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Foreign Policy

It Is Difficult for China and Japan to Rebuild Mutual Trust

Jan 02 , 2013
  • Su Xiaohui

    Deputy Director of Int'l & Strategic Studies, CIIS

The so called “purchase” of the Diaoyu Islands carried out by the Noda government has seriously impacted the mutual trust between China and Japan. After Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won by a landslide in House of Representatives election and Shinzo Abe reclaimed the premiership, China asked the new government to show sincerity and solve the dispute with China through negotiation.

Japan has made some positive response. Shinzo Abe stated that the relationship between Japan and China was one of the most important bilateral ties for Japan, and China is an indispensable partner of Japan’s economic growth. The new Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera also claimed that the deadlock in bilateral relations would do nothing good to the economy and people of both countries. Improving the bilateral relationship would be his top priority.

Unfortunately, up to now, Japan has failed to break the deadlock. What is worse, the developments of the country’s domestic and foreign policies will probably produce more negative influence over the bilateral relationship in the future. 

China Is Concerned about Japan’s Turning More Conservative

Japan has never fully understood or dealt with its history of militarist aggression. On the contrary, the country has been trying to get rid of the post-war arrangements. It is widely believed that the new government led by the LDP will be more conservative in its policies.

Japan will continue to take actions to invalidate the pacifist Constitution, which is obviously an important part of the post-war arrangements. Currently, the forces that support amending the Constitution overweigh those who defend the Constitution. Fresh calls for constitutional amendment from various political parties have got louder. Specifically, LDP compiled new proposals in April 2012. The proposed amendments included renaming the Self-Defense Forces the national defense forces. To amend the Constitution is also an unfinished task for Shinzo Abe. In 2007, when he served as Prime Minister for the first time, the national referendum law was enacted. The law established the procedures for amending the Constitution. Recently, Abe reaffirmed that revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution was his long-cherished goal.

At the same time, Japan will further its military buildup and will probably go beyond the exclusively defense-oriented strategy. Due to the restriction by the pacifist Constitution, the Self-Defense Forces are not allowed to possess intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers. However, Japan has been trying to bypass the Constitution to upgrade its military capability. For instance, Japan has invested a lot in the Maritime Self-Defense Force. Its destroyers and frigates are able to provide capability in antiaircraft and antimissile warfare. In January 2012, the keel-laying ceremony for the first 22DDH helicopter carrier was held. The vessel is viewed as another breakthrough of Japan’s maritime capability. 

In addition, Shinzo Abe wants to recast Japan’s wartime history in less apologetic tones. In October, he visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. Although he claimed recently that he would not join the ritual activity in spring 2013, there is still possibility that he will visit the Shrine in his term.

All signs indicate that Japan is trying to escape the post-war regime. Therefore, the regional countries, including China, are concerned that Japan will not follow the path of peaceful development.

China is Worried about the Developments in Japan’s Foreign Affairs

Japan’s defense strategy will pay more attention on China. The country’s 2012 edition of the Defence White Paper released by the government on July 31, 2012 involved more critics on China, which aroused China’s strong opposition. The White Paper emphasized Japan’s concern about China’s defense development and military activity. It is prominent that the White Paper for the first time touched upon China’s internal affairs. It pointed to crisis management-related problems deriving from the possibility that the relationship between the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army had become “more complicated” and that the PLA had become more assertive in expressing its views on issues related to state sovereignty and maritime interest. At the same time, Japan tried to gain international support for its concern. The White Paper revealed the country’s intention of containing China with collective actions.

Japan has strengthened its relationship with the US and will continue to seek support from the US to gain an advantageous position in related territorial disputes. Japan is aware that the US refuses to take sides in the DiaoyuIslands issue. The US has claimed that it will support neither Japan nor China in the territorial disputes. However, Japan has managed to make the US confirm that the DiaoyuIslands fall within the scope of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Recently, the US congress approved the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, which contained sections relating to the DiaoyuIslands. China has voiced firm opposition on the related acts. In the future, Japan will continue to seek binding support from the US on the related issues.

Consequently, the developments and trends in Japan’s domestic and foreign policies revealed little sincerity to improve the relationship with China. The situation that China and Japan share warm economic ties but suffer from freezing political relationship will probably last for some time. The economic cooperation is very likely to be harmed by the deadlock, which will cast more shadow on the future of the bilateral relationship.

Su Xiaohui, Research Fellow, Department of International Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies



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