connected.

The image was later picked up by one of the government backed news outlets, The Global Times, which has a much wider readership. Last week the magazine also ran commentary critical of Japan’s new stance on collective self-defense, stating that “A sword had been handed to a murderer again,” and that China has been “too tolerant” of Japan.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is from Hiroshima, said Japan was lodging a stern protest and called the publication “very, very ignorant.” He also said that “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has clearly said it would be absolutely impossible for Japan to wage war again. There is no shift in the path of Japan as a pacifist country.”

China has clearly made its opposition to Japan’s change in collective self-defense known through several media outlets and official statements by both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. However, images like this risk sparking a popular backlash in Japan that could have the opposite effect of increasing popular support for the constitutional change, which it currently does not enjoy. The real intent behind promoting images like this is likely to increase nationalism in China, shoring up support for the Chinese leadership as it weeds out corruption within its own ranks and attempts to transition toward a consumer based economy amid weakening growth. The Chinese leadership is playing a delicate balancing act, increasing their own domestic support while attempting to avoid a scenario in which the Japanese populace is more accepting of a normalized military.