Friday April 3, 2020


August 1, 2013

Akitaka Saiki, Japanese deputy foreign minister, completed a two-day trip to China earlier this week. He met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.

This trip marks the first of this level of diplomatic exchange between China and Japan since new leadership has taken over in both countries. The meeting follows months of high tension and little engagement between the countries, heightened by the firm attitude of each country’s new leaders.

While the trip was short and very basic, it was an important, even if small, step towards re-opening diplomatic discussion. Even with this step, however, there is still a long way to go towards improved Sino-Japanese relations.

Last week, during a visit to Southeast Asia, Prime Minister Abe made repeated calls for a summit with President Xi Jinping. On Monday, Beijing declined. Regarding China’s decision, a government spokesperson said Japan needs to “stop using empty slogans about so-called dialogue to gloss over disagreements.”

A Chinese expert on Japan said, “By insisting there is no dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and no room for negotiation, Abe himself is setting preconditions on conducting dialogue with China.” This goes against the Prime Minister’s calls for an unconditional meeting between the two leaders. The expert goes further to say, “Abe is testing Beijing’s response through Saiki’s visit.”

The Island Dispute

The recent bought of tension started last fall when the Japanese government purchased the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Since then, there have been regular maritime demonstrations and provocations around the islands as well as symbolic gestures.

One such symbolic gesture involves a Chinese video came. The game, “Glorious Mission Online,” originally designed as a training tool for Chinese soldiers, now includes a level where players fight to reclaim the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from Japan.

During Shinzo Abe’s campaign before elected Japan’s Prime Minister in December, he made a stop near the islands and declared, “We have absolutely no intention to retreat, even by an inch.” China’s newly elected leadership has taken a similarly hard stance.

Both China and Japan have been turning more and more to nationalism in an effort to maintain stability and control, especially in light of the recent economic slow-down. One of the key aspects of the nationalism that both President Xi and Prime Minister Abe are embracing is the use of external conflict in order to bolster domestic support and cohesiveness. In the case of China and Japan, the most effective source of conflict is with each other.

This focus on domestic nationalism has affected military and foreign policy. There has been a growing naval presence by China, with an increasing number of exercises near disputed territory and other displays of military strength. Drills have included warships, submarines, planes, and China’s new aircraft carrier. According to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, “drills by the Chinese Navy in the Western Pacific have already become routine.”

Now Japan, under Abe’s administration, is seriously reconsidering its defense policy. The military limitations set out in Japan’s constitution, designed as part of the post-WWII peace efforts, are currently being questioned and debated.

The United States Role in Sino-Japanese Relations

In 1945, the United States required Japan to include an article in their constitution prohibiting the creation of a standing army. Japan is thus dependent on its alliance with the U.S. for its security needs. Japan is now considering repealing this article and building its own defensive capabilities. Such an act would impact the balance of power in the Asia Pacific as well as the U.S.-China-Japan relationship. Japan’s choices are considered further in a Huffington Post article.

With the United States security treaty with Japan and increased tension and military mobilization in the Pacific, it is increasingly in the U.S. interest to encourage improved relations between the China and Japan. The last thing the United States wants is to be pulled into a military conflict against its will, especially something as seemingly arbitrary as a few tiny unpopulated islands.

In an effort to hedge against such an outcome, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to adopt Senate Resolution 167 on Monday, calling for “the peaceful resolution of territorial, sovereignty, and jurisdictional disputes in the Asia-Pacific maritime domains.”

The U.S. has warned China about taking unilateral action on the islands. U.S. diplomats have also frowned on the overly nationalistic rhetoric of Japanese Prime Minister Abe and attempted to moderate his actions. A Diplomat article goes one step further, making the case that U.S. diplomacy is responsible for Abe’s current overtures for a China-Japan summit.

Last week, Vice President Biden emphasized the importance of the U.S. role in the Asia Pacific. He said, “America by admission of everyone, including the Chinese — America has helped create the conditions for security and stability that allow — has allowed the Asian-Pacific nations to turn their talents and intentions to the economic miracle that we witnessed the previous 60 years.”

For more information about Sino-Japanese relations, see the following news articles:

USCPF- Tensions Remain Between China and Japan

Wall Street Journal- Japan, China Inch Toward Repairing Ties

Japan Times– “Abe offers maritime help for Philippines amid China row

China Daily– “Japan diplomat seeks to mend ties

Asahi Shimbum– “Insight: China puts Japan on notice that warship drills are no routine

Reuters– “China military urges vigilance over Japan’s defense plan

IDSA– “The Rise of Nationalism in Japan and China

The Diplomat– “America’s ‘Hidden Hand’ in the Proposed Abe-Xi Summit

Huffington Post– “Japanese Prime Minister Abe Calls for Immediate Summit with China

Wall Street Journal (Market Watch)-“China-Japan diplomacy after LDP’s election victory

Washington Post– “Chinese army-designed video game lets players fight Japan for the Diaoyu Islands

For Chinese language news on current Sino-Japanese relations, see the articles below:

People’s Daily (人民网)- 日本常务副外长斋木昭隆访华 王毅外长简短会见

Reuters (路透)– “王毅会晤日本外务事务次官斋木昭隆

IFeng (凤凰网)-安倍晋三:期望与中国领导人举行“推心置腹”的对话

Xinhua (新华网)– “中日关系陷入“失落的年代” 对日可做策略切割

Opinion China (观点中国)– “中日关系难逆转安倍晋三须担责

Worldwide News (环球网)– “中方批评日本部分负面言行干扰中日关系

Compiled and edited by Ariane Rosen