THIS year marks the 45th anniversary of normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. 45 years ago, then Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka began his visit to China and then the two countries signed the Japan-China Joint Communiqué on September 29. Around the anniversary, one needs to give a thought to ways of developing ties between the neighbors.
Since the older generation of politicians of China and Japan made a historic choice to normalize diplomatic relations, the two major East Asian powers have opened a new chapter to maintain the symbiotic relationship that prevailed over more than 40 years. Ties have entered a period in first half of which people-to-people exchanges followed the government initiative to improve ties under the theme of friendship and cooperation. Nonetheless, in the latter half, cooperation and competition co-existed, but conflicts cannot be avoided.
Though there are rivalries or even confrontations in the process, on the whole, the two countries saw cooperation in politics, economy, culture and tourism, a benign development period of the two countries reflecting complementarities and mutual benefits. Sino-Japanese trade value increased to $329.5 billion, a historic peak in 2013. The number of Chinese tourists to Japan stood at $6.37 million in 2016.
In addition to bilateral cooperation, cooperation between China and Japan within multilateral frameworks in the Asia-Pacific region, such as the ASEAN “10 Plus 3” mechanism, China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement negotiations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, chronicles a more positive trend.
Looking back at the history of Sino-Japanese relations over the past 45 years, there is another scene behind the friendly ties. The US-Japan alliance system has been increasingly strengthened. Seeking to become a “normal country” and a military power, Japan cannot get rid of the mentality of a zero-sum game. Both the Japanese government and the public hold a deep mistrust or even a containment mind-set toward China.
Since Meiji Restoration, Japan’s social elites have been advocating a “division positioning” between the two neighbors– “industrial Japan and agricultural China; oceanic Japan and continental China.” But In 2010, China outpaced Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, a status Japan has kept for 42 years.
Since then, conflicts centering on history and territorial disputes became apparent and intense. Japan tried to “nationalize” the Diaoyu Islandsin the East China Sea, adopted an ambiguous attitude regarding Taiwan’s status, lifted the ban on the right to collective self-defense and initiated discussion on the amendment of the pacifist constitution, the moves of which have all targeted China. Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated after experiencing a honeymoon period in the 1980s, a period of conflict in the 1990s and a frictional period in the early 21 century.
[The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. [email protected]]