Japan-China Relations after 40 Years

The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), August 21, 2018 | Go to article overview

Japan-China Relations after 40 Years


The Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty, in which Japan and China pledged to develop friendly relations, was signed 40 years ago this month. The relationship between the two nations -- inseparable from a history of reform and opening up -- is entering a new era after repeated cooperation and confrontation. This is the first installment of a series looking into challenges and possibilities of the bilateral ties.

Xi's early stance

A total operational distance of approximately 25,000 kilometers, over 60 percent of the high-speed railways in the entire world -- in the early 1990s, before this figure made China the high-speed railway giant it is now, a plan nearly came to fruition to build a Japanese Shinkansen line in Fujian Province between Fuzhou, the provincial capital, and major port city Xiamen.

According to an official on the Japanese side at that time, the plan was for Japan to contribute 90 percent of the construction costs, which totaled approximately 400 billion yen. The Chinese government, however, threw a wrench in the plan by saying that if a high-speed railway were to be built, it should first connect Beijing and Shanghai. The plan collapsed around 1996.

One person who was enthusiastic about that plan was the then leader of Fuzhou and current head of China, Xi Jinping.

In May 1992, Xi gave a fervent speech to the city's senior officials, saying, "If construction moves forward, I believe it will boost the economy of Fuzhou."

Two years later, Xi is also said to have promoted the plan directly to then head of state Jiang Zemin when he toured Fuzhou.

While patriotic education caused anti-Japanese sentiment to rise under the Jiang administration, Xi took the stance of prioritizing practical benefit and not hesitating to accept Japanese investment. Having now entered the second term of his administration, Xi has solidified the "unipolar system" of drawing authority to himself, focusing on the gains and, according to a source on Japan-China relations, "seriously" working to improve relations with Japan.

Cards close to chest

In the middle of this May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke with greater passion than usual when he chaired a meeting of the central government's State Council held in Beijing.

According to a Chinese government official with knowledge of the meeting, Li, who had just returned from a visit to Japan, offered the following impression when speaking in front of government ministers and agency heads about what he observed on his visits to an auto-related factory and a farming facility in Hokkaido: "It was a country more advanced than I imagined."

With the Japanese government's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in September 2012, correspondence between the leaders of Japan and China had ceased, and relations between the countries worsened to the point of forming a "blank period," according to a person connected to the Japanese government. In China, with the confidence of having passed Japan in 2010 to become the world's No. 2 economy in terms of GDP, there were also assertions flying around of "ignoring" Japan, that "Japan was no longer relevant, and that China should deal directly with the United States," according to a Chinese diplomatic source.

However, when Li visited Japan for the first time in a quarter century -- and the first time for any Chinese premier in seven years -- he is said to have gotten the impression, according to an official related to the Chinese Communist Party, that "there is a great difference between what is seen and what is heard" regarding Japan's "national strength," which is difficult to express in economic indicators. A Japanese government official who joined the tour revealed that Li heaped praise on Japan's modernized agriculture and advanced technology, which surprised those around him. …

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