U-turn in bilateral ties unrealistic regardless of next Japanese PM – until China regains Tang Dynasty strength over Japan: Global Times editorial
Published: Sep 03, 2021 11:15 PM
An extra edition of a daily newspaper reporting on Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga deciding not to run for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election is distributed in Tokyo's Ginza district on Friday. Photo: AFP

An extra edition of a daily newspaper reporting on Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga deciding not to run for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election is distributed in Tokyo's Ginza district on Friday. Photo: AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made a surprise announcement on Friday, claiming he will not seek reelection as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It means he is giving up the chance to continue serving as prime minister of Japan. The Japanese political arena will face a new shockwave. Since Suga became prime minister after Shinzo Abe resigned last September, he must call a general election and lead the LDP by November 28, meaning his tenure can last at most one year and two months. Many people suspect that Japan will once again enter a period of political turmoil in which the prime minister changes frequently. 

The fundamental reason for Suga to give up the LDP's reelection is probably that he feels that his days are gone. The possibility of LDP's various factions supporting him in the reelection is extremely low. His plan to adjust high-level personnel in the LDP has suffered a setback, and he will hardly ace the game in the upcoming election. So he could only make a quick retreat. 

Suga's biggest failure was in the fight against COVID-19. Japan's daily COVID-19 cases surpassed 20,031 on Wednesday. Japanese society is much more anxious about the virus than European and US societies. Such anxiety has overwhelmed the joy of holding the Tokyo Olympics. 

The COVID-19 epidemic is raging, and it is impossible that the Japanese economy will stay unaffected. Suga has almost nothing to maintain his approval ratings at a high level. As a result, Suga made the announcement on Friday. The Japanese stock market rose sharply.

Former Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, former Japanese internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono and former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba are currently thought the front runners in the election as well as future new prime minister. Japan is struggling with many difficulties, yet it lacks both practical motivation and political solidarity to get rid of the predicament. The prime minister will face a tough job. The prediction that Japan will fall into a new period of political turmoil is not baseless.

China-Japan relations under the Suga administration this year have been terrible, slipping all the way to a deep gulf from the evaluation of getting "back on a normal track" in 2018. No matter who becomes new president of the LDP and takes over as prime minister, a big U-turn in China-Japan relations is considered unrealistic. This is because the atmosphere about China in Japan is becoming increasingly unfriendly. The US' strategy of containing China also has a great influence on Japan. Japan does not have the conditions to promote a new route toward China, whether domestically or internationally.

However, the power comparison between China and Japan has changed historically. During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Japan's GDP was still ahead of China. In 2020, China's GDP is about three times that of Japan, which is about the similar economic gap between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan at the end of the 20th century. More specifically, China's vehicle sales in a year are four to five times that of Japan. The length of China's high-speed railway is about 13.7 times that of Japan's Shinkansen high-speed railway. The geopolitical implication of Japan's tough China policy is also changing quietly.

It seems difficult for the hearts of China and Japan to get closer in the short and medium term. Japan has really thrown itself down at the US, and can even neutralize the hatred of being attacked by atomic bombs and the humiliation of being occupied by the US military until today. Unless China can take a comprehensive lead over Japan as it was during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Japan will not genuinely respect China, nor will it show mutual respect to China in a short period of time. Japan's attitude toward China will be awkward for a long time.

However, it is very difficult for Japan to pose a fundamental threat to China anymore. Japan's long-term role will be as an accomplice of the US. We should be aware of that. We should deal Japan with the new power structure as starting point. We should accurately grasp the Japanese society's mentality toward China, objectively assess Japan's threats, and determine how to deal with this neighboring country.

China-Japan economic and trade cooperation is huge, and this should be regarded as the most substantial part of the two countries' relations. No matter who the next Japanese prime minister is, and whether Japan will have more tough voices against China, the two countries' economic ties as being mutually beneficial and the scale of trade will hardly be impacted. It is also unlikely that Japan will take the lead in a showdown against China. These facts show that China actually has room to calmly deal with its relations with Japan.

Whoever becomes the next Japanese prime minister and whether Japan will go further on the path of being tough against China, China is capable to deal with possible challenges. China will grow increasingly stronger than Japan. The one that will suffer more from deteriorating bilateral relations will definitely be Japan.