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Japan-China Relations

"Unless China can take a comprehensive lead over Japan as it was during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Japan will not genuinely respect China, nor will it show mutual respect to China in a short period of time. Japan's attitude toward China will be awkward for a long time." according to an unsigned editorial [representing official CCP party line] in Global Stimes 03 September 2021.

The power comparison between China and Japan has changed historically. During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Japan's GDP was still ahead of China. In 2020, China's GDP is about three times that of Japan, which is about the similar economic gap between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan at the end of the 20th century. More specifically, China's vehicle sales in a year are four to five times that of Japan. The length of China's high-speed railway is about 13.7 times that of Japan's Shinkansen high-speed railway. The geopolitical implication of Japan's tough China policy is also changing quietly.

China's military budget is four times larger than Japan's. As a result, Japan cannot be a counterweight to stabilize the region alone, and it needs US commitments. Japanese government officials view China as the key challenge to Japan and the US-Japan Alliance. Japan acknowledges that good US-China relations are in its interest, but Japan also fears that the United States will discount Japan's interests in pursuit of more robust relations with China. The increasing frequency and aggressiveness of Chinese provocations could lead unexpectedly to a military confrontation with Japan, one of the United States’ strongest alliance partners — so that it could be difficult for the United States to avoid becoming a party to the conflict.

The vast majority of Japanese — 93 percent — have an “unfavorable” impression of China, and the feeling is mutual, according to a public opinion poll released in September 2014, conducted by Genron NPO and the China Daily newspaper. The results on the Chinese side came in at 86.8 percent, which the survey reported as a “slight improvement” from the 2013 record high of 92.8 percent. As for war, over half — 53 percent — of the Chinese polled believe “there will be a military conflict” with Japan. The majority of Japanese expressed fear of a “conflict within a few years.”

How to account now for the energy with which China stokes anti-Japanese sentiments to an extent that is officially unrecipricated in Japan? In the 1980s, after Deng Xiaoping opened China up to the capitalist world, Marxism - Leninism - Mao Tse Tung Thought was no longer the source of regime legitimacy. Patriotism, based on grievances over a century of humiliations inflicted by foreign powers, from the Opium War to the Nanking Massacre, became the official ideology. It was said that only the firm rule of the Communist Party could prevent China from suffering similar humiliations again.

The Opium Wars [1839 and 1856] began China's humiliation, but the Sino-Japanese War [1894-1895] swept away her equipment as a military power; reduced her prestige to the lowest ebb; and revealed her weakness to the world. Mimicking the Western imperial powers, Japan had decided to carve out an empire of its own. And Japan succeeded in learning the Western arts of war in ways that China had not matched. China's reputation for military and naval strength collapsed like a pricked balloon after the Sino-Japanese War. The collapse of China before the new might of Japan aroused the greed of the nations who regarded "the slicing of the melon" as an inevitable operation in which he who came earliest was likely to get most. Hence the conclusion of peace with Japan in 1895 inaugurated a period of aggression which led in due time to dire results.

By the 1980s, memories of the Opium Wars were stale, but memories of the Rape of Nanking were not. Over 10,000 Chinese perished in the Opium Wars, while over 10,000,000 [possibly as many as 35,000,000] perished at the hands of the Japanese betwen 1931 and 1945. The People’s Republic of China, which unquestionably suffered the worst depredations during the Japanese occupation and war from 1937 to 1945, was a persistent critic of the Japanese government’s attitude toward the plunder, arson, and widespread killing that characterized Japan’s occupation of vast sections of China.

Japan committed war crimes in Asia and the Pacific between 1931 and 1945. Japan’s crimes against Asian peoples had never been a major issue in the postwar Japan. The Japanese were not punished as severely as the Nazis for their crimes. soem people at the highest levels of post-War Japanese government and society were implicated in the crimes. Not only did Japanese authorities refuse to acknowledge any wartime responsibility, but several conservative politicians and senior bureaucrats went so far as to publicly denounce the accusations as groundless historical revisionism and Japan bashing. There was, of course, a domestic political dimension to the accusations (no candidate from the conservative ruling party could win an election by blaming Japan for a war of aggression).

Germany publicly accepted responsibility for the evils perpetrated by the Nazi regime and educated future generations by discussing its sordid Nazi history in school textbooks and classes. Germany apologized to various European nations and Israel. Conversely, Japan rejected responsibility, downplayed the historical evidence of aggression and atrocity in its schools with sophistry and euphemism, and apologized to no one. Worse yet, ultra-conservative Japanese commentators insisted the war crimes, if they happened at all, were exaggerated to embarrass the Japanese people.

By 2005 Japan's new-found business confidence vis-a-vis China stemned first of all from firms discarding the "diversification" model to devote creative energies and resources to "core competence." This meant a return to high-value services and technology-intensive manufacturing, instead of branching out into multiple lines of unrelated business as many did in the 1980s and 90s. Having spent the last decade shedding unprofitable bubble-era baggage and restoring healthy balance sheets, corporate Japan focused on building global market share through core competitiveness, sustained by strong R&D and capital investment. This coincided with the emergence of China and other developing countries (such as India, Russia, and Brazil) as bigger, wealthier markets for Japanese goods and services. Japanese firms were successfully selling in these markets rather than simply worrying about them as export competitors.

During Prime Minister Koizumi's tenure, the bilateral relationship at the top level was essentially frozen, and as a result not much movement took place at lower levels of government, including both in the bureaucracy and among Diet members. The "China School" diplomats at the Foreign Ministry opposed Koizumi's trips to the Yasukuni Shrine and were derided as disloyal by Koizumi's senior policy aide Isao Iijima. Japan-China relations began thawing under Prime Minister Abe and Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi. Under Prime Minister Fukuda, who was known for his strong emphasis on bettering Japan's relationship with China and other East Asian countries, and who had nurtured long-standing relationships with Chinese leaders, bilateral relations were proceeding smoothly.

Japan and China agreed in October 2006 to establish the Japan-China Joint Historical Research Committee with the aim of developing an objective understanding about the history between Japan and China. The Committee, which consisted of ten prominent academics and other representatives from Japan and the PRC, met as a whole three times since December 2006. Tokyo University professor and Japanese Committee chair Shinichi Kitaoka met his direct Chinese counterpart frequently since then. The Committee had originally hoped to publish the report "quietly" in summer 2008 during the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations and just before the Beijing Olympics. The Committee had seemed to be heading in that direction, but Chinese counterparts in July 2008 wanted to change the plan.

The Committee produced a two-volume report containing Japanese and Chinese explanations of the same discrete historical periods. The first volume included eight chapters -- eight essays from each country -- on ancient history. The second volume comprised nine chapters -- nine essays from each side -- on modern history. The publication closes with summaries and appendices on differences in historical interpretation. Japanese descriptions of modern history remain a sticking point with the Chinese side. Chinese participants wanted wording that is more moderate and "cautious." Chinese opinion and "nationalistic" sentiment are "volatile" and are difficult to manage.

China offered to accept Japan's proposal for joint production in exchange for a formal agreement to place a moratorium on the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute. Japan, however, had no interest in agreeing to such an arrangement as the Senkakus are already under its administrative control. Moreover, Japan is not particularly interested in developing the East China Sea resources. Japan found it cheaper to buy Middle East oil and gas than to develop resources in the East China Sea. Since it would not be possible to build a pipeline over the trench separating the East China Sea hydrocarbon resources from Japan, the oil and gas would have to be piped to China, so the PRC would be the ultimate beneficiary. The issue of joint resource development in the East China Sea is "complicated and sensitive," and both sides should continue to move forward cooperatively based on the April 2007 understanding that joint development is their ultimate goal.

Included in the policy-making mix were the career MOFA officials and others who form a semi-permanent China policy-making bureaucracy. MOFA's China hands - language experts who have spent several tours in China - and senior retired diplomats from MOFA's "China School" were charged with managing the bilateral relationship on a daily basis. The Chinese adopted "smile" diplomacy, with China doing its best to avoid being criticized by the Japanese.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso forged modest success on China. Facing plummeting approval ratings, a sputtering economy, and a Diet divided with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, PM Aso managed to keep bilateral ties to China on an even keel by actively engaging Chinese leaders, culminating in December 2008 in the first ever stand-alone summit between Japan, China, and South Korea in Aso's home prefecture of Fukuoka. The Fukuoka Summit was the latest in a string of high-level encounters with the Chinese and has led Japanese academics, Foreign Ministry officials, and Chinese Embassy contacts to praise the Prime Minister for downplaying his anti-China leanings in pursuit of a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" (senryakuteki kogei kankei).

After 2008 fanning anti-Japanese sentiment seemed very useful for the government in Beijing. It was a convenient way to rally the Chinese around the flag and deflect attention away from scandals. It was a good opportunity to make people proud to be Chinese. Latent resentment toward Japan makes it easy to stir up the population. In the case of Japan, it’s a very deliberate effort by the Chinese Propaganda Department not to stop inflammatory discussions and maybe fan the flames. They let people break the laws and do things that would never be tolerated otherwise. In China, politicians can never go wrong vilifying the Japanese.

Japan-China relations are complex and still rife with problem areas. While China exuded great confidence, particularly after hosting the 2008 Olympics, the Japanese were "uneasy" about China's growing regional influence, military modernization, and human rights situation. Bilateral ties still had "a long way" to go. Despite a number of high-level engagements, Japan continues to search for the appropriate venue for frank discussions on key concerns such as Chinese military modernization and longstanding maritime and territorial disputes. By 2009 ties were "back on track" following the tension-filled years of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Prime Minister Aso met the minimal requirements to sustain the goodwill generated from his immediate predecessors, former Prime Ministers Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe. China's military buildup was still a clear source of concern in Japan.

Japan restarted its version of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in 2009 after a long hiatus. In October 2009 anti-Japanese protests in the western Chinese city of Shanghai turned violent Saturday, with protesters pelting the Japanese consulate with rocks, bottles and eggs. Several thousand people took to the streets of Shanghai as part of a new wave of anti-Japanese protests over Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and Tokyo's alleged downplaying of war atrocities.

PRC Vice President Xi Jinping had a "good and productive meeting" with PM Hatoyama 14 December 2009, and Xi strongly endorsed China's policy of attaching importance to Sino-Japan ties. The visit of PRC Vice President Xi Xinping, the presumptive next president, had all the bells and whistles of a state visit. Hatoyama also raised the subject of East China Sea economic development and called on China to show greater transparency in its military expenditures, but Xi did not respond to either. Xi had a good meeting with the Emperor as well. Xi had shown great interest in the proper protocol procedures for greeting the Emperor, including whether or not he should bow and what part of his meeting with the Emperor would be photographed. Xi bowed "very deeply" -- off camera -- before walking towards the Emperor, at which point he shook hands -- on camera.

By 2010 Prime Minister Hatoyama was continuing the efforts of Former Prime Minister Aso, who had been successful in defusing the sharp conflicts over history that damaged relations with China during the Koizumi years. While Japanese acknowledged that good U.S.-China relations are in Japan's interest, they also feared that the United States will discount Japan's interests in pursuit of more robust relations with China. Japan opposed China's apparently unilateral exploration of oil and gas fields in the East China Sea which the two countries have pledged to jointly develop. Japan also was wary of falling behind China in securing access to natural resources.

Tensions persisted between Japan and China after September 2010, when a Chinese trawler entered the waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels. Japanese authorities detained the Chinese captain for about two weeks, infuriating China, which stopped exporting rare earth materials to Japan and suspended political and cultural exchanges.

Japan in 2012 faced escalating tensions with China over disputed islands. China continued to send its vessels into waters around Japanese-held islands. Beijing says the territory has been Chinese since “ancient times.” And in a December 2012 election, Japanese voters chose to bring back hawkish Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Japan-China ties have sunk to their lowest level in years because of a worsening dispute about a group of remote East China Sea islands that lie near strategic fishing grounds and potential oil deposits. Both countries claim the islands.

In August 2012 anti-Japanese demonstrations spread to more than 20 cities in China, as Tokyo dismissed China's opposition to Japanese activists landing on disputed islands in East China Sea. Nationwide anger was provoked in China when Japan announced on 10 September 2012 that it would "purchase" the Diaoyu Islands. By September 2012 anti-Japanese protests spread in China and in some cases turn violent. In the Southern city of Guangzhou rioters forced their way into a hotel attached to the Japanese consulate, smashing windows and hanging banners. In other cities, Japanese goods including cars and cell-phones were damaged and burned in public displays of anger.

Air-raid sirens rang out over Northeast China on September 18, 2012, urging the Chinese public not to forget that Japan invaded and occupied Chinese land on this day 81 years ago. Meanwhile, people taking to the streets to protest Japan's recent "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands were told to remain calm and civil, as bouts of violence have erupted during some protest activities.

While the relationship between the governments of China and Japan is increasingly frosty over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the chill is also being felt among ordinary citizens, according to a recent survey. According to the survey of 1,000 Japanese and 1,000 Chinese citizens in the last two months of 2012, two-thirds of the Chinese surveyed said they were boycotting Japanese products. According to the survey, only 32 percent of Chinese respondents said Japan was trustworthy, while only five percent of the Japanese surveyed said China was trustworthy.

In 2012, the Chinese film industry produced numerous movies and television dramas with anti-Japanese themes, many of them dealing with the two wars between the countries. The trend continued in 2013, with at least nine anti-Japan productions in progress by February 2013. According to a report in the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News, Hengdian World Studio, known as China’s Hollywood, produced between 40 and 50 such shows last year alone. The newspaper estimated the number of deaths of Japanese depicted in the dramas to be one billion over the course of the entire year.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region in 2013 he promoted something called the 'Arc of Freedom and Prosperity,' based on common values. This concept was clearly aimed at containing China. Back in 2007 the reception was quite lukewarm. Now that China has acted like the plausible bogeyman, the reception was a lot warmer. In a sign of the importance Japan placed on cultivating ties with Southeast Asia, while he had yet to call on Beijing, Abe had visited all ten ASEAN nations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accused China of using its state-run school system to encourage anti-Japan sentiment, thereby worsening the two countries' territorial disputes. On the eve of his February 2013 visit to Washington, Prime Minister Abe said, in an interview with the Washington Post, that China had a "deeply ingrained" need for conflict with Japan and its other neighbors. He says Beijing uses the disputes to maintain strong domestic support. Because of this, he says it is not likely the differences will be resolved anytime soon.

A new poll suggested a majority of Chinese executives are unable to do business with Japanese companies because of worsening China-Japan relations. The three-country poll, released January 08, 2014, was conducted by China's Global Times, Japan's Nikkei, and South Korea's Maeil Business Newspaper. About 60 percent of Chinese bosses told pollsters they cannot separate business from politics enough to work with Japanese companies.

In January 2014 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared his country's tense relationship with China to that of England and Germany before the outbreak of World War I. The remarks appeared to cast China as a modern-day imperial Germany that is prone to aggressive behavior. The reference to WW I, which broke out unexpectedly, despite close economic ties between rising and fading empires, did not go unnoticed. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded sharply saying such remarks by Japanese leaders are made to evade their history of aggression, to confuse the audience and misplace concepts. "What is the significance of making such comparisons?" he asked. "Instead of making an issue of this, it is better for Japan to reflect on its war of aggression."

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met 01 Novembe 2015 with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for the first such trilateral leaders meeting in more than three years. Historical disagreements as well as conflicting claims to islands in the region had contributed to the suspension of these talks. The three leaders agreed to work together to improve the regional economic and security environment, to re-establish regular high-level meetings, and to use these forums to peacefully resolve divisive issues.

Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul also promised to establish a trilateral free trade zone and advance an "East Asia Market," an all-Asian version of the U.S-led Trans Pacific Partnership that was recently agreed to by 12 Pacific Rim economies that includes Japan and the U.S. but not China nor South Korea. The three Northeast Asian neighbors also reaffirmed their support for restarting "six-party" international talks to peacefully end North Korea’s nuclear program.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing 26 October 2018. Both said they were determined to turn a new page in the relationship between the two countries. Abe's trip is the first official visit by a Japanese leader to China in 7 years.

Xi said, "As the international situation changes, China and Japan are becoming increasingly dependent on one another. Our countries also have a growing number of common interests and concerns on a multilateral level. The rapid changes in the world are providing China and Japan with opportunities for more cooperation on higher levels." Xi also reflected on historical issues between the 2 countries. He said, "China and Japan have interacted for more than 2,000 years. Our peoples have been learning from each other for a long time, and growing. In that long history, there were also deplorable times and the Chinese people suffered tremendously."

Abe said, "I want my visit to elevate the Japan-China relationship to a new phase, from competition to cooperation. Japan and China are neighbors and partners, and we will not be a threat to each other. We need to maintain and keep developing fair and free trade systems. We also want to work with China on regional, as well as global, peace and stability initiatives. This is what the international community expects of us."

Free trade was a key agenda issue when Abe met with the Chinese Premier. Li Keqiang said the 2 countries inked deals worth about 20 billion dollars. The leaders also said they'll set up a framework that will make it easier to work together on infrastructure projects in developing countries. The boost in economic ties came amid an escalating trade war between China and the US, and President Donald Trump's increasingly protectionist stance. Abe and Li also agreed to coordinate efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize, and quickly set up a hotline to avoid accidents in the East China Sea.

Abe's visit to China added new impetus to Beijing-Tokyo ties. Leaders from both sides have expressed their willingness and determination to further develop bilateral cooperation. A number of agreements were inked, including on joint investment in infrastructure projects in third-country markets. These achievements have laid a crucial and positive foundation for the future improvement of bilateral ties. Abe's visit came as the countries commemorated the 40th anniversary of a peace and friendship treaty. Their warm tone marked a change compared to a few years ago when relations were rockier. The confrontation between Beijing and Tokyo had been the most intense conflict either side had experienced with a foreign states in recent years.

Japanese society has no reason to hate China. Trade volume between the two sides has been very large. China is Japan's largest trade partner. China's rise changes the balance of power in Asia and this makes Japan feel bitter and insecure. But it is not reasonable to treat China's rise as a far more influential impact on Sino-Japanese ties than other aspects.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:33:46 ZULU