JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made another rare constructive statement about China-Japan relations on Tuesday. This time on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila where he said the two countries should make a new start in their bilateral relationship. Abe’s tone has been quite positive recently, leading to an improved atmosphere in Sino-Japanese ties.
But will Abe’s administration follow through on this new gesture? Will Abe say one thing but do another?
Abe’s new attitude was not made on a whim. The shift is the result of many external factors. As the Trump administration’s China policy becomes more apparent, Tokyo sees no room to further enhance closer US-Japan relations, while Sino-US ties are seemingly on the upswing. Japan has also failed in its attempts to rally other Asian countries into a pack of nations with designs to contain China. As well, Japan’s leaders seem to be coming to their senses and realizing their country needs to expand its economic cooperation with China.
However, Beijing and Tokyo still hold very divergent views on a number of important issues. Given the lack of trust between the two, China and Japan have difficulty even gauging the sincerity of gestures like Abe’s earlier this week. Neither is willing to make a major adjustment for the sake of appeasing the other’s dissatisfactions. There may also be shared suspicion that one’s interests could be deliberately and willfully jeopardized by the other.
The driving force for improved bilateral ties will only come from the determination of policymakers from both countries. There can be no doubt that enhancing the Sino-Japanese relationship is in the best interest of both nations. Beijing and Tokyo are neighbors; a fact neither can do anything about. Both are major powers and falling foul of each other would only result in huge losses, and in turn benefit other countries.
The emergence of China is a reality, as is a strengthened US-Japanese alliance. Tokyo seems eager to improve its ties with Beijing, even as it promotes the Quadrilateral Dialogue that brings together the US, Japan, Australia and India. This purposeful exclusion of China shows Japan’s duplicity. Tokyo must handle this contradiction properly and adjust its attitude toward Beijing.
China and Japan must be aware that fundamental changes must occur before their relationship can recover the level of amity seen in the 1970s and 1980s. To start in that direction, they could establish a new type of friendly ties in the complex Asia-Pacific region, by creating greater mutual benefits in their interactions.
It is hoped that Abe’s administration will seize the opportunity and not again fail expectations.