2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of ties between China and Japan. The past half a century has seen the relationship between the two countries develop into one of the widest convergence of interests and cooperation in the world. History and reality have both fully proven that maintaining a long-term steady development in China-Japan relations is not only in the interests of both countries and peoples, but also critical to maintaining stability and prosperity in Asia and the whole world. On September 14, Taihe Institute held a seminar on the “50th Anniversary of the Normalization of China-Japan Relations,” where invitees reviewed the development path of the two countries’ diplomatic relations over the past 50 years and held in-depth and candid exchanges on the current problems and future development of the relationship.
Cheng Yonghua, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to Japan and Executive Vice President of the China-Japan Friendship Association, noted in his keynote speech that the 50th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations should mark an important opportunity for both sides to take stock of their historical experience and establish a better future. However, relationship is intertwined with old and new problems, which both face a serious and increasingly complex environment.
For the future trajectory of China-Japan relations, he argued the following four points need to be noted: First, both sides must uphold the political foundation of China-Japan relations. Both sides should adhere to the four political documents and the four principles of consensus, and honor their commitments. Both sides should always keep in mind the bigger picture, manage disagreements and address major sensitive issues in a prudent and proper manner. Second, both sides should maintain the position that the two countries are partners and pose no threat to each other. The Japanese side should view China’s development correctly, establish a friendly and mature “outlook on China” and pursue a positive and steady policy toward China. Third, both sides should stick to the original aspirations of peace, friendship and cooperation. China and Japan are permanent neighbors. Peace, friendship and cooperation should be the mainstream focus of China-Japan relations. The two sides should recalibrate the aspiration of the normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations, inherit the benign traditions of the previous generation of politicians and representatives from all sectors, explore paths for the future development of the bilateral relations, and move China-Japan relations along the right track of sound and steady development at all times. Fourth, the two countries should have the overall perspective and strategic vision. The Japanese side should make independent, objective and correct strategic judgments on the basis of its long-term national interests, promote its own development and the common development of China and Japan, and inject more stability and positive energy into the world.
Professor Akio Takahara of the University of Tokyo pointed out that China-Japan relations are mainly affected by four factors: First, domestic politics in both countries; second, the international environment, i.e. the U.S., which plays a big role in the East Asian region and China-Japan relations; third, the economic interests, and; fourth, national sentiments, which include the two peoples’ understanding of themselves and towards each other. Since the normalization of diplomatic ties, national sentiments in the two countries have been frequently of the most concern. Peoples of the two countries lack in-depth understandings of each other and have experienced some major misunderstandings. In particular, in recent years, affected by the impact of the pandemic, this problem has become even more pronounced. The Chinese and Japanese media and people have different perceptions on historical and contemporary issues. Both China and Japan need to pool wisdom to improve their impressions of each other. Apart from enhancing mutual understanding by proper communication and exchanges, the two sides need to also follow the “textualism,” meaning judging each other’s intentions based on facts and context and listening carefully to each other’s opinions.
Professor Shi Yinhong of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China noted that Japan’s claim over the Diaoyu Islands in September 2012 was a turning point, clearly associated with the increasingly tense strategic competition and confrontation between China and the United States. Thereafter, serious hostility and confrontation have been a problem in China-Japan relations, although the intensity was eased at times. At present and in the foreseeable future, the primary nature of China-Japan relations is strategic military confrontation, especially over the Taiwan question and the issue of the East China Sea. Meanwhile, China-Japan relations must also attain crisis prevention and control, conflict avoidance, and the maintenance of economic and trade relations, in facing high-tech competition and supply chain restructuring targeting primarily at China. This has all ushered in a new phase of China-Japan relations.
Professor Chisako Masuo of Kyushu University said that China and Japan have undertaken multiple diplomatic démarches on maritime issues such as the East China Sea, which are expected to be addressed diplomatically. Currently, there is a tendency in Japan that China’s rise and “show of strength” constitute a “threat” to the country, and such public opinion may have an impact on the process of Japan’s constitutional amendment, to some extent.
Huang Dahui, Vice Dean and Professor of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, said that the year 2010 was a watershed in the Japanese recognition of China. Before 2010, the Japanese held a relatively positive view of China, when history played a major role in shaping its recognition of China. Whilst after 2010, its recognition of China had been increasingly influenced by the “China Threat Theory” and the Diaoyu Islands issue has also had a huge influence in this regard. Meanwhile, the Japanese government and media’s growing negative coverage, and the shift in the balance of power between China and Japan, have also been crucial factors affecting Japanese recognition of China. Currently, Chinese people pay high attention to whether Japan will deviate from the path of peaceful development. China and Japan are two influential countries in East Asia, whose bilateral relations will ultimately decide the regional future. Therefore, the two countries should join hands to advance regional win-win cooperation.
Professor Ryo Sahashi of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo pointed out that the US vision of a “value-based order” is essentially an attempt to create a favorable situation for itself. The Biden administration has been emphasizing its efforts to stabilize China-U.S. relations, but such efforts have become futile after Pelosi’s “Taiwan trip.” Against the backdrop of a changing U.S.-Japan alliance, the traditional dynamic of focusing on relations with neighboring states is waning in China-Japan relations. But Japan remains a country that seeks stability, and Japan and other US allies will not blindly follow all US policies. Japan does not want to act as a bridge between China and the U.S., but hopes to formulate rules together with a third party to prevent the international order from being undermined by the competition between China and the U.S.
Shingo Ito, Researcher at the Japan Economic Research Institute, commented that China and Japan should take active measures to strengthen their economic relations. To this end, the two countries should, first, maintain the international trade order and expand international trade, and implement the same rules steadily; second, further develop a fair competition environment; third, promote economic cooperation to achieve common interests, and; fourth, improve bilateral political relations. In addition, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and smooth operation of supply chains, and economic stability and prosperity in East Asia are also essential. The Japanese industrial field attaches great importance to these issues.
Hu Jiping, Vice President and Research Professor of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, noted that China-Japan relations are currently at a critical crossroads and are encountering multiple challenges. First, relations between the two societies are worsening, which has undermined improvement of bilateral political relations. Second, the security trust between the two countries is also deteriorating. For example, in recent years, the “China Threat Theory” has been continuously hyped up and exaggerated by official documents and media in Japan. Third, economic cooperation may deteriorate due to the soured political relationship, which poses a threat to the stability of China-Japan relations and the economic recovery and growth of both countries in the post-pandemic era. China and Japan should engage in high-level dialogues in the fields of diplomacy, security, and economy, strengthen political leadership, and enhance civil and media exchanges to maintain stability and development of bilateral relations.
Professor Madoka Fukuda at Hosei University, said that the discussion about “how Japan will respond to Taiwan’s crisis” has aroused the attention and concern of China. However, in reality, the China-Japan Joint Statement of 1972 clearly defined the status of Taiwan. Therefore, the Japanese government would not dishonor its commitment and instigate Taiwan to pursue “independence.” At present, a key factor affecting Fumio Kishida and his Cabinet’s policy toward China lies in the international environment. Japan adopts two different policies toward China and the United States, and it attaches more importance to its alliance with the U.S. Thus, if a “crisis” breaks out in Taiwan, Japan cannot respond to the situation without negotiating with the U.S. Another important factor affecting Fumio Kishida’s policy toward China is the economy. The Japanese economy heavily relies on China, and few people in Japan are talking about Japanese companies’ withdrawing from China or reconsidering their investment in China. Japan has consistently adopted a policy of a “separation of politics and economy” toward China, but if the possibility of a “Taiwan crisis” further increases in the future, the policy of a “separation of politics and economy” may be abandoned.
Wang Jian, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, pointed out that the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan marked an important turning point in history, and ushered in a new era of bilateral relations. The one-China principle is a prerequisite for the normalization of their diplomatic relations and a solemn commitment made by the Japanese government to China as reflected in the Japanese acceptance of the “three principles for the resumption of diplomatic ties with Japan,” which was proposed by the Chinese government. China and Japan should jointly adhere to the principles clearly defined in the four political documents and the four principles of consensus, draw lessons from history and manage differences to build China-Japan relations that meet the requirements of the new era.
At present, there remain many uncertainties and even bizarre and complicated factors in the China-Japan relationship, among which the Taiwan question rises as the most crucial factor affecting relations between the two countries. The Japanese side needs to maintain strategic autonomy and balance its relations with China and the U.S. Strategists and far-sighted personages in China and Japan should work together to create a positive and friendly atmosphere for the commemoration of “the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan” to contribute to peace in East Asia and the world.