Return to origins of pledge of friendship / Beijing’s hegemonic behavior unacceptable

Fifty years have passed since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. Although the international situation has changed and friendly feelings waned amid heightened tensions, there is no change in the fact that two countries are important neighbors for each other.

It is necessary to return to the origins of the two countries’ normalization of diplomatic relations, and to make efforts to rebuild peaceful and friendly ties.

On Sept. 29, 1972, then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed a Japan-China joint statement in Beijing.

To mark the 50th anniversary of that turning point, commemorative ceremonies have been organized by private organizations in Tokyo, but no official government-to-government events are scheduled. This can be said to indicate the current chill in relations between the two countries.

2nd, 3rd largest economies

China has experienced remarkable growth over the past half century, surpassing Japan in gross domestic product to become the world’s second largest economy in 2010.

Economic ties between the two nations are strong, and China has been Japan’s largest trading partner for 15 consecutive years. Similarly, Japan is China’s second-largest trading partner after the United States.

If Japan and China, the second and third largest economies in the world, cooperate in helping developing countries build infrastructure, it would lead to prosperity not only for the two countries but also for the region.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative to create a huge economic bloc has been seen as problematic, as it could leave aid recipient countries saddled with debt as a result of excessive loans. Japan should urge China to make sound investments according to the repayment capacity of developing countries.

China’s aggressive maritime expansion has hindered the improvement of Japan-China relations. As Beijing steps up its military capabilities against the background of its economic power, its behavior of applying pressure on surrounding countries in the East China Sea and the South China Sea cannot be tolerated.

The 1972 joint statement noted that “Japan and China are neighboring countries, separated only by a strip of water.” It also stated, “Neither of the two countries should seek hegemony.” But China’s current bids to change the status quo by force are nothing but attempts to achieve hegemony.

Under these circumstances, Japanese sentiment toward China has deteriorated significantly.

According to a Japanese government survey on foreign affairs, 62% of respondents said they felt friendly toward China in 1978, but the figure had dropped to 21% last year. A Yomiuri Shimbun survey this month found that 81% of respondents said they believed China was a security threat to Japan.

The reason is obvious. It is because China has been increasing its provocations against Japan, including repeated intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. On Sept. 28, for instance, three China Coast Guard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters.

Anti-China sentiment inflamed

In August this year, China conducted a large-scale military exercise around Taiwan and fired missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

In October last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida when he took office, saying that developing friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries is in the interests of both countries and their peoples. If this message expresses Xi’s true feelings, it would be reasonable for China to refrain from behaving as if Japan were an enemy.

There are “four political documents” between Japan and China, including the 1972 joint statement, the 1978 Treaty of Peace and Friendship that led Japan to start official development assistance to China, and the 2008 joint statement on comprehensive promotion of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.

It is essential to build stable relationships based on the principles of peace and friendship, and coexistence and shared prosperity that are contained in the agreements expressed by the documents.

In addition to the Senkaku issue, there are many other pending issues between Japan and China, including the development of gas fields in the East China Sea and China’s theft of technology related to Japan’s national security.

China’s avoidance of direct criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its de facto acceptance of the invasion is hardly a responsible attitude for a major power.

Leaving the situation unsolved is not desirable for either Japan or China. It is desirable that the leaders of the two countries hold face-to-face talks as soon as possible. In the past, even when relations have cooled, the two countries have made progress in cooperation such as by confirming a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests through dialogue among their leaders.

In addition to its efforts for dialogue, Japan needs to steadily strengthen its defense capabilities, as long as China continues its military buildup.

Summit also an option

It is quite natural to possess the ability to counterattack in response to armed attacks from other countries. In order to prevent an accidental clash between the Self-Defense Forces and the Chinese military, there is also an urgent need to expedite the implementation of the maritime and aerial communication mechanism between the defense authorities of Japan and China via a hotline.

After the party congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October, Xi is expected to enter his third term, continuing beyond the 10 years of his first two terms. If Xi continues his policy of aiming to build China into a strong nation, the U.S.-China conflict will further intensify.

Amid mounting tensions, concerning how to narrow the distance with China while deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance, Kishida needs to deploy strategic diplomacy.

It is hoped that Japan will make efforts not only to seek possible cooperation with China through multilayered dialogue, but also to establish a system to maintain peace and safety in close cooperation with other Asian nations and European countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 29, 2022)