Academic journal article Asian Perspective

China's Perceptions of and Responses to Abe's Foreign Policy

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

China's Perceptions of and Responses to Abe's Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

ABE SHINZO CAME TO POWER AS JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE second time in December 2012 and was reelected in 2014. His expected tenure of office (2012-2018) coincides with a great political transition in China, as Xi Jinping became the new secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee in late 2012. His tenure of office as the Chinese president is from 2013 to 2023. Both men became top leaders amid rising tension in the Sino-Japanese relationship, marked by the Japanese government's declaration of "nationalization" of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in September 2012, which drew a strong reaction from China. Abe is well-known for his nationalist and conservative tendencies, and Xi is also widely regarded as a political strongman (Denyer 2015). It is probably not a coincidence that since their coming to power, Sino-Japanese relations have steadily deteriorated, perhaps reaching the lowest point since their normalization in 1972. As a sign of how badly the relationship has declined, Xi did not meet Abe for nearly two years, until the Beijing Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2014.

What accounts for this steady deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations? I attempt to answer this question by focusing on China's perception of, and response to, Abe's foreign policy orientation since Abe came to power in late 2012. My analysis is mainly based on official Chinese policy statements, official mass media coverage (especially by Xinhua News Agency), and academic publications, especially those by China's Japan experts. I do not make use of Chinese netizens' opinion of Abe's foreign policy.

Strategic Ambition vs. Strategic Anxiety

What is the main goal and motive of Abe's foreign policy orientation? Chinese officials rarely comment on this subject, and Chinese analysts so far have not reached a consensus on it. Most researchers and official news agency commentators emphasize the "strategic ambition" of Japanese politicians like Abe, namely, to make Japan a "normal country" in international affairs.

Those Chinese analysts who stress strategic ambition as the main goal of Abe's foreign policy argue that in the context of a changing East Asian geopolitical landscape, Japan has been increasingly articulating a desire to become a "normal country" with a military not constitutionally barred from war and an active alliance policy (Jiang 2012). To become a normal country, including becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is the most important goal of Abe's foreign policy. To this group of the Chinese researchers, Abe's policy, to some extent, is the continuation of Japan's search for the status of a political great power since the 1980s. Japan is nowadays widely regarded as a declining power, and Abe is searching for great power status in the world by using the theme "Japan is back."

Interestingly, Henry Kissinger made a similar comment in his new book on world order:

As at other pivotal moments in its history, Japan is moving toward a redefinition of its broader role in international order, sure to have far-reaching consequences in its region and beyond. Searching for a new role, it will assess once again, carefully, unsentimentally, and unobtrusively, the balance of material and psychological forces in light of the rise of China, Korean developments, and their impact on Japan's security. It will examine the utility and record of the American alliance and its considerable success in serving wideranging mutual interests; it will also consider America's withdrawal from three military conflicts. (Kissinger 2014, 176)

Chinese analysts who, by contrast, focus on Japan's "strategic anxiety" contend that Abe's policy is, at least to some extent, a passive response to a rising China. To some of these researchers, the strategic pivot of Japan in the twenty-first century has actually been going on in the context of China's rise and the consequent competition with China, which has gone from being an adaptor to a shaper in Western-dominated international society (Lu 2013; Wang 2014). …

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