Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent tour of Japan, the first by a Chinese premier in nearly seven years, reflects a warming trend in the relationship between China and Japan. Given the economic and security implications that this about-face carries for the Asia-Pacific region, China Brief is pleased to present a special issue analyzing the evolution of this critical relationship.
We begin this issue with insightful assessments of the relationship from two seasoned observers. Ambassador Peter Sato, who formerly served as Japan’s ambassador to China, analyzes the developments that have occurred in the relationship between the two countries over the past several months. The framework that was constructed during Prime Minister Abe’s October 2006 visit to Beijing, Ambassador Sato notes, has allowed for Tokyo and Beijing to once again cooperate as regional partners on a wide variety of shared concerns and issues. Dr. Jin Xide, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), looks back to the months leading up to Abe’s “ice breaking” visit, examining the political and economic considerations that drove officials in both countries to place a priority on repairing relations when it became apparent that Koizumi would be stepping down. Like Ambassador Sato, Dr. Jin is equally optimistic that so long as Abe avoids making controversial statements or visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, opportunities abound for the continued progress of Sino-Japanese relations.
Yet, as Christopher Griffin of the American Enterprise Institute reminds us, not all is as it seems in the relationship between Tokyo and Beijing. Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine certainly served to inflame relations between the two countries, though China is also partly to blame for the deterioration in bilateral ties. Eager to secure its legitimacy by capitalizing upon the ultra-nationalist sentiments that erupted following Koizumi’s repeated visits to the shrine, Beijing has utilized anti-Japanese propaganda as a means of rallying public support around the government. And so long as territorial disputes, security concerns and differences over historical accounts remain, the relationship will be treacherously difficult to navigate. Wrapping up the issue, Camilla Soerensen of the University of Copenhagen offers an assessment from the perspective of another actor whose concerns and actions in the region are oft-neglected: the EU. Despite its enormous economic relationship with both China and Japan, Soerensen argues, Brussels still lacks a single coherent strategy that provides a consistent position on the myriad sensitive issues plaguing the Sino-Japanese relationship.
After reading through this issue, we trust that you will come away with a far more comprehensive understanding of the Sino-Japanese relationship. We would also like to thank Dr. Wenran Jiang at the University of Alberta for his assistance in coordinating this issue. As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.