Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Of Interest and Distrust: Understanding China's Policy towards Japan

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Of Interest and Distrust: Understanding China's Policy towards Japan

Article excerpt

Chinese relations with Japan are characterised by the contradiction of deep distrust on one hand and important interests on the other. This article elaborates upon this contradiction in an attempt to shed light on possible future developments in the bilateral relationship. It applies a perceptual approach in its analysis which is mainly based on the publications of Chinese analysts and interpretations of Chinese public opinion. The article begins with a survey of approaches to understanding Chinese foreign policy and an assessment of the influence of Chinese analysts and public opinion. It then investigates Chinese interests and distrust in Japan and concludes with a discussion of the "history issue".

Approaches to Understanding Chinese Foreign Policy

Yufan Hao observed in 1998 that "[f]ew subjects are more complicated and mysterious than Chinese foreign policy.... So far there has been little consensus and much frustration in this field of study, to say nothing of the failure to bring it into the mainstream of theoretical inquiry." (1) Despite the impressive progress in the past decade, Chinese foreign policy remains a challenge to China observers.

Theoretical Paradigms

Realism and liberalism are two theoretical narratives that "constantly recur" in discussions about how the international system influences foreign policies of great powers like China. (2) The dominance of the realist paradigm in Chinese international thinking is captured in Yong Deng's observation of Chinese analysts' "strikingly frequently use of the term strategy". (3) Blunter is Thomas Christensen's comment that Chinese analysts "certainly think more like traditional balance-of-power theorists than do most contemporary Western leaders and policy analysts". (4) Christensen notes that Chinese analysts are averse to multilateral humanitarian efforts and that they are "much less likely" to emphasise political, cultural or ideological differences with foreign countries. They are also suspicious of multilateral organisations which they often view as "fronts for other powers". (5)

While realism has long been used as a paradigm to aid understanding Chinese foreign policy, the use of the liberal paradigm is relatively new and has emerged recently in analyses of China's post-Cold War foreign policy. The underlying reason is that China's foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has experienced major changes in a liberal direction, thus liberalism has become more effective in explaining these changes. Evan Medeiros and M. Taylor Fravel noted in 2003 that "in the last ten years, Chinese foreign policy has become far more nimble and engaging than at any other time in the history of the People's Republic". (6) Evidence of these changes include the expanded number and depth of China's bilateral relationships, new trade and security accords, deepened participation in key multilateral organisations, widening acceptance of many prevailing international rules and institutions and efforts to help address global security issues. (7)

Noting China's joining of the WTO, its contribution to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations, and its interest in nuclear nonproliferation since the end of the Cold War, Rosemary Foot concludes that:

   while there were to be many continuities with the Deng [Xiaoping]
   era, Jiang [Zemin] and his successor Hu Jintao have moved on to
   emphasise the importance of economic globalisation, the
   multidimensional nature of security, and the need to recognise the
   responsibility of the great powers, including China, for
   maintaining global order. (8)

It is believed that respect is "the one commodity Beijing seems to crave more than any other" and that to gain respect China has to "yield certain sovereign prerogatives in the interests of becoming a better global citizen". (9)

On the other hand, even those who favour liberal and engagement policy towards China are not convinced that liberalism has grown at the expense of realism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.