Have China-Japan relations entered a new era?

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/27 12:15:20

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Years from now when people look back at the China-Japan relationship during the first half of the 21st century, they could find that 2018 was a special point in time. It was during this year that ties between the two sides literally entered a new era. Their mutual understanding of one another underwent fundamental changes. 

Amid the rise of the trade protectionism worldwide, the consensus between China and Japan on safeguarding the global free trade system and transforming their bilateral ties from competition to collaboration became the new ballast for their relations. 

Before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's China visit in October, he announced that Japan would end its official development assistance (ODA) to China. The move reflects a fundamental change in the total strength of both countries. Moreover, it means the two will have a cooperative relationship rather than one based on assistance and support. It is here that the China-Japan relationship entered a new era in the truest sense. The change will influence future cooperation between both nations in various fields. 

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo will continue improving in 2019. But they must also safeguard against potential threats that could undermine relations. 

US trade protectionism has placed Japan under economic pressure. Due to US President Donald Trump's capricious policies, Abe sought a stable relationship with Beijing while developing Tokyo-Washington ties. This means China-Japan relations will unlikely experience a retrogress of any kind. In 2019, Abe will pursue a balance between China and the US. 

This year, Beijing will preside over the rotating China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit, and Abe will use the opportunity to visit China once again. With the upcoming Japan G20 summit in June, Tokyo is expecting Chinese President Xi Jinping's official first visit to Japan. Even if Abe is not as enthusiastic in seeking amicable relations with China like last year, the bilateral ties will at least remain steady.

Although the overall tone of China-Japan relations for the new year is expected to remain stable, potential threats exist, with some having already appeared since last year. Abe's cabinet approved the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the accompanying Mid-Term Defense Program in December which involve the acquisition of new stealth fighters and long-range missiles, and highlight the "China threat theory."

The NDPG and the Mid-Term Defense Program will guide security and defense policy trends through to 2023. Under these two measures, it is foreseeable that Japan will boost its military forces and continue to advocate the "China threat theory. "

If Japan acts too radical in promoting its military capabilities, it will not only threaten regional peace and stability in Northeast Asia but will also be detrimental to warming China-Japan ties. Thus, Tokyo's continued militarization development will be seen as a potential threat to bilateral relations this year.

Another perceived threat lies within Japan's attitude toward Chinese companies and capital. As one of the most loyal US allies in the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo often follows Washington's foreign policy.

For example, after Washington banned Huawei products from the US market, Tokyo followed its lead and implemented a similar ban. Such behavior by the Japanese government was harmful to China-Japan ties.

If the US continues to impose unfair sanctions on Chinese companies this year, whether Japan will follow suit shall determine the direction of its relations with China.

The author is an editor at the Global Times and a research fellow on Japan issues. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: Have China-Japan ties entered a new era?


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