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Island dispute drags down exports and neighborly feeling in Japan

November 27, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • Protesters shout slogans anti-Chinese during a rally in Tokyo on Sept. 29, 2012.
Protesters shout slogans anti-Chinese during a rally in Tokyo on Sept.… (Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP…)

As Japan grapples with its neighbors over contested islands, Japanese goodwill toward China and South Korea has hit record lows, a new government survey has found.

Disputes over the Senkaku and Takeshima islands -- known by other names to China and South Korea -- has already taken an economic toll, helping drag down Japanese exports to their lowest point since the economic slowdown three years ago, Bloomberg News reported last week. Shipments to China, the biggest market for Japanese exports, slumped 11.6%.

The survey reveals that beyond diplomatic sparring and economic headaches, the spat has also swayed hearts and minds in Japan. More than 80% of Japanese people polled “do not feel close to China,” the newspaper   Yomiuri Shimbun reported, the highest level reported since the poll started in 1975. A mere 4.8% of people polled said ties with China were good.

Observing the trend from across the water,  Chinese professors told the China Daily that Japanese politicians playing up nationalism before elections and “sensationalized” media were to blame. But the islands dispute has also fueled animus among the Chinese, who have burned Japanese cars, canceled trips to Japan and even illegally downloaded Japanese pornography as a gambit to cut into Japanese profits, The Times reported this year.

Japanese alienation from South Korea also shot up to 59% among  those polled, a dramatic jump from last year when about 35% said they felt that way, Yomiuri Shimbun reported. Only 18.4% said relations with South Korea were good, a record low.

Distaste for South Korea may also have crept into lighter parts of Japanese life: Japanese national broadcaster NHK left popular South Korean performers out of its heavily watched year-end show, the Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

NHK officials said the decision to drop Korean pop acts wasn’t tied to the dispute, as many suspect, but merely the level of “support for them among Japanese fans,” according to the news agency. Similar speculation swirled when a Korean actress canceled her visit to Japan  this year.

Despite the ill will over the islands, Japan announced this month that it was joining China and South Korea in talks over a free trade pact, a rare, brighter spot in recent relations.

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