Revealed: Japan’s new China strategy has ancient roots

(From the National Interest)

By Stephen Nagy

The latest GENRON poll confirms that Sino-Japanese relations are souring. This trend began as early as 2005 according to the GENRON data but an argument could be made that from a historical point of view, Sino-Japanese relations have been cautious if not guarded, with Japan being consistent in a buffering approach when it comes to Sino-Japanese relations.

As far as the Japanese are concerned, contemporary explanations for these sentiments are rooted in the perception that China continues to exploit historical tragedies for political purposes. Despite obliging and conciliatory post World War II behavior, ODA and other assistance, China continues to criticize Japan for being unrepentant and unapologetic for its imperial past. It also has sincere concerns over China’s military expansion and intentions in the East and South China Seas.

A 1524 painting held in the Shinshōgokuraku-ji, a Buddhist Tendai temple in Kyoto, depicts the prosperous maritime trade between China and Japan.

A 1524 painting held in the Shinshōgokuraku-ji, a Buddhist Tendai temple in Kyoto, depicts the prosperous maritime trade between China and Japan.

Prime Minister Abe is keenly aware of the challenge China’s re-emergence as the largest economic, political and security force in the region is for Japan’s political, economic and security. They also have understood that Japanese geographic position, economic links in the region, history and rivalry with China dictate that Japan cannot isolate itself from China or the region and it cannot escape the propensities facing the region.

Reading these propensities, Prime Minister Abe and his foreign policy team have chosen a foreign policy approach that these maximizes opportunities based on this propensities. This essay argues that rather than openly competing with China economically, politically or militarily, Japan’s approach is a return to Japan’s historical approach of buffering and nullifying (防范/Fángfàn/ 予防) China to enjoy the benefits of trade relations but avoid a relationship that is too close in which China could dominate Japan in the economic, political or security spheres. The term balancing and hedging are intentionally not used in the context of this essay as they convey the sense that Japan is “conducting business as usual” with China instead of what I argue is a reorientation of relations at several levels to maintain autonomy and embed its presence and influence in the region and globally through shared norms, economic statecraft and the bolstering of multilateral security networks. Read more



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