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CommentInsight & Opinion

Chinese boycott of Japanese products over Diaoyus makes no sense

John Gong says any Chinese boycott of Japanese products will prove ineffective, given that it will be hard to sustain and, more importantly, will hurt China's economy just as much

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 2:28am

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, Samuel Johnson once said. What has happened in the latest anti-Japan protests across China shows once again that, after 30 years of economic development, there's still no shortage of scoundrels in this country.

An article in The New York Times said Beijing was sending mixed messages over these protests. But I do not see any ambiguity - the display of patriotism is certainly lauded, but the display of the kind of scoundrel patriotism, particularly in the form of vandalising property and terrorising society, should be condemned absolutely. The message from Beijing is loud and clear - hunt down the scoundrels, lock them up and prosecute them all!

But to those law-abiding protesters, I say that a boycott of Japanese products might be a tough sell. First, I should say that I am on the government's side in the dispute: the Diaoyu Islands belong to China, no matter from what angle one looks at it - historically, legally or geographically. Beijing should continue to send ships there to exercise its sovereign right.

However, a boycott is not going to be an effective weapon in seeking to influence Tokyo to change its position on the islands. On the contrary, it will hurt the pro-China forces in Japanese politics.

The first question to ask is whether a boycott could be sustained in the first place. Boycotts of Japanese goods have been tried in China on numerous occasions, for numerous reasons, in the past - every time tension has flared in Sino-Japanese relations. But they have never really succeeded in a big way. The boycott calls in 2005 lasted no more than a month.

When I was attending college in the late 1980s, there was a brief anti-Japan demonstration in Beijing that I participated in. I still have vivid memories of student leaders calling for a boycott of Japanese goods. It probably lasted a week at most.

And it's not just in China: boycotts the world over generally fail; in shopping malls, people vote with their wallets, though they may claim to do otherwise. Publicly smashing Japanese cars - even legally - has been tried before: union members in Detroit did so at the height of imports of Japanese vehicles to the US in the late 1980s. But look at the market share of Toyota, Honda and Nissan in the US today. Some US politicians have been calling for a boycott of cheap goods from "red" China for years. Yet, the famously patriotic American public continues to go to Walmart to load up with these items.

More importantly, though, a boycott would hurt China's economy as much as Japan's. The two nations are today so closely intertwined economically that it's even hard to actually define a Japanese product. Parts and components made in Japan probably permeate every sophisticated electronic product. Apple iPhones, Lenovo laptops, Haier television sets, to name just a few, all have things in them that were made in Japan.

Furthermore, many products with Japanese brands names are actually manufactured by joint ventures in China that have Chinese capital and create Chinese jobs. Take the auto industry as an example. Most of the Toyota, Nissan and Honda cars on the market are from joint-venture factories whose better halves are those state-owned enterprises that the government cares so much about. Boycotting cars from them is essentially the same as boycotting those Chinese companies.

Sino-Japanese relations are multi-faceted and transcend the territorial dispute over a few little islands. There are other more important common interests, both economically and politically. In dealing with Japan, it is actually in China's best interests to separate economic issues from political ones. This is the strategy that the US adopts towards China.

There is a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust of China and Chinese people among those in Japanese society, regrettably due to the Japanese government's long-standing nationalistic inculcation of its citizens. This underscores all the more the importance of economic and cultural engagements with all aspects of Japanese society to promote mutual understanding.

This is a time when, thankfully, cool heads still prevail in Beijing. The central government has shown admirable restraint so far to shun the public calls for a boycott. Shopping is a very personal matter. To those who are determined not to buy Japanese goods, I respect your choice. But let's keep it a personal matter, rather than letting the scoundrel patriots ruin both economies.

This is not being soft on Japan. This is smart economics as well as smart diplomacy. On the high seas, however, it's a different matter: China should stand firm against Japan; as firm as a Diaoyu rock.

John Gong is associate professor at the Beijing-based University of International Business and Economics. johngong@gmail.com

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scmpbeijing1
For a sensible, cool headed and clear assessment of the complicated situation (by a Chinese blogger no less) I suggest you go here:
****tealeafnation.com/2012/09/whose-islands-are-those-the-infographic-that-has-so-many-chinese-netizens-angry/
Nobody can blandly say outright, as you just have, that these islands are either Japanese or Chinese and no further argument will be brooked. That is the sort of language to be heardfrom those who have been brainwashed into one point of view by their respective governments, societies, schools, families - on both sides. I would expect more from an academic.
captam
For a start you need a new cartoonist.
The lower half of your **** is off-centre and arguably rather like your politics.............
Geographically the islands look pretty close to Taiwan, so why not put them under Taipei's control and ratch the rhetoric up a notch or two?
Seriously. It's time for cool heads to prevail. China and Japan have far more serious domestic issues to contend with.
xiaoblueleaf
Many, if not most, politicians of Japan are financed by the big corporations. As Japan's economy is already in doldrum for quite a long time, boycott of Japanese products will hurt these big corps which may put pressure on the politicans to change or modify their stance; notwithstanding such will hurt China's economy somewhat. It is a price to pay, better than outright conflict on a non-issue on several remote islands to begin with.
mercedes2233
Since when was emotion rational?
ianson
Turning back the clock hundreds of years in territorial disputes is pointless. If it were the right approach, then hand Australia and the US back to their respective indigenous tribes and redraw the map of Europe.
What is conveniently being swept aside in the debate is the fact that the US in 1945 had the right as victor to determine the disposition of the entire Japanese archipelago. What is conveniently forgotten is that if the US had not put its young men on the line and won a gruelling war with Japan, everyone in China, not to mention other nations such as Australia, would be eating miso soup for breakfast in their kimonos. If they decided to hand the Diayiutoi to Japan, so be it.
But for those who just can't let go, joint administration is the obvious answer. All the rest is, as this article so eloquently expresses, the barking of simple-minded scoundrels.
mercedes2233
US did not send its troops to defend China, but as a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. I take it that the local populations of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc. are grateful to the US young soldiers for their 'gruelling wars' in their countries?
Camel
As far as I know, China had never capitulated to Japan and so even the American won this war, they are not entitled to decide what and which part of China belongs to whom.
Remember the Shandong Incident almost 100 years ago? when Western Nations decided over the head of the Chinese in Versailles that the former German Colony in China Shandong should belong to Japan as a gift for their service in the 1WW against the Germans. Not only a humiliation to the Chinese People but also a robbery. The 4th of May movement, uprising and protests in China were as a result and the 4th of May was regarded as the actual birthday of the CCP as there the founder of the CCP came to together to decide, that China needs another strong Party for the People. Wouldn't he world be a better place if the Westernes would had stayed there were they belong centuries ago...?

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