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Is the China-Japan relationship at its worst?

22 Comments

At the Munich Security Conference last month, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said the China-Japan relationship is "at its worst." But that's not the most colorful statement explaining, and contributing to, China-Japan tensions of late.

At Davos, a member of the Chinese delegation referred to Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un as "troublemakers," lumping the Japanese prime minister together with the volatile young leader of a regime shunned by the international community. Abe, in turn, painted China as militaristic and overly aggressive, explaining how - like Germany and Britain on the cusp of World War One - China and Japan are economically integrated, but strategically divorced. Even J.K. Rowling has played her part in recent weeks, with China's and Japan's ambassadors to Britain each referring to the other country as a villain from Harry Potter.

Of course, actions speak louder than words - and there's been no shortage of provocative moves on either side. In November, Beijing declared an East Asian Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) - which requires all aircraft to follow instructions issued by Chinese authorities, even over contested territory, which pushed tensions to new highs. The following month, Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine - a site associated with Japanese World War militarism that makes it an automatic lightning rod for anti-Japanese sentiment among Japan's neighbors.

But despite the clashes and growing conflict, it remains exceedingly unlikely that China-Japan fallout will escalate into military engagement. China won't completely undermine economic relations with Japan; at the provincial level, Chinese officials are much more interested in attracting Japanese investment. And Japan still sees the success of its businesses in the vast Chinese market as an essential part of efforts to revive its own domestic economy, even if its companies are actively hedging their bets by shifting investment away from China. The relationship is unlikely to reach a boiling point. Rather, we are more likely to see sustained cycles of tension.

So if both sides intend to limit the potential for conflict, how concerned should we be? Even if military engagement is highly unlikely, China-Japan is still the world's most geopolitically dangerous bilateral relationship and that will remain the case. There are a number of reasons why.

First and foremost, there's always the chance, even if it's remote, for miscalculation with major consequences. When fighter jets are routinely being scrambled to deal with Chinese "incursions" into what the Japanese consider to be their territory, the potential for a mistake looms large. And given the frigid relations between these two countries, if there is a mistake, China and Japan are going to assume the worst of the other side's intentions.

On top of this, the sheer size and integration of the economies - China and Japan are the world's second and third-largest economies, respectively - makes the relationship hard to ignore. Japan has 23,000 companies operating in China, with 10 million Chinese workers on their payrolls. But Japanese companies are actively diversifying away from China now, with foreign direct investment waning and Japan shifting to Southeast Asia in particular. China-South Korea trade is fast approaching the levels of China-Japan trade as a result of fallout from tensions between Tokyo and Beijing. If the Chinese and Japanese start thinking their economic relationship is deteriorating, the potential for confrontation grows.

Furthermore, the size and duration of the conflict makes it a crucial global risk: the tensions are rooted in historical animosity with no viable solution. There's no diplomatic outreach going on between China and Japan - and neither the United States nor any other foreign power is doing enough to help facilitate that relationship. There is no one in China trying to see the world from Japan's perspective, and vice versa. According to a recent Pew Research poll, just 6 percent of Chinese had a favorable view of Japan, and only 5 percent of Japanese view China favorably. Both sides may be well aware that a full-fledged conflict is not in the other's best interest - but that only gives them more reason to push the envelope. As a senior Chinese official recently explained to me, the Chinese aren't worried about pushing Japan (they "don't want war" and the Japanese "don't dare").

And although it's in both China's and Japan's interest to stop short of military conflict, both countries have motives for drawing out the tensions. They can benefit back home from the perception of an unyielding stance to a historical enemy. Beijing continues to use Tokyo as a release valve for nationalistic pressures as it softens foreign policy on other fronts - particularly with U.S. relations, where the charm offensive is motivated, in part, by an effort to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Japan. In Japan, Shinzo Abe views China's rise as a longer-term threat to Japan's standing in the region, and he's intent on pushing back.

So what can we expect this year? Rather than military conflict, the overall result will likely be an aggravation of already inflamed public opinion and a deterioration of the business climate in both countries. Abe will push to reinterpret

  • and even rewrite - constitutional prohibitions on Japan's right to use force in international disputes, and he will likely visit Yasukuni again.

But perhaps more worrisome than the near-term risks - there is no solution in sight.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

22 Comments
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And yet, during the Chinese new year, I could hear Chinese being spoken all along Shinjuku Ave, from Alta to Isetan. So at least some smart people ignore what their governents are doing. Also, "historical enemy" is a bit of an exageration. As one Chinese said "A thousand years of friendship and 30 years of enemy". We people-to-people are friends again.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There is no end in sight because there is no middle ground. On one hand you have the current Japanese government in complete denial and on the other hand you have the Chinese government fanning the flames of hate.

This is quite a good read <>http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25411700<>

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Is the China-Japan relationship at its worst?

Well, they're not at war, so I would have to conclude that no, the relationship is not at it's worst. Yet. Though neither side seems to help matters. China seems intent on provoking, and Japan seems intent on rising to said provocation, rather than ignoring China. There can be no winners here, only losers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's all bluster.

China's real enemy is her own people, one step away from massive riots...

BTW, don't ya'll know that CURRENCY WARS are where it's at in the 21st century?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'd like to see a pause in Japan's love-hate affair with China and vice versa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well you know that Ozawa and Hatoyama of the initial DJP tried to vastly improve the Japan-China relation, but you know what happened to them. Washington did not like it, and they were shot down.

So here we are, the crazy far-right in Japan are rising up to fill the void of DJP and LDP (which was destroyed by DJP), escalating the tension between China and Japan, and the only who is laughing all the way to their bank is the American arms manufacturers.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Eiji Takano, I would say rather than "Washington did not like it", I would say "Obama did not like it". I don't know why, but Obama does not like Japan. Look who he made Ambassador. Nobody can say harsh or critical words to Ms. Kennedy, the daughter of an assinated greatly admired US president. It would be the extreme of ill-mannered to say anything of reality. That is how he keeps Japan at a distance.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

No it was worse around 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It doesn't matter who the president is, they're all essentially the same. Obama is only being told to rebuff people like Ozawa and Hatoyama. Obama does what he is told.

Washington, big corporations and the military industrial complex is pulling the strings and deciding all the American policies. It's not in the interest of Americans, Chinese or Japanese people, but if the arms manufacturers can benefit at the expense of people's suffering (creating conflicts with China), then who cares?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Oh, I don't know. I think 1937 to 1945 was pretty spotty for Sino-Japanese relations... ;-)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'm an optimist. I say: Yes!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This article by BBC journo Mariko Oi is very interesting... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25411700

I think this is probably the worst relations have been since the war, but to quite from the above article...

In 1972, when the then Japanese Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka, apologised for what Japan did during the war, "Chairman Mao told him not to apologise because 'you destroyed the Kuomintang, you helped us come to power'," Prof Dujarric says.

Very strange.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Thunderbird

I'd agree with that dialogue between Tanaka and Mao, that's essentially what a prof I had back in Uni said. That the Japanese decimated the Kuomintang as they were in the coastal regions, and failed to chase the Commies into the interior of China. The net effect was weakening the Kuomintang to the point where they couldn't fight any more and had to flee.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@eiji

It doesn't matter who the president is, they're all essentially the same. Obama is only being told to rebuff people like Ozawa and Hatoyama. Obama does what he is told.

Told what to do? Really? That's News to me. If that were true, then we wouldn't have such a huge outstanding national debt and Obamacare would be a memory. The president has advisors, but ultimately, the president can do what he wants, I wish it weren't so though.

Washington, big corporations and the military industrial complex is pulling the strings and deciding all the American policies.

Again, if that were true, we would be swimming in money, the private sector would be roaring (instead of purring)

It's not in the interest of Americans, Chinese or Japanese people, but if the arms manufacturers can benefit at the expense of people's suffering (creating conflicts with China), then who cares?

Again seriously, where do you read this stuff??? Sounds like something out of an old Soviet bad written novel.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

So if you take Mao statement a different way, Japan, you have no one to blame for your present situation but yourselves.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Spanki

That was a very good read. Mariko Oi is doing some very good work in trying to be objective about the reality of the past and proactive in offering a balanced perspective for reconciliation between the two countries, despite the discomfort it causes some.

The Chinese Communist Party leaders are highly responsible for this current situation, because they promote hate and disunity. It's absolute cancer. But Japanese leaders, and particularly the likes of Shinzo Abe are simply the wrong people to be in power in Japan, period. Japan needs to be more honest, more magnanimous to it's neighbours. The situation simply shouldn't come to this, shouldn't be allowed to come to this by leaders of a nation that should know better. There is no benefit from taking this harder Nationalistic line. None. No-one will benefit from it, and it's an echo of the kind of rubbish that started this all off in the first place.

If they can't see that, they simply aren't fit to govern a country - on either side.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

It's the China-ABE relationship that's the real problem.

Get rid of Abe and the problem's solved.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Spanki - thank you for the link.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Tamarama

Japan needs to be more honest, more magnanimous to it's neighbours.

Until what date in time exactly does Japan have to be magnanimous towards its neighbors? There is not a culture of reciprocity in either Korea or China. You are either superior or you are inferior, period. I'm not saying that Japan need be belligerent, but all of the kowtowing it has done in the past has bought it no goodwill. There will always be some matter than one or both of the neighbors will throw back up to try and put Japan on the defensive.

Unless Japan is masochistic and enjoys being on the inferior end, then there's really no benefit to trying to appease either one of it's fight-picking Asian neighbors.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Until what date in time exactly does Japan have to be magnanimous towards its neighbors? There is not a culture of reciprocity in either Korea or China. You are either superior or you are inferior, period.

I'm not sure why you left Japan out of that grouping, but ignoring that point, there have been periods of good will between china and Japan over the pass few decades, even as recently as 2011. However it all goes to crap when the Japanese either decide to whitewash a textbook, visit yasukuni, of deny a war atrocity. In the periods of time when none of those happen, goodwill between the countries increases.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ignatius

Japan obviously needs to be more honest with itself, and it's neighbours, about the suffering it caused them in the not so distant past. Does it need to self-flaggelate? No. But it does need to be more self reflective and honest, so that the volatile and provocative comments made by right wing Nationalist bureaucrats get howled down by a knowledgable voting public. More apologies are not required, less ill-informed inflammatory comments and actions are. That is not kowtowing. It is being considerate and neighbourly. That is maturity.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Another typical Major News outlet attempt to bad mouth Japan. REuters, CNN, BBC, and all of the major networks are biased against Japan and for China and always take the view that what China thinks and feels is primary. Notice that China is first in the title?

Japan is doing just fine and standing up just fine for all of the Pacific nations that are without exception among China's neighbors being bullied and invaded by Chinese attempts to seize territory and power.

It is not a matter of relatoins, relations are based on events, not some abstract norm. In this case, Japan has been routinely respectful and proper in its dealings with all of its fellow Pacific nations sending help , being supportinve and respecting boundaries, China has not. China has been trying to foment, antagonize, bait and harrass Japan and so far the western media is very stupid about how it sees and understands or fails to understand this reality. Japan has not other course than to stand up for itself. They do not have the luxury of ignoring it. Well done Japan, badly done Western media. Try harder.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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