China and Japan begin to thaw once cold relations

By Eliot Decker

This week, the current leaders of the second and third largest economies in the world met face to face for the first time ever. Due to the conflict over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China), China and Japan severed all political ties in 2012. The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have only been 25 minutes long, but it marks the end of this long period of diplomatic silence between the two nations.

Although no real progress has been made, a move towards a more cooperative China and Japan would greatly alter the political and economic climate for Asia and the globe. Because of these dire implications, it is important for the world to understand the conflict between the two countries and how their relationship will shape the future.

The origins of the Sino-Japanese tensions are very complex. However, most contemporary distrust stems from the actions of the Japanese Empire in the early 20th century. All of East Asia was affected by the Empire, but China bore the brunt of the suffering. Since the end of the Chinese Civil War, the Communist leadership has used anti-Japanese sentiments to inspire nationalism among its people. Though it has now been 69 years since the collapse of Imperial Japan, its effects are still well ingrained into the minds of all those affected.

After WWII, Japan completely reinvented itself as a peaceful power. Not only did the country undergo an image-change, but rapid economic reforms took place as well. Japan would later become the world’s second largest economy, confirming what many researchers called “The Japanese Miracle.” Its passive approach to success created a sense of pride among Japanese people, in that they had moved beyond the darker imperial days. But because this clashed with the Chinese and Korean view on Japan, political tensions remained.

Though neither country has directly taken action to harm the interests of the other, the conflict between Japan and China has been palpable in recent years. Starting in 2010, China surpassed Japan as Asia’s largest economy. While the change wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone, it did serve as a wakeup call to Japanese leadership.

In 2012, the same year Shinzo Abe was elected Prime Minister, the Japanese government purchased the Senkaku Islands from their previous private owner. As China has laid claim to the islands consistently, the two countries cut ties in order to avoid a direct conflict.

Additionally, China has used its new fiscal power to become a strong military investor, further straining the situation. The results of the escalation of tensions are apparent. According to a BBC poll, 73 percent of Japanese view China negatively. 90 percent of China’s population perceive Japan in a negative light.

Because of the intense political nature of the Sino-Japanese disputes, both countries currently seek expansion of their economic relationships. Due to these rocky relations, Japanese investment in China decreased 45 percent in the first half of 2014. Despite the close proximity and potential of Chinese economy, China only made up 5 percent of Japanese global investments in the first two quarters this year. Leaders of both countries recognize that this is a huge missed opportunity for mutual gain. This also is what made the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit an appropriate place to begin the thaw.

Furthermore, the two countries jointly released a four-point plan in which they agreed to set their past differences aside in order to focus on the future. Most important of the commitments was the official restart of diplomatic discussions on disputes between the two nations. Should this trend continue, it will create a safer and more economically sound Asian sphere for the world’s benefit.

Eliot Decker is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]