Japan's diplomatic relationship with China has entered a deep chill in recent years, reflecting the two countries’ conflict-riddled history and long-standing disputes over maritime territory and the Yasukuni Shrine, among other issues. These quarrels have prevented state visits and have spurred militant rhetoric in the region. At the same time, economic integration between Japan and China is blooming with ever greater investment and trade. Will these Asian neighbors mend their troubled ties? How have perception and misperception affected Sino-Japanese relations? What impact will these frictions have for American interests? These and other questions will be the subject of this panel discussion.
Akira Chiba, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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Bojiang Yang, Brookings Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies
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Randall Schriver, Armitage International
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Dan Blumenthal, AEI
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Troubled Ties: The Future of Sino-Japanese Relations
Japan's diplomatic relationship with China has entered a deep chill in recent years, reflecting the two countries’ conflict-riddled history and long-standing disputes over maritime territory and the Yasukuni Shrine, among other issues. These quarrels have prevented state visits and have spurred militant rhetoric in the region. At the same time, economic integration between Japan and China is blooming with ever greater investment and trade. Will these Asian neighbors mend their troubled ties? How have perception and misperception affected Sino-Japanese relations? What impact will these frictions have for American interests? These and other questions were the subject of a February 13 AEI panel discussion.
Foreign Ministry of Japan
The Chinese and Japanese have a long history of mutual misunderstanding. To understand this history, it is necessary to grasp the basics of Sino-Japanese relations. Sino-Japanese relations are constantly expanding, especially in the financial and trade realm. Japanese foreign direct investment to China is also growing rapidly each year, and Japan is the single largest donor of official development assistance to China.
Through both treaties and reparations, Japan has fully paid for its World War II crimes. Japan has publicly apologized numerous times for its crimes, including the 1995 statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which reflected a formal cabinet decision, and the several apologies recently made by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Nonetheless, the Chinese perception of Japan is not very good. Nearly 75 percent of Chinese citizens respond negatively when asked if they like Japan; however, 71 percent of Chinese citizens are also unaware that Japan provides a great deal of assistance to China. The Chinese public does not understand the true nature of Japan.
There are a number of other sources of misunderstanding. First, the Chinese think in the pattern of dialectics, while Japanese thinking is more idealistic. Second, China emphasizes “politics in command,” while Japan focuses more on maintaining order. Third, China is generally atheistic, while Japan is a pantheistic country. Fourth, the Chinese people have a linear outlook on history, with everything subordinated to the principal contradiction; the Japanese historical outlook is more cyclical.
Different perceptions of death and the dead have contributed to the controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine. Japanese prime ministers have visited the Yasukuni Shrine numerous times since 1979, and for many years, there was no Chinese protest against those visits. Contrary to commonly held belief in China, the frequency of Yasukuni Shrine visits by Japanese prime ministers is not directly related to Japanese militarism.
Regarding the history issue, in 2005 the Japanese government authorized eight junior high history textbooks. Only one of the books, which will be used in a mere 0.4 percent of junior high schools, has come under heavy attack from China and Korea for whitewashing history.
China and Japan do have a chance to improve relations. Both sides must begin by accumulating small gestures of cooperation to eventually transform the relationship.
Sino-Japanese relations are not perfectly healthy. However, to improve these relations and push them forward, eliminating misunderstandings between China and Japan is very important. Japan and China have had normalized official relations between their countries for thirty years, but they still need another thirty years to normalize relations between their societies.
Regarding the Yasukuni Shrine, it is a very unique Shinto shrine that was used as a tool for the Japanese government to support its invasions of foreign countries. This is not a normal Shinto shrine. Additionally, it is not constructive to symbolically compare Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s visits. The Sino-Japanese relationship today is in a totally different situation than the relationship was during Nakasone’s time. Koizumi’s Asian policy is very disappointing.
The Sino-Japanese relationship is facing a growing strategic conflict. Since 1992, China’s GDP has increased from being the size of one-tenth of Japan’s GDP to one-third of Japan’s GDP. One consequence of this process is that the overseas interests of both countries are expanding and subsequently conflicting.
The way for China and Japan to break through the problems of their troubled relationship is to change the domestic political agenda in Japan. The Yasukuni Shrine is not the root of the problem; rather, it is a reflection of deeper Sino-Japanese tensions. Once this symbolic issue is resolved, other aspects of the relationship may be able to recover. The United States also has a role in improving Sino-Japanese relations. U.S. policies toward Japan, China’s rise, and the politicization of Japan’s economic power have all contributed to the current wave of Japanese nationalism.
It is a very American thing to do to make the differences and problems of others an American problem to solve. It is not in U.S. interests for there to be Sino-Japanese tensions. There are risks involved with tension that should lead the United States to encourage the parties to reduce the tensions. In doing so, the United States needs to avoid becoming over-involved. Additionally, the United States should not feel forced to treat its relationships with China and Japan as co-equal.
However, as meddling Americans, there are a number of things the United States can do. First, the United States should disaggregate the problems and choose its interventions carefully. Second, the United States should stay out of the public debate on the historical issues, and instead take a neutral stance.
There are, however, a number of matters on which the United States is not neutral. There is an increasing chance of miscalculations or miscommunications between the Chinese and Japanese militaries. This could lead the United States to military involvement that it does not want. Thus, the United States needs to persuade Japan to pursue confidence building measures with China. In light of Japan’s emerging influence in Asia and globally, the United States should pursue modernization of its relationship with Japan. The United States should come alongside Japan to demonstrate the positive role Japan can play. The United States should maintain proactive engagement of China in bilateral relations. This includes having full transparency with China regarding the U.S. treaty alliance with Japan, so that China does not feel as if certain measures are directed against it. The United States should also pursue trilateral mechanisms to exchange views regarding the emergence of China and the reemergence of Japan as a “normal” country.
AEI intern Karla Herdzik prepared this summary.