Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sino-Japanese Relations: Implications for Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sino-Japanese Relations: Implications for Southeast Asia

Article excerpt


China's post-Cold War relations with Japan have been largely stable. Yet this stability can hardly disguise the uneasiness in that relationship. Domestically, according to a latest public opinion poll conducted by the Institute of Japanese Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, only 5.9 per cent of Chinese said that Japan was "very friendly" or "friendly" while 43.3 per cent said the opposite. In Japan, the number of those who think China friendly has experienced a dramatic fall, from 75.4 per cent in 1985 to 47.5 per cent in 2001 and the number of those who think China unfriendly reached 48.1 per cent in the same year. (1) Internationally, while China is concerned about the increasing expansion of the Japanese military's role, Japan is worried about the "China threat".

Sino-Japanese relations are destined to have a profound impact on Southeast Asia. After all, as noted by Stephen Leong, "For Asia to be secure, Japan and China have to be getting along ... Otherwise the security architecture of Asia will fall to pieces." (2)

This article will first examine China's political and security relations with Japan in the past decade or so by looking at China's perceptions of, and policies toward, Japan. It will then discuss the opportunities for, and challenges to, Southeast Asia.

Perceptions: Increasing Distrust

In the years immediately after the Cold War, China had to redefine its main potential threats. According to Chu Shulong, Japan was likely to replace the Soviet Union/Russia to become the Chinese leadership's major concern. (3) David Shambaugh also noted that, in a meeting convened in late 1993, most (60 per cent) Chinese strategic planners believed that Japan would become China's major rival and enemy. (4)

China's perceptions of Japan as a security threat became more complicated after 1996, when the Taiwan Strait crisis highlighted the possibility of a military clash between China and the United States over Taiwan. (5) Just one month after the dangerous escalation of the Taiwan Strait crisis, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto held a summit meeting in Tokyo and signed the U.S.-Japan Joint Declaration on Security--Alliance for the 21st Century. The crisis and the joint declaration as well as subsequent revision of the 1978 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Security Cooperation deepened China's suspicion of U.S. motives regarding Taiwan and, in the longer term, U.S. strategy toward a rising China.

Strengthened suspicion toward the United States has only deepened China's sense of insecurity; it has by no means alleviated Chinese concerns over Japan. Indeed, as noted by Thomas J. Christensen, "Although they [Chinese analysts] harbour suspicion toward the United States, they view Japan with even less trust and, in many cases, with a loathing rarely found in attitudes toward America." (6)

Chinese concerns over Japan are generated by a number of factors. The two factors most widely discussed among Chinese analysts are the historical legacy and Japan's military capacity.

Japan's aggression and atrocities committed in China in the first half of the 20th century continue to bedevil Sino-Japanese relations. The Chinese believe that Japan has not adequately acknowledged and apologized for its aggression and atrocities. Although Japan has expressed remorse and introspection on a number of occasions and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 for the first time used the word "apology" in his statement about Japanese aggression, these efforts have been offset by senior Japanese leaders' "gaffes" about the past. The Chinese tend to emphasize facts like the Japanese Diet's failure to pass a resolution apologizing for Japan's wartime crimes. They find that their dissatisfaction is further justified by the sharp contrast between Japan's attitude toward the past and that of Germany. The Chinese today remain acutely sensitive to any Japanese attempts to deny, mask or embellish historical facts, such as the Japanese textbook controversy and official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. …

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