Sino Japanese Relations And Regional Conflict History Essay

3655 words (15 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Foreign policy is made and conducted in complex and international environments. Its issues are often linked and delinked according to the strength of various parties and their particular concerns. The stuff of foreign policy derives from issues of domestic policies as well as foreign relations. A country’s foreign policy is a set of goals outlining interaction with other countries economically, politically, socially and militarily. It also reflects how the country will interact with non-state bodies. Every country tries to maximize its benefits of the international cooperation in line with protecting its national interests, national security, ideological goals and economic prosperity (Laura Neack, 2003).

China and Japan have complicated foreign policies with each other. Both countries have been trying to get rid of military conflict that began in 1894 war and in order to achieve good economic and diplomatic relations to overcome the terrible past.

The past has been playing a very significant role in the Sino-Japanese relations. This past did witness many wars between the two Asian giants, namely in 1894-1895, 1937 and during the World War II. Unfortunately, the Japanese armies perpetrated clear atrocities, killing millions of Chinese, whether soldiers and civilians. Therefore, the Chinese still have unfavorable sentiments towards the Japanese. It is said, especially by some Japanese experts, that the Chinese governments are used to planting the hatred of Japan and the Japanese in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people since childhood.

However, today’s realties and the end of the cold war have imposed new facts and, consequently, new relations between Tokyo and Beijing. This is mainly manifested in the present excellent economic ties between them and the attention of both parties not to allow any incident to influence the peaceful and constructive relations prevailing at present.

Of course, we cannot ignore that there is a competition between the two Asian neighbors. Yet, it is a balanced rivalry, especially in the field of politics whether regionally or globally.

This paper follows up the history of the mutual relations and explains the causes of tension between the two countries. It also tries to explain: to what extent has this relationship has developed from bitterness to cooperation, to what extent has it affected Asia and whether it enhances stability or increases instability in the region.

Historical background

The Chinese-Japanese relationship dates back to the 1st century. By that time, china, with its immense size, progressive achievements and prevailing culture, was considered as both a paradigm and a rival to other Asian states, including Japan (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). As being near to each other, both countries were in a continuous contact over years through various aspects. Those were represented in cultural ties, economic dealings, maritime trade and even occasional military battles. Most importantly was the regional rivalry. In fact, China did greatly influence Japan’s development in its religion, culture, writing form and philosophical tradition. (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

Nevertheless, in the 19th century , that Chinese superiority faded when Japan, with the growing of its military capabilities and imperial ambitions, could realize many victories that enabled it to impose some economic procedures over the Chinese Dynasty and the government that followed [the Republic of China ‘ROC’] (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

In 1894-1895, the Japanese-Chinese war occurred and as a result, the Japanese expelled the Chinese from Korea, occupied Taiwan, Piscadour islands and a part of southern Manchuria. This is in addition to the invasion of China’s mainland. Moreover, China also had to pay indemnities to Japan (Atrees, Mohamed,2002, p.138)

In 1914, Japan shared in the World War I on the side of the Allies and occupied the German colonies in the Far East. In Washington conference [1921-1922], Japan agreed to respect the unity of Chinese lands. Ten years later, Japan started some aggression series invading Manchuria.

In 1937 Japan resumed invading china and in 1940, it occupied the French-Chinese India. The following year, it attacked the American navy in Pearl Harbour, in Hawaii Island. In 1942, Japan invaded Burma, Malaya, the Philippines and northern New Guinea.

However, in 1945 the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan and consequently it surrendered on September 2, 1945. So, Taiwan and Manchuria returned to China. Japan and the Pacific Ocean islands became under the American administration (Atrees, Mohamed, 2002 p.138). Thus it can be said that China involved in military conflicts with japan for about 50 years [from 1894 to 1945].

When the World War II ended, it had left feelings of bitterness in the Chinese hearts towards Japan, resulting from its military campaigns and atrocities. This sentiment still badly affects the Chinese-Japanese relations (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

In 1949, the Chinese leader Mao declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] on the mainland, while the ROC fled to Taiwan. But the United States refused to recognize the new regime in China (Atrees, Mohamed,2002, p.83). In 1972, however, the American president Nixon paid his historical visit to china and in December 1978, the US officially recognized the PRC as the only legitimate representative of the Chinese. In addition, the US abolished its defensive treaty with Taiwan.

The Sino-Japanese relations, since the 1950s, have witnessed attempts for economic and political issues, together with some periods of tensions and confrontation (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). In 1991, China normalized its relations with Japan (lexicon, p.85).

From the above history, we notice that at the beginning China was more powerful and advanced than Japan but in the 19th century Japan became the dominant power in the region. Moreover, China had to pay reparations to Japan. At present the relations between the two countries have considerably improved.

Causes of Tension

These are related to the past and the present.

1) The Wartime History

This history between China and Japan has left its strong impacts. Japan committed many atrocities in China during the first half of the 19th century. Some statistics show that during the Japanese occupation of China, the Japanese Imperial Army behaved in a very brutal and cruel way against the Chinese. About 10 million civilians and 2.5 million soldiers were killed in China (Maciamo, 2005).For example, in 1937, between 50000-300000 civilians were raped and killed in only one event: the Nanjing Massacre. The Chinese were expecting that the Japanese would apologize for what they had committed. Yet, the Japanese did not sufficiently apologize for its war crimes. On the contrary, some Japanese leaders used to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to honor its dead soldiers, including war criminals. Therefore, the Chinese protested against the former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who defied the Chinese feelings with his annual visits to the Shrine during his period of office [2001-2006] (Maciamo, 2005).

Furthermore, China criticizes the Japanese history books which play down the Japanese atrocities during the war, or even deny the occurrence of such acts. The Chinese wonder: why does not Japan do as Germany did? Germany apologized for its war crimes in the Second World War and its history books confirm its complete responsibility for what happened. Besides, there is no Shrine in Germany to honour its leaders or soldiers. Therefore, Germany is respected all over the world now (Maciamo,2005). Of course, the Japanese claim that its leaders are simply paying respect to all Japan’s war dead. Japanese Prime Ministers differed in their attitudes towards visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. Yasuo Fukuda, for example, declared his considering the feelings of other countries, thus improving the relations between Tokyo and Beijing (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). Beijing usually points to the Yaukuni Shrine visits by Japanese VIP and history textbooks as example of Japanese acts that appear contradicting with the peaceful and conciliatory statements by Japanese leaders (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). Japanese add that if Japan’s emperor did apologize to Korea, why does not he do the same for China? (Maciamo, 2005).

The Present Concerns

Chinese are presently concerned about Japan’s trying to play a more important political role in international issues. The Chinese realize that will be using both its economic strength and military power in order to perform that desired political role (Yang, Jian, 2003). Many Chinese are sure that japans military capabilities are stronger than they appear. They believe that Japan’s Self-Defense Force [SDF] is NO.1 in China and Japan’s policy of the homeland defense does not exist now (Yang, Jian, 2003). This has become clear since the 1996 American-Japanese declaration on the bilateral security alliance between the two countries, as well as the revision of the guidelines agreed upon in 1999. For the first time, Japan could participate in military operations outside Japan’s borders (Yang, Jian, 2003). This happened in Cambodia in the early 1990s, as a part of the UN peacekeeping forces. But Japan gradually, as the Chinese believe, will expand its military power, amend its Peace Constitution and participate militarily overseas. The Chinese also think that Japan’s agreement with the US in 1998 to study Theatre Missile Defense [TMD] aims at facing not only North Korea, but China as well (Yang,Jian,2003).

3) Japan’s Political Role

Japan has been attempting to win a permanent seat at the UN Security Council [UNSC], in addition to the Five big powers which have the veto right. But China has not been supporting this Japanese quest (Yang, Jian, 2003). Beijing has been afraid that this will give Japan an immense chance for a greater political role in the world affairs. The former Chinese president Jiang Zemin said, in 1994, that “the wealth of a country should not be the sole condition and the fair regional distribution should be fully honored.” (Yang, Jian, 2003). This Chinese situation can be considered as opposition to the Japanese quest and it has remained without change so far (Yang, Jian, 2003).

4) Disputable Matters

These are related to the dispute between the two countries about the ownership of the Senkaku islands, near Okinawa (Maciamo, 2005).

In 1996, there were Chinese demonstrations against Japan regarding these islands. China confirmed its sovereignty over the islands, but at the same time did not excite the Chinese feelings of nationalism against Japan. In fact, China did not want the situation to affect its relations with Japan (Yang, Jian, 2003). The conflict was renewed in 2003 when there was talk about the Japanese government’s leasing some of these islands for 20 years from a “private owner” (Yang,Jian,2003). The above situation shows that both China and Japan have been keen on not allowing any incidents to spoil the growing peaceful relations between them.

5) Taiwan Issue

After the 1894 Chinese-Japanese war, Japan occupied Taiwan from the ROC and called it ‘Formosa’. Yet, when Japan was defeated in the World War II, Formosa was occupied by the Allies and was assigned to ROC. In 1949, after the victory of Mao, the ROC government fled to Formosa [Taiwan]. Then in 1951, the state of the war between Japan and the Allied was ended and Japan was forced to abdicate Taiwan. However, the Peace Treaty did not specify the political status of Taiwan, the matter that makes it a disputable issue since China and Japan normalized diplomatic ties about 40 years ago (Yang,Jian,2003). In effect, Japan does not want to make a clear statement concerning Taiwan just like what the American president did in 1998 when he declared his three no’s: no support for Taiwan’s independence, no two Chinese or one Taiwan, one China and no Taiwanese membership in international organizations. So, Japan hopes to create a situation in which Taiwan’s problems are not solved by force (Yang, Jian, 2003).

Economic Ties

The economic relationship is an important component of the Sino-Japanese relations. If the political and security issues are not stable, the economic ties have been increasingly growing. These have deepened over the recent years (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

But at first, the economic relations were slow due to the occupation, the war and then the cold war in the 1960s and 197o’s. When Japan diplomatically recognized China in 1972 and after China had opened its economy to foreign trade and investment, the situation greatly changed and the two countries have developed growing economic ties (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). This relationship, in fact, combines Japan, the second largest economy in the world with China, one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

During the period 1997-2007, the annual economic growth in China was 9.5% compared with 1.2% for Japan. The GDP of China was $ 3.2 trillion while it was $4.4 trillion for Japan. But China’s standard of living does not exceed 16.3% of the Japanese one. However, labor costs in China are much less than that of Japan. This difference may benefit the bilateral economic development (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

From 1980 to 2007, the trade [exports and imports] between Japan and China increased to a great extent. But we notice that the Japanese imports from China did exceed the exports to China. The two countries have become trading partners to each other. By 2007, for example, China represented 20.6% of Japan’s imports, thus replacing the US (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). Nevertheless, this importance has relatively decreased as China has followed closer ties with other East Asian countries and with the US. The sorts of commodities also changed over years. At first, most Chinese exports were raw materials and unmanufactured goods. Then, manufactured goods accounted for 82% in 2000 (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). Some Japanese industries are assembled in China by foreign firms, including Japanese ones, and then are exported to Japan (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

Also, bilateral cooperation in services has developed particularly since 2003, partly due to the increased Japanese tourism to China. Besides, China has become more open to foreign investment. In 2007, 57% of Chinese exports and 58% of Chinese imports flourished with investment of foreign firms, including the Japanese ones (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). The Japanese producers exploited the low-wage labor in China by conveying production to China and other East Asian countries. In 2007, Japan became the second largest source of Chinese FDI [Foreign Direct Investment], after Hong Kong and Taiwan (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). Of course, the increase in trade and foreign investment between China and Japan has benefited them both.

Thus, if the political relations between Tokyo and Beijing have tensions, the economic ties between them have been increasingly growing .

The Present Détente

After the end of Koizumi’s tenure [2001-2006], the relations between the two countries have witnessed a remarkable détente (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

From one hand, Japan has been keen to enhance the trade relations with china, which has assisted its recovery since 2000. Japan also works on avoiding bilateral tensions that could lead to a military conflict. It also tries to get support for its priorities in the Six-Party talks [about North Korea] and its trial to hold a permanent seat on the UN Security council (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

But some observers think that China is trying to push Japan gently out of its being an ally to the US. This, of course, needs a delicate balance.

The manifestations of the present détente in the relations are represented in many aspects, some of which are:

1-Continuation and increase of economic ties.

2-The high level mutual visits to both countries.

3-The stoppage or at least the decrease, of the Japanese leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

4-The Agreement on East China Sea to jointly explore for oil and develop gas reserves.

5-The Japanese great assistance presented to China after its province of Sichuan was struck by an earthquake in May 2008.

6-The improvements of military affairs and exchanges.

So, it can be said that the present détente in the Sino-Japanese relations has taken place as a result of the victory of the economic and political interests over the shadows of the hateful past.

Future Prospects

Will the present détente in the relations be stable forever, or is it so fragile and instability case can occur in the region anytime? Most observers are optimistic about the near future, but are somewhat skeptic beyond that. Some warn that sentiments about the past could be provocated at any moment or a particular situation. However, the leaders, on both sides, keep an eye on and act quickly towards any behavior that can cause any disturbance in the relations (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008). In this regard, the Japanese government does not pay great attention to the criticism from the public, political groups or the military against Japan’s being “too soft” on Beijing (Emma, Kerry, William, 2008).

Many Japanese actually believe that the Chinese were brainwashed to hate the Japanese. Yet, the present realities show that thousands of Japanese firms have been set up in China and about one million Chinese visit or go to work in or study in Japan.

Many Chinese today like or even admire Japan for its progress, high technology and high standard of living. They only ask for a suitable and decisive apology for the atrocities of the past, not indemnities or reparations (Maciamo,2005). Anyhow, the strong economic ties between Japan and China are for the interests of the two countries and the benefits of Asia.

In effect, the Sino-Japanese relations have had a significant impact on Southeast Asia. The China-ASEAN-Japan triangular relationship has had a great importance in recent years. China has been keen on enhancing all relations regarding borders, trade, military cooperation, etc. Japan has also improved its relations with the ASEAN [10 Asian States], but at the same time tried to balance these with its interests with its western allies [the US, Australia, etc.] (Yang,Jian,2003).

Actually, Southeast Asia holds a great significance for both China and Japan. It has a geo-political importance as trade and oil from the Middle East pass through the region. Besides, it has a population of about 450 million representing a good market for economy (Yang,Jian,2003). For China, the region is important for China’s trying to counter the American containment strategy, disprove the alleged theory of “Chinese threat” and to make it hard for Taiwan’s enhancing its political ties with the countries of the region (Yang,Jian,2003). It is important for China to convince some ASEAN countries that the Chinese economic development is an opportunity, rather than a threat, as China is a huge market for ASEAN states.

Both Japan and China are deepening their economic cooperation and integration with ASEAN. Despite the competition between the two countries over politics, China is expected to pursue its current policy towards Japan. At the same time, it will concentrate on its national strategy of enhancing its power in which Japan plays a significant role (Yang,Jian,2003). China also believes that a positive relationship with Japan will decrease the pressure on Japan to enhance its security ties with the US (Yang,Jian,2003). Japan, on the other hand, also believes that the economic relations with China represents a major factor for stability in the region (Yang,Jian,2003).

Actually, most ASEAN countries are relaxed about Japan’s desire to become a political power. In the meantime, ASEAN may look at China with concern, but not alarm (Yang,Jian,2003).

Japan is careful to hold security talks with China. And China is now more open-minded in enhancing confidence-building measures [CBM]. There is no doubt that both sides work for peaceful and constructive competition, away from any hostile or violent rivalry and in spite of any doubts or criticisms (Yang, Jian, 2003).

Stability, no doubt, is prevailing now in Asia and the mutual relations between the two giants are at a high level. Yet, this does not mean that instability is impossible. On the contrary, there is a possibility of occurrence of turning the present concerns into aggressive acts if the leaders of both countries failed in monitoring the crucial aspects of the relations. The future is, therefore, expected to be conflictual as the present is [around issues like Taiwan and the permanent seat], but not to a degree of waging a war between these two enormous powers.


The Sino-Japanese relations have been greatly developing to the extent we find now Japanese companies located and producing in China, Japanese investment helping the Chinese economy to grow, Chinese students studying in Japan, Japanese tourists visiting China and vessels from either country visiting the ports of the other.

However, it can be stated that while there is an enhanced growth in economy and trade, the field of politics is full of precautions, reservations and a wary eye. Generally, the relations may be described as neither very good nor very bad. That is because a number of challenges are facing these relations. Some of which are the hateful memories of the past, the strategic competition and the territorial disputes including the Taiwanese issue.

The ASEAN states play an important role trying to engage China and, at the same time, to see more activism from Japan, as a means of balance and stability.

Both China and Japan share in the international financial organizations like the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank. They also participated in regional organizations such as the group of ASEAN+3 (Japan, China and South Korea).

As a result of the increased cooperation, mutual visits and regional agreements on important issues, the relations are considerably stable, the regional stability prevails and the region does not face a threat from this side. On the contrary, Asia witnesses a case of prosperity and fruitful cooperation among most of the continent states. This is the situation at present and for the foreseeable future.

It seems that the shadows of the past have faded with passing years and decades.

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