Will China & Japan move toward confrontation?

People’s Daily

The over 2,000-year-old Sino-Japan relations, after going through the
process of “strong China and weak Japan” and “strong Japan and weak China”,
are now developing toward a relationship between the strong.
At least for the moment, neither side of the two is the “weak”, this
situation, when entangled with historical issues, would possibly lead to a
situation in which none of the two sides would show its weakness. Because
compromise made in the course of representation by any government of the two
sides might be seen as a sign of “weakness” by some people, which
constitutes quite a big pressure.
Future Sino-Japanese relationship as one between two strong countries would
take the following three forms: First, both governments would take a steady
and cooperative stand in handling bilateral relations; second, both
governments would adopt a tough and confrontation-inclined stance in dealing
with bilateral ties; third, one government would take a relatively steady
and cooperative stand, while the other government would adopt a tough or
relatively tough stand in handling relations between the two countries.
In recent years, Sino-Japan relationship has tended to take the third form:
The Japanese government’s attitude toward China, the Republic of Korea (ROK)
and other neighboring countries has become increasingly intransigent.
Particularly since the beginning of 2005, Japan has sent out a strong
diplomatic signal on the issues such as Chinese Diaoyu Islands, ROK’s Dokdo
as well as Russia’s northern territory, this cannot but make people look at
Japan’s acts with new eyes.
A sensible diplomatic policy, of course, should not make each other enemies,
nor push the other side to one’s opposite. However, currently China is no
long a weak nation that can be oppressed and exploited by anyone. When
facing Japan’s tough foreign policies, China can never budge an inch. It can
be said that Japan’s hard-line policies are misleading the Japanese and
agitating the feeling of Chinese, and are thus guiding the two countries to
confrontation. If the relations between the two countries further
deteriorate, the two sides may face the historic choice between “no more
fighting” and “renewal of fighting”. Uncertain factors between China and
Japan are increasing, then, how big is the possibility for a confrontation
between China and Japan as one between two strong countries?
Viewed from Japanese political circles of today, the government, whichever
it is, will put Japan’s national interest in the first place.
As a country exceedingly short of natural resources, industrialized Japan
depends heavily on foreign resources and shipping lines. Meanwhile, as Japan
is engaged in extensive trade and investment activities across the world, it
is highly dependent on foreign markets, due to the long-term activities
mentioned above, Japan has accumulated phenomenal overseas economic benefits
worldwide. In brief, the procurement of foreign resources, shipping lines,
as well as foreign markets and overseas economic benefits can be called
Japan’s lifeblood or the source of life, and here lie Japan’s national
interests.
China may have dealings with Japan mainly in the following aspects relating
to the aforementioned Japanese “national interests”:
I. China and Japan are likely to involve themselves in competition for
foreign resources, especially crude oil and natural gas.
II. China and Japan may engage in competition when exploiting seabed
resources in the East China Sea. The competition is entangled with disputes
between China and Japan on sovereignty over certain islands and the
demarcation of sea areas.
III. Japan worries that the Taiwan issue might affect the safety of its
shipping lines in the region. To be specific, on the one hand Japan fears
that some important section of its shipping lines would be placed under
China’s control if Beijing realized national reunification; on the other
hand, Japan worries that if “something” happens across the Taiwan Straits,
it will for a while also affect Japan’s marine transportation, and even
affect its southwest islands and waters.
IV. In terms of foreign markets, although competition exists between China
and Japan, however, with the development of bilateral trade and economic
relations and the integration of industrialization of the two countries (the
deepening of division of labor within the industry), the complementarity of
the two countries’ economies has been enhanced instead of weakened,
particularly when Japanese industry is increasingly dependent on the vast
Chinese market.
V. With regard to overseas economic benefits, along with the deepening of
the two countries’ economic interdependence and the integration of their
industrialization, Japan’s overseas economic benefits accumulated on the
vast land of China are on the increase.
The above analysis shows that the national interest and strategic interest
of China and Japan are not completely opposite. It can be said that along
with the deepening of the two countries’ economic interdependence, the
connective part of the two countries’ interests will increase and not
decrease. A solution of contradiction by the method of confrontation can
only lead to the loss and suffering of both sides. For instance, in regard
to the exploitation of seabed resources in the East China Sea and the
security of marine transportation lines, confrontation between the two sides
will possibly cause a disastrous consequence to both sides.
Based on the above-mentioned situation, the tough foreign policies adopted
by the Koizumi administration toward neighboring countries, China in
particular, carry, to a great extent, a subjective color and emotional
factor. But this practice has met with ever-louder voice of opposition in
Japan, and the above-mentioned foreign policies have been landed in a
serious predicament. From various perspectives, “the Koizumi administration
has entered a blind alley,” commented a representative of the Democratic
Party, the largest opposition party in Japan. Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi has met with ever-stronger opposition even from within the Liberal
Democratic Party. Criticism of Koizumi’s domestic and foreign policies has
prompted a “movement to bring down the cabinet” which is brewing within the
Liberal Democratic Party, thereby putting unprecedented pressure on Koizumi
since he took office.
It can thus be predicted that with the development of China and change in
the international environment, there is little possibility for Sino-Japanese
relationship to move toward such a state of confrontation as one between two
strong countries. Furthermore, a basic task of diplomacy is, through
tenacious diplomatic efforts, to make the policy of the other country
develop in the direction favorable to one’s own country. As Japan’s
neighbor, China, of course, will not give up such efforts, especially
efforts to win over the majority of Japan; to be exact, to win over Japanese
nationals, which will play a role through Japan’s internal cause, so that
Tokyo will not deviate from the road of peaceful development which it has
followed since WWII.
The author is a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Carried on Page 15 of the Global Times April 6, 2005, the above article is
translated by People’s Daily Online


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