China-Japan ties shouldn’t be subject to US’ whims

By Zhu Feng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/13 22:28:41

Photo: VCG

Relations between China and Japan have seen an uptick since the China-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Summit in Tokyo in 2018. 

The two countries agreed in principle to Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Japan next spring at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The exchange visits of the leaders come after years of fraught ties. 

Although China-Japan relations are on the way to recover from their lowest point, they still need time to reach a certain stage where ties can be considered satisfactory

Global politics and economy are passing through a flux unseen in a century: the fragmentation of the liberal international order, resurgence of trade unilateralism and protectionism, and global climate change. 

Whether China and Japan as the second and third largest economies in the world can strengthen cooperation and share responsibilities in this new wave of "great changes" will have a significant impact on the well being of the people of the two countries and their national standing in the global power matrix. 

Bilateral economic and social ties have demonstrated unprecedented vitality. As of 2018, bilateral trade had exceeded $300 billion and the number of personnel exchanges had reached almost 12 million. 

The two have gradually become indispensable partners for the dynamism of the value chains of medium and high-end manufacturing and technological innovation.

The trade war on China unilaterally launched by the Trump administration has begun to significantly drag down the Japanese economy. According to the Ministry of Finance of Japan, Japan's goods trade recorded a deficit of 847.99 billion yen ($7.81 billion) for the first half of fiscal 2019 (April to September), marking the second consecutive half-year period in red. 

Today, China-Japan relations rest on interdependence.

Relations have continued to warm since 2019. Tokyo is not willing to do US bidding in economy and trade, but continues to encourage Japanese enterprises to increase investment in China. However, the structural constraints between the two Asian powers still exist.

The 2019 white paper issued by Japan's Defense Ministry in September clearly defined China as the main security threat. 

Moreover, the negative perception of China in Japan hasn't significantly diminished. According to a poll by the Japanese think tank "Genron NPO" released on October 24, 44.8 percent Japanese considered relations with China "bad," with a 6-point rise from 2018.

The improvement in ties requires more effort and adaptability.

First, China does not need to avoid structural differences and disputes in relations with Japan. It is those differences that China should eliminate for better relations. After the Cold War, Japan has a long history of strategic doubts about China. It will take some time to rebuild confidence and change their views of each other. 

Second, though the security factor in relations cannot be underestimated, the two countries can also set up a pattern of "coopetition." 

Recognizing that China-Japan relations are one of the most complex and sensitive among major countries, doing away with a mindset of "problem-based perspective" when dealing with  ties and giving due respect and understanding each other should be the "attitude toward Japan" China needs to re-establish.

Last but not the least, Beijing and Tokyo need to build up strategic confidence and determination in improving ties. Although affected by US-Japan relations, China's ties with Japan should not be forever subject to Washington's whims as long as Beijing skillfully handles relations with Tokyo. 

It will not be wise for China to expect a sudden spurt in ties, but there is a need for making a real difference in its Japan strategy.

The author is Director of Institute of International Studies of Nanjing University. 


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