With China-Japan relations at a dismal low, it is clear which side is to blame
- Japan and China have arrived at the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of bilateral ties, but relations are strained
- Given Japan’s stance on cross-strait issues and the Diaoyu Islands, and its long-standing failure to apologise for the Nanking massacre, it isn’t difficult to understand why
There have been no meetings, either face-to-face or online, between the leaders of China and Japan since the end of 2019. Public perceptions are worsening, especially in Japan.
According to a June poll by the US Pew Research Centre, 87 per cent of Japan’s population view China unfavourably, the highest rate among all 19 sampled nations. Meanwhile, a 2021 survey by China International Publishing Group and Japan’s Genron NPO found that 66 per cent of Chinese interviewees had a negative impression of Japan, yet over 90 per cent of Japanese respondents were averse to China.
The communique states that “the Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage Japan caused in the past to Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself”. However, Tokyo has not yet issued a formal apology to the victims of the Nanking massacre, which took place in the Chinese city now called Nanjing.
In 1985, then-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s visit to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 class-A war criminals are honoured, established a precedent for his successors. Ryutaro Hashimoto, Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe subsequently paid visits to the shrine while in office.
According to the communique, Japan “recognises the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China” and “fully understands and respects” its stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the PRC. But this hasn’t stopped Japan repeatedly inciting China over the Taiwan question.
It was even reported in June that Tokyo planned to dispatch defence ministry officials to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, Japan’s de facto embassy in Taiwan. The actions trample on the one-China policy which implies no support for Taiwan independence.
In the communique, Japan reaffirms its adherence to Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration, under which all the territories it stole from China shall be restored, and Japanese sovereignty is to be limited to Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and any other minor islands determined by the Allies.
In fact, China could counter Japan’s seeming support for Taiwan independence by endorsing the independence movement in Okinawa. Considering the might of the People’s Liberation Army, it could conduct military operations on the Diaoyu Islands. But it never has.
Instead, Beijing has always exercised restraint and sought to resolve conflicts through dialogue. It has striven to achieve common peace and prosperity. Yet Japan seems to take China’s kindness for granted.
Admittedly, as the world’s third-largest economy, Japan remains competitive in a variety of sectors, including the automobile and semiconductor industries. Additionally, China and Japan are major trade partners. Sino-Japanese relations still matter. However, China may need to alter its policy towards Japan so as to make it shoulder the cost of defaulting.
Chengxin Zhang is a doctoral candidate at the School of Politics and International Relations of Lanzhou University, China, and a researcher at the Youth Think-Tank of The Glory Diplomacy of China