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Minami Funakoshi senior contributor

From Chinese and Japanese Web Users, Strikingly Similar Vitriol on Islands Dispute

A Coast Guard patrol vessel passes by Uotsuri, the largest island in the Senkaku/Diaoyu chain. (Al Jazeera English/Flickr)

Five months since Japan’s “nationalization” of the disputed Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese, the issue remains as combustible as before — and now, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounding off on the topic, the reactions of Chinese and Japanese social media users highlight the uneasy reality of geopolitics over these remote isles.

Last September, during the height of the anti-Japan demonstrations in China, Secretary Clinton “urged that cooler heads prevail, that Japan and China engage in dialogue to calm the waters.” On January 18, 2013, following her talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the State Department, Clinton reemphasized that “the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands” and, once again, urged “all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.”

But this time, her calls for peace and cool-headedness came with an unexpected twist — the islands are, Clinton stated, “under the administration of Japan and we oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration.”

“The above comments made by the U.S. side disregard the facts and confuse right and wrong,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang stated on the ministry’s official website. “The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory. This is based on historical and jurisprudential evidence which no one can deny.” Qin also issued what can be seen as a warning to the US, urging it to be “responsible on the Diaoyu Islands issue, be discreet in word and deed and take concrete actions to safeguard regional peace and stability as well as overall interests of China-U.S. relations so as to win trust from the Chinese people.”

Chinese reactions

Many of Chinese’s social media users responded in outrage to what they saw as the United States’ indirect warning for China to withdraw its claim over the disputed islands, showering Secretary Clinton with stinging attacks. “Maybe a few days before her brain arteries got clogged and damaged her brain, that’s why she’s babbling nonsense,” Web user @云里雾里山中人 commented on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. “She just wants to show herself off before leaving office,” said another user, @陆地巡洋舰-. “I just don’t understand, two people are fighting, and this woman on the other side of the planet wants to take sides in this fight? What, are you the world police?” asked @北京古古.

Some turned personal attacks on Clinton into a general attack on the U.S. and Japan. @大鹏金鹰, whose handle ironically translates to “Roc,” or Golden Eagle, a mythical bird of prey, commented, “You bombed our embassy, you’re using little Japanese devils as eggs to throw at us…and you think you’re so awesome?” “It’s a matter between China and Japan—what is it to the U.S.? You think you’re the lord of the entire world? The U.S. and Japan are both shameless,” wrote @Sometime2046.

And, of course, this storm of anger and derision ultimately turned to Japan. As Web user @想养一匹奥巴马, whose handle roughly translates to“I want to raise a pet–Obama,” put it, “The Japanese dogs once again go to their daddy for support.”

Japanese reactions

Chinese Web users were not the only ones who reacted en masse to Secretary Clinton’s recent comment. Reactions flooded Channel 2, or ni channeru, Japan’s largest Internet forum. While not as widely used as China’s Sina Weibo, Channel 2 has over 11 million users who can freely post with complete anonymity, voicing opinions that often remain suppressed in Japan’s mainstream media. 

Some Japanese Web users viewed Japan as Washington’s helpless protégé — or, more crudely put, pet dog — and wrote self-mockingly. “Although Japan is the main player involved, no one pays attention to us. Other people just go past our heads and take the matter straight to the ‘master’ [the U.S.],” one user commented.

Many other Japanese Web users interpreted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang’s reaction to State Secretary Clinton’s comment — that the U.S. “oppose[s] any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration” — as marked by fear. “It was just supposed to be another anti-Japan ‘performance,’ [the Chinese] didn’t expect it to turn into such a big deal, but now they can’t go back, either. Now that the U.S. is really involved, China is scared out of its mind,” commented one user anonymously. Others were more vulgar: “Haha China’s scared shitless now. They stopped dispatching planes. What a loser,” sneered another. “You think you’re equal to the U.S.? It’s beyond ridiculous — totally pitiful,” another user jeered.

The growing nationalist “hysteria”

As on Sina Weibo, unrestrained, emotional attacks run rampant on Channel 2. Contrary to stereotypes, which often depict Japanese citizens as peaceful, reticent, and law-abiding, Japanese Web users were as venomous and vociferous as Chinese Web users, voicing resentment both for China and Japan.

Although it is unlikely that Japanese and Chinese Web users read each others’ posts, many posts, such as “Go to hell, Sina dogs” and “Japanese dogs get the hell out of Diaoyudao,” resemble each other in tone, and even in word choice.

As the internationally acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote in an opinion piece for the Asahi Shimbun, one of the major liberal newspapers in Japan, the “Territorial issue ceases to be a practical matter and enters the realm of ‘national emotions.’” Murakami sharply criticized both Japan and China for using nationalist rhetoric, calling it “cheap alcohol” that “makes you hysterical…speak loudly and act rudely… but after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning.”

As Japan and China send fighter jets to the disputed region and the issue continues to escalate, dialogue between the two nations is crucial to avoid a military clash. Despite China’s past calls for negotiations, Japan has repeatedly refused, insisting that there is no territorial issue to discuss because Japan holds sovereignty over the islands. With mounting belligerence on both sides, the islands dispute seems more and more like a ticking time bomb.

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Minami Funakoshi

After spending her childhood in India, Malaysia, and Japan, Minami moved to the U.S. to attend Yale University. Currently, she is studying abroad in Beijing and Taipei to improve her Chinese. She will work as an editorial intern at the Wall Street Journal Hong Kong Office through the Robert L. Bartley Fellowship Program.
  • http://twitter.com/SaschaMatuszak Sascha Matuszak

    nice to see a little glimpse into what the Japanese fenqing are saying.

  • saf

    “Go to hell, Sina dogs”

    I think it’s worth pointing out to those unfamiliar with its usage that Sina (or Shina) in this case probably doesn’t refer to the users of weibo, but is a Japanese slur for China.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicolas.laignelet Nicolas Bobby Laignelet

    Having japanese and chinese language skills to read both sides and then explain to the rest of the world in English, this is pretty impressive… Cheers !

  • Rocky

    Rhetoric aside, why no reasoned discussions over Diaoyu Island’s sovereignty under international law and from historical perspective?

  • http://twitter.com/alanatpaterra Alan Engel

    Birds of a feather that need to be caged.

  • MAC

    I’m surprised to hear that the author, as a Japanese person, thinks that the Japanese rhetoric is equally ugly. I mean, the Chinese selections here were pretty mild. Look at the demonstrations in China, so many signs talking about nuke Japan, kill all the Jap devils, etc. etc… I might only be able to read the kanji on the Japanese signs, but the don’t seem to say anything nearly on that level.