The deep divide: Japan and China mark 50 years of ties, but tensions unlikely to ease, analysts say
- Mutual distrust has reached a point where virtually every move is assumed to be in bad faith and to pose some form of threat, observers note
- Recent incidents of Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific pushed Japan to forge closer security ties with US, advocate firmer line on Beijing, they add
Japanese analysts say they do not expect relations to improve in the near future, even in areas where the nations’ interests would appear to align, such as trade or environmental concerns.
The mutual distrust, they say, has reached a point where virtually every move is assumed to be in bad faith and to pose some form of threat.
“We will see what both sides say on the day of the anniversary, but the reality is that nothing is going to erase the strategic tensions that presently exist between the two nations,” Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, a project assistant professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, told This Week in Asia.
Japan is also monitoring the activities of a joint fleet of seven Chinese and Russian warships operating close to the Izu Islands, directly south of Tokyo. The vessels are believed to have taken part in recent multinational exercises hosted by Russia in its Far East regions.
There are plenty of other examples of Chinese aggression against other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Japanese analysts point out, that can only give cause for concern.
“It is important that the two sides take a strategic and long-term perspective, bear in mind the fundamental interests of the two countries, and translate the political consensus of ‘being each other’s cooperative partners, not a threat’ into policies and actions,” the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in remarks during a symposium on Japan-China ties on September 12.
In a commentary published this week, Yang Bojiang, director general of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the state-linked Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggested there was still room for an entente. “The two countries should realise there is still huge room for collaboration between them,” he wrote.
In Japan, observers’ comments to This Week in Asia offered no such optimism.
“The Chinese military launched missiles that violated Japan’s exclusive economic zone [EEZ] around islands in southern Okinawa Prefecture. And when Tokyo protested, Beijing’s response was that it does not recognise Japan’s EEZ,” Shimada said.
“If China refuses to recognise Japan’s sovereign territory, then what is there to celebrate?”
Hinata-Yamaguchi agreed the Chinese drills around Taiwan had significantly worsened an already tense situation.
“Those drills were not only a demonstration of China’s ability to carry out a blockade of Taiwan, but also their ability to conduct missile strikes against Japan,” he said.
“It’s a sensitive relationship. It’s not even a ‘marriage of convenience’ but more like casual dating,” he said, adding that Japan would hope the relationship did not progress to something more meaningful.
Trade might be the only area where Japan and China could improve ties, but there were “still concerns here,” Hinata-Yamaguchi said.
“Beijing and Tokyo understand they need each other economically, but Japan is becoming increasingly concerned about economic security,” he said. “Japan wants to reconfigure its economy so that it works with China but, at the same time, ensures that it is not compromising its economic security.”
“If the Communist Party was wise, it would be doing everything in its power to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington, such as by softening its position on the Senkaku Islands,” he said. “Instead, it is doing exactly the opposite and even left-leaning politicians here in Japan are now advocating a firmer line on China and closer ties with the US.”