Sunday, March 26, 2017

Will There Be a China-Japan Détente?
By Feng Zhaokui
Global Times
2017/3/26 17:38:39

This year marks the 45th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic normalization. After the China-Japan summit meeting in November 2014, the tension between the two nations, inflicted by Tokyo, relaxed and their relationship reached a turning point.

Two years later, however, the improving Sino-Japanese relations experienced a serious downturn. This, to a certain degree, signaled a likely relapse. And obviously, it is Japan that should be held responsible.

At China's annual two sessions earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, "as far as China-Japan relations are concerned, the underlying problem is that some politicians in Japan have the wrong perception about China." Wang also questioned, "Do they view a growing China as a friend or foe, as a partner or an adversary?"

Over the past two years, with the deep-seated rightist ideology and propaganda, the Abe administration hyped up the so-called "China threat" and the "value-based diplomacy," following Washington while containing China. Japan evidently disclaims China as a friend or a partner. Scholars in both China and Japan believe that there would be no improvement or breakthroughs in the Sino-Japanese relationship as long as Abe holds power.

Nonetheless, Japan's hostile attitude toward China isn't consistent with its own interests. Masahiro Kohara, an official of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that to keep stability in East Asia and prevent its neighboring nations from becoming enemies are the top two priorities serving Japan's interests. That means Abe's aggressive policy toward China can only serve his personal interests and those of his party, whose objective is to amend the constitution and rebuild a strong Japan.

But as Japan's prime minister, Abe cannot disregard the country's interests, or the likely situation in which the Japan-China relations may relapse into what it was before November 2014. If it happens, Japan's economy, security and maritime transport will be jeopardized.

The China-Japan tensions are largely the result of US' divergent strategies toward China and Japan. The US has never been willing to see amelioration in China-Japan ties. Earlier in 1972, Washington buried a political mine by transferring the Diaoyu Islands back to Japan between Beijing and Tokyo. Japan then became the US' puppet in Asia to contain China's rise.

After US President Donald Trump took office, his first move was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which disquiets Japan. Concerns raised by Tokyo include that Japan may lose its leverage as US' tool to contain China, Trump may blackmail Tokyo for the latter's cost for US military protection and the US may reach a consensus with China over developing a constructive relationship, making Japan an abandoned pawn of Washington.

If Japan alone fails to revive the TPP in the next two years, it may look to the promising 10+6 Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia and China-Japan-South Korea cooperation.

The French word "détente" normally refers to relaxed ties between the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s. Back then, there was a détente in the relations because of a strategic need for both sides to relax the continuous tensions. There was no real improvement or amity between the two countries.

Compared with the relationship between the US and former Soviet Union back then, China and Japan share historical feuds like the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, but Japan is still China's second largest trading partner. There cannot be any real improvement and amity in their ties at the present under the Abe administration.

However, given the huge volume in trade between the two countries - approximately over $300 billion - and their common interests in environmental protection, economy and so forth, it is still possible for Abe to change his mind on his aggressive China policy and restore the détente.

The author is an honorary academician of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and consultant of China Society of Sino-Japanese Relations History.

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