Recently, the Sino-Japanese relationship has reached a deadlock because of the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands provoked by Japan's right-wing nationalists.
Against the intensifying dispute, some claim that Sino-Japanese relations are likely to fall back to "cold politics and hot economy." However, they are over-optimistic. With the degrading of political relations between the two countries, cultural and social ties are slowing and stagnating, and there are also economic worries.
"Cold politics and hot economy" characterized relations during the administration of former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. But it's been a repeated phenomenon since the end of World War II.
Japan has been used to this kind of abnormal condition in bilateral relations and is good at playing the card of "cold politics and hot economy" to adjust the development of Sino-Japanese relations.
The Japanese government rhythmically adjusts its relationship with China by continually adjusting its policy toward nearby countries, including China. These adjustments focus on regional, diplomatic and political cooperation. Japan wants to achieve a balance in the regional system of East Asia by this means. Of course, the most important strategic objective is to maintain Japan's core position in the region.
Japan has played an assertive role in the traditional regional structure. To a certain extent, Japan has had the initiative and control to adjust the regional structure and its relationships with other countries. It has created conditions to flexibly switch its attitude of "cold politics and hot economy."
However, with the declining of Japan's comprehensive national strength and economic strength, the Japanese government is gradually losing its room for maneuver. On some economic issues, it has fallen into a passive position. For instance, Japan has lost the initiative in the economic relationship with China.
If Japan's right-wing politicians persist in going their own way and continue to take mistaken actions to undermine the development of Sino-Japanese relations, China will have to take countermeasures as an inevitable response. These countermeasures do not rule out economic ones. Thus, even a situation of "cold politics and hot economy" cannot be maintained.
Tokyo should have a clear impression and make a correct judgment on Japan's current political situation. Japan is facing many problems: the global financial crisis, the aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear disaster in March, and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Because of these multiple hits, the Japanese economy is on the brink of recession.
If China adopts economic countermeasures against Japan, it can be imagined that these measures would bring tragic consequences to the Japanese economy. Under such pressure of the problems Japan would face, Japan would be likely to give up the hope of economic recovery. Japan would even have to accept the reality of serious economic depression.
Therefore, the Chinese government has the initiative on dealing with current Sino-Japanese relations. In fact, economic countermeasures are not the only diplomatic card China can play. There's still some space for diplomatic mediation.
We do not rule out the possibility of taking economic countermeasures. But we have to note that in the context of economic globalization, the economic connections and interactions among major economies are deepening.
The economic relationship between China and Japan has reached a record high. We have to consider what measures we could take and the effects they would have very carefully, but Japan will suffer more than China from any economic countermeasures.
The current Diaoyu Islands dispute is a farce provoked by Japan's right-wing forces. We cannot let it develop in the worst way. Therefore, Japanese leaders should familiarize themselves with the dispute and exercise their calm judgment.
The author is an associate research fellow on international political economics with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. firstname.lastname@example.org