There are more prospects for cooperation in Sino-Japanese relations today than ever before.
Sino-Japanese relations have been rather strained since the late 1880s, when Japan first invaded China, such as the invasion of Manchuria in the early 1990s to the World War Two atrocities Japan committed on China, including the infamous Nanking Massacre. Even though these happen in the past, there still exists a tainted historical legacy between the two countries, where Japan refuses to admit its wrongdoings and apologize. Prospects for cooperation have been low in the past, where the Chinese despised the Japanese and were less receptive towards Japanese goods and vice versa. However, in the present, there are more prospects than before as China becomes a more significant economic power on the global stage and its efforts in global security. However, there are also many other areas that serve as a source of conflict and have no prospects for cooperation, such as historical legacy affecting the present and future politics, territorial disputes and the issue of Taiwan.
- Economic Cooperation
Economic relations between both countries have deepened significantly due to China and Japan’s economic interdependence. As China’s economy continues to grow, hitting a double digit growth in GDP, it has allowed for greater trading opportunities with Japan being China’s 3rd largest trading partner as of 2015. Furthermore, it is only with Japan’s assistance in China’s development by providing Official Development Aid (ODA) since the 1980s and the provision of a 3 trillion yen loan aid, that Deng’s economic reforms became so successful. In return, China allowed for the penetration of Japanese goods into its large market that would do well for Japan’s economy. Compared to the 1960s whereby Japanese products were not seen, or even boycotted in some Chinese cities due to despise of the Japanese after WWII. Today, Chinese leaders and the people understand that Japan provides many economic opportunities and so are pragmatic in their mindsets, as can be seen with the increased number of Japanese products and technologically advanced companies that can now be found in China. This also shows us that there are many more prospects for economic cooperation than in the past.
- Cooperation in global security
As China rises to become a global power, there are greater prospects for cooperation of the two countries in global security, more so than in the past. Both China and Japan are avid participants in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions by sending soldiers and police to troubled areas in the world like Cambodia and Golan Heights during times of rioting. Both countries also contribute to the UN Peacekeeping budget, where Japan contributes 9.68% and China contributes 10.29% as part of them accepting ‘Great Power’ responsibilities as of 2016. This participation in peacekeeping missions and commitment to global security can be a platform for cooperation between the two countries, which was not possible in the past where China was an isolationist state under Mao, until the 1980s where Deng Xiaoping opened China’s doors to the world. These opportunities were also made possible because China is increasingly becoming a global power, which was not so in the past. An instance of both China and Japan participating in ensuring global security would be the Six-Party Talks, where both countries, along with South Korea, USA and Russia try to convince North Korea to pursue a policy of nuclear disarmament and to stop its provocative attacks on South Korea. Hence, because of the great power status of both countries, which were not the case for China in the past, China and Japan have prospects for cooperation in global security issues.
- Historical animosities
Historical animosities still affect Sino-Japanese relations even up till today. The frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by some Japanese premiers, notably Junichiro Koizumi has infuriated many in China. Given the fact that the shrine is dedicated to spirits of many high ranking Japanese officers whom had carried out war crimes, the act of visiting the shrine by the Japanese can be seen as utter disrespect to the people in China. This situation is further exacerbated by Japanese reluctance to accept full responsibility for initiating the invasion of China since 1931 through the revision of textbooks and the denial of the Nanking Massacre against the Chinese. On the other hand, the history books and education syllabus in China continue to remind younger Chinese of their forefathers’ sufferings under the Japanese invasion. Hence, these conflicting views with regards to the past conflicts by both countries caused them both to have emotional baggage and inevitably affecting bilateral relations between China and Japan as neither of them were willing to look pass these differences.
- Territorial disputes
Territorial disputes between the two countries also serve as a source of conflict, hindering Sino-Japan cooperation. For instance, a long standing territorial dispute between the two countries is that of the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, which the Japanese and Chinese call respectively. On one hand, Japan claims that these islands came under US trusteeship and were returned to Japan in 1971 under the Okinawa reversion deal whereby China did not object to then. Whereas, China, on the other hand, claims that these islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan. As both sides are unwilling to compromise, these islands still remain disputed till today. These territorial disputes can result in diplomatic issues and possible sources of direct conflict, which would hinder the relationship between the two countries. This can be seen whereby dozens of Chinese vessels were spotted patrolling these disputed islands near the East China Sea despite the international court’s decision to reject China’s historic claims to most of the sea in 2016. This shows how China has refused to recognize the court ruling on this case, triggering diplomatic conflicts and hindering the relationship between the two countries.
- Taiwan Issue
Taiwan has been a long standing irritant in the Sino-Japanese relationship. Having been under China’s rule before, Japan is sympathetic to the Taiwanese independence cause and even though it does not out rightly support Taiwanese independence, it does have a non-governmental office in Taiwan to conduct non-diplomatic activities. Taiwan has also taken efforts to court Japan as it sees Japan as a valuable ally in the event of a conflict with China. Hence, Japan’s apparent sympathy for Taiwan’s independence cause can threaten Sino-Japanese relations as China might show disagreement towards Japan’s actions.
In conclusion, despite there being more platforms for cooperation in Sino-Japanese relations, these prospects are not properly utilized for maximum cooperation, resulting in more conflicts occurring that hinder prospects for cooperation.