Xi Jinping’s Policy Towards Japan: Continuity And Development In The East China Sea – Analysis

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China’s President Xi Jinping, at the “China and Japan, Eyes on a Compromise,” September 2014 address about Senkaku Island, said, “Chinese people have hearts that are bigger than the oceans or the sky but we definitely cannot tolerate sand in our eyes” (Kumahira. T, 2015).

On the other hand, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan released a note about “Senkaku Islands,” in April 2014, “There exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Island”(Baldacchino G. , 2017).

Chinese Claim on the Senkaku Islands in ECS

The Chinese claim is based on the assumption that China has discovered and controlled them since the fourteenth century during the Ming dynasty (Manica, 2016).  China puts forward several historical sources in favor of its claim of sovereignty over the island chain. First and foremost, it lists various documents, among them nautical charts and governmental reports from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The oldest nautical charts from China that show the Senkaku Islands date back to around 1300 A.D., and the island group is depicted in many of such charts between 1300 and 1870 (Hui, 2010).

According to Hwang, there even used to be a Japanese atlas published in 1785 containing a map showing China, Japan and the Senkaku Islands and depicting the island chain and the Chinese mainland in the same colour. Due to governmental reports from the Ming period, it had also frequently been used as location for a short stop of Chinese delegations on their route from the mainland to the Ryukyu kingdom being China’s tributary at that time (SCHULTZ, 2013). For that reason, the Ming and Qing government have not only been familiar with the existence and location of the islands; they have also been used by Chinese sailors as a point of orientation during both periods. Additionally, it was very likely that the islands had been used strategically by the Chinese to defend their coast against Japanese pirates they referred to as wokou  (Scoville, 2015).

Apart from governmental reports and sea charts, China presents an imperial decree from 1883 in support of its claims. This document states that the Senkaku Islands were given to a private person as a gift by the Empress Cixi (1835–1908) that year. Apparently, this man had been a doctor, and the islands were presented to him in return for an effective medicine. According to that decree, the islands would have been inherited by the man’s son after his death, and later by his granddaughter in 1947. She is said to live in the United States, but has not voiced any claims on the islands (Nield, 2015).

Cairo Declaration (1943)

The Chinese government has also pulled out the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration as evidence, stating that by Japan agreeing to sign these documents, they agreed “to restore to the Republic of China all the territories Japan has stolen from the Qing Dynasty of China such as Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores (Manica, 2016). However, there are some cases where the authenticity of historical documents put forward by China remains questionable, especially in case of the imperial decree implying the endowment of the island group to the doctor. Apart from that, many of the existing historical sources like nautical charts and governmental reports can be assumed to be authentic and suggest that China was familiar with the islands’ existence before Japan. Nevertheless, according to international law, the knowledge of a territory is not legally sufficient to claim the ownership of it(SCHULTZ, 2013).

China, as a rising power, might perceive that a shift in the balance of power in its favor allows it to become more territorially assertive in exercising effective control (Midford, 2015).  The growing tension between nations across the East China Sea is currently creating a political and security flashpoint in Asia, provoking numerous military incidents as well as surges of public anger. Furthermore, the US military presence in Asia and its rivalry with China add another layer of complexity, symbolizing the sensitive relationship between the two powers competing over the hegemony. The disputed islands represent a new powder keg in Asia. The alleged borders overlap near the disputed islands, creating an area where the Chinese and Japanese authorities can operate to secure their borders. In fact, as a result of the PRC and Japan’s diplomatic failure in negotiating a conflict resolution framework, the disputed waters became a friction point of the two states’ naval powers. 

“In September 2012, China began using improperly drawn straight baseline claims around the Senkaku Islands, adding to its network of maritime claims inconsistent with international law”(Cordesman, 2013).

“In December 2012, China submitted information to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding China’s extended continental shelf in the East China Sea that includes the disputed islands (Dolven B. M., 2015).”

Since China’s rapid economic and military rise, the ECS has become a site of heated disputes between a rising China and an established Japan. (Goldstein A. M., 2012). Recent displays of military power from both sides only increased tensions further. From both countries flying fighters over the disputed areas to the deployment of long-range missiles, tensions continue to escalate (Jackson, 2013).  (Valencia, 2007). Xi Jinping expressed that China-Japan relation and willingness to promote the long term stable development and political conflicts and security   China and Japan inevitably damage bilateral economic relations (Ikeda, Getting Senkaku History Right, 2013).  On October 14 2011, Assistant Minister Yu Jianhua said that China would like to continue to join hands with Japan business community to further boost the mutually beneficial cooperation in all fields between the two countries (Odgaard O. J., 2014).  A currency agreement for Japan and China is likely to diminish the dominance of the dollar in global trade, made on 25 December 2011 according to this China and Japan have agreed to start direct trading of their currencies. (Schiavenza, 2013).

In 2013, Japanese prime minster expressed that to improve China-Japan relations, the bilateral relations did not recover from the chasm created by the nationalization of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands  (Shiavenza, 2013). On 5, January 2018 Japanese prime Minter said that his strong will to improve relations and cooperation with China. As 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China and Japan signing their Peace and Friendship Treaty (Jash A., 2018). On the other hand, China’s growing economic strength and its rapidly expanding maritime power, Chinese policy-makers and analysts generally believe that China can afford to, and should maintain, a firm stance in the territorial disputes against Japan’s perceived encroachment of China’s maritime interests and sovereignty (Zhang J. , 2017).

Deng Xiaoping famously Chinese leader suggested shelving the dispute for the moment and leaving it for the future generations to resolve. “Our two sides agreed not to touch upon this (Dioayu/Senkaku islands) question when diplomatic relations were normalized between China and Japan. It does not matter if this question is shelved for some time, say, ten years. Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will find a solution acceptable to all” (VISKUPIC, 2013)

China’s recent behaviors in maritime disputes with its neighbors are puzzling for two reasons. Until early twenty-first century, China preferred to delay the maritime disputes and maintain the status quo. China has repeatedly dispatched their Coast Guard ships with fighter airplanes close to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and conducted extensive territory reclamation projects in the SCS. Comparably, level of tension in Yellow Sea between China and South Korea over the jurisdiction of Ieodo/Suyan Rock (also known as Socotra Rock) and the maritime delimitation issues is kept low as China behaves more cooperatively.

Also, while tensions were escalating in ECS and the SCS, Seoul and Beijing agreed to start negotiations on maritime boundaries in the Yellow Sea at the bilateral summit in July 2014 (Park, 2015). In November 2015, the two leaders agreed to resume the Japan-China High-Level Economic Dialogue. Both leaders had strongly hoped that the two countries will take this opportunity to promote economic and industrial cooperation. In 2013, Deputy Chief of Staff, Qi Jianguo said about strategic cooperation over maritime struggles, maritime safety, and protecting rights and stability as a result of national core interests and overall development currently our national security threats have mostly come from the sea. China has established “Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank” (AIIB) and One Belt One Road (OBOR) to lead the world. On the other hand China is giving tough time to Japan over ECS issues.

The meeting took place on Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on 4 September 2016 in Hangzhou, China, after a two-day summit of the Group of 20 major economies ended and at a time of renewed tensions over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Xi said that “long-term, healthy and stable” bilateral relations would benefit not only the people of the two countries but also regional peace. Abe said Japan wants to work with China to contribute to global economic growth and forge “friendly” ties by “managing difficult issues” and “promoting win-win cooperation. (Kyodos, 2016)”

On the occasion of the Third Japan-China High-Level Economic Dialogue in Beijing 2010 both sides welcomed the fact that this dialogue strengthened the economic dimensions of their “Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests.” The two sides confirmed to continue advancing efforts to further enhance and materialize the mutually beneficial relationship. Furthermore, the two sides agreed to fulfill important responsibilities in the region and the international community.

The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as part of China’s Security Interests

It is important to remember that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is merely part of a larger set of Chinese interests. This disputed island contributes to larger Chinese interests, such as external and internal security, the dispute does not hold a monopoly on influencing these interests. Overestimating the importance of the disputed islands is just as erroneous as underestimating them. 

At the moment, no direct threat to China’s territorial integrity has materialized. In other words, China does not faces any threat of attack from any external power that could devastate the coastal provinces. When discussing the islands importance for defence, it is in the context of realist security seeking behaviour. Controlling the islands is important to counter potential future threats, rather than to defend against an existing one. This security seeking behaviour is born out of realism’s argument that, if survival is at stake, it is prudent to be risk averse when it comes to managing external threats. However, overly emphasizing such behaviour, while neglecting more immediate issues is a recipe for disaster. 

Contemporary China faces a host of internal issues that threatens the internal cohesion of the country, and that are especially a source of worry for the Communist Party. China’s quest for economic development imposes significant social and environmental costs. The environmental degradation of the country is a well-publicized issue. Air and water pollution are significant issues and are increasingly threatening the very habitability of certain areas (Xu, 2014). Xi’s speeches, in recent years the concept of ‘national interests’ in China has also expanded from security (domestic and external) interests to include ‘development interests’. Thus any issues that might seriously influence China’s economic development, such as supply of resources or maritime security, could be perceived as a core national interest, demanding a forceful response. China’s growing overseas economic presence also adds new elements to China’s evolving national interests (Zhang J. , 2015).

China may hope that this dispute will weaken the U.S.-Japan alliance because Washington has undoubtedly made clear that it wants to avoid getting into a direct shooting war with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over uninhabited islets that have no indigenous population, no geostrategic value, and no intrinsic value in and of themselves. But, by using the same formulation that has worked well regarding the cross-Strait situation between China and Taiwan, i.e., “no unilateral changes to the status quo,” Washington hopes that the implied threat of U.S. military involvement will stabilize the situation(McDevitt, 2014).

The rapid economic development of China led to the disenfranchisement of its rural population. This can lead to significant unrest in rural areas. But the rural areas are not the only ones prone to upheaval. Protests by factory workers are increasingly common. Even veteran personnel of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has taken to the streets. And when not dealing with dissatisfaction due to socioeconomic conditions, Beijing is forced to deal with the restive ethnic minority provinces of Tibet and Xingjian. The latter ethnic conflicts represent a significant threat to the perceived territorial sanctity of the PRC, while the former socioeconomic dissatisfaction undermines Chinese Communist Party (CCP) legitimacy.

These are all significant internal security threats. More importantly, these threats have already materialized and pose a concrete hazard for the CCP, while external threats remain merely a potential. Prioritizing the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute at the expense of these issues would be clearly irrational. China needs to solve its issues at home before it can confidently project power abroad. However, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute also represents potential for the CCP to mitigate these issues: Seeking a victory by gaining control over the islands would bolster the nationalist credentials of the CCP and would potentially distract from internal issues to deflect some criticism. Beijing might seek a showdown over the islands as a ‘diversionary war’ to channel internal frustration against a foreign enemy.

However, seeking control over the disputed islands is definitely not an immediate necessity. This contributes to this research’s conclusion that at the moment delaying is the rational course of action. Would China face a strong and concrete external threat, immediate action would be required to bolster China’s security and delaying would not be possible. That said, China cannot neglect at least planning on how to improve its security. It real and continue to be an obstacle to China achieving great power status, according to realist definitions. No state can remain insecure forever, and eventually China will have to act to secure its maritime boundary and economically vital coastal provinces.

In 2016 China military power report content includes Beijing continuing to use maritime law enforcement ships and aircraft patrolling near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands during 2015 to challenge China’s territorial claims; a willingness to tolerate higher levels of tension to pursue its claims while avoiding direct and explicit confrontation with the United States; and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese President Shinzo Abe announcing a four-point bilateral agreement in November 2014 to improve bilateral relations(Chapman, The East China Sea in DOD China Military Power Reports., 2017, p. 77).

China’s behavior in Maritime disputes

There is an extensive literature on China’s behavior in maritime dispute today. However, these existing explanations are often truncated. The most prominent view is the “China threat” school which attributes Beijing’s assertiveness in maritime disputes to the country’s growing economic and military strength and the resulting changes in policy preferences (Park, 2015). This explanation accounts for Beijing’s tension-escalatory behavior in the ECS and the SCS, because China’s recent assertiveness in this dispute correlates with its economic growth and military modernization. Those who believe in the idea of a “defensive strategic culture” in China argue that the recent confrontational behaviors are defensive reactions to Japan and Southeast Asian countries’ attempts to change the status quo in their favor(Scobell, 2012).

However, strategic culture argument does not explain why we did not observe similar reactions from China in the earlier periods when other maritime claimants made efforts to change the status in their favor. The researcher found that in literature some researchers attribute China’s recent proactive and discrepant behavior in maritime disputes to expanding bureaucratic agencies’ interests and the absence of policy coordination in the Chinese governmental system (Mastro, 2012), and to Chinese leaders’ hypersensitivity to popular nationalism (Scobell A. &., 2013). However, these explanations only address China’s tension-escalatory behavior, not cooperative behavior. In other words, the increasing amount of the literature on China’s behavior in maritime disputes help us understand some part of Beijing’s strategic thinking, but not all. Although, China’s alarming behaviors draw more attention than its cooperative behaviors, analyzing the sources of cooperation holds no less importance, to have a systematic understanding of Beijing’s strategic thinking. 

China and Japan have unresolved issues of overlapping EEZ claims and illegal fishing in the ECS, the dispute over the status of Okinotorishima, and the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Currently, Japan keep administrative control of the islands and the islands are situated closely to key international shipping routes. Japan has the formal treaty-based alliances of the US, which is the strongest alignment signal(Shigeyoshi, 2010).

These two countries are the key allies of the US in Asia. However, the US allies still send alignment signals to China through their decisions in alliance commitment to the US and decisions to cooperate with China in the political and economic realm. These alignment signals sent by the key allies are stronger than the signals sent by non-allies, because the cost of distancing from the US or aligning with China is higher for them. Hence, even the small changes in their alignment behavior should be given more weight (Lim, 2015).

On the other hand, given rising tensions with the US and continuously growing Chinese power, the Chinese government felt the need to maintain the stability in its maritime periphery for its continuous rise during the period of strategic opportunity extending to 2020. This belief was based on the observation that only the power that constructed a strategic peripheral belt to support its rise grew to be a successful great power. In this context, the Chinese government announced two new goals: becoming a “strong maritime power” and reviving “peripheral diplomacy.” Under these new goals, the importance placed by the Chinese government on the maritime border has increased.

Also, amid growing tension between China and Japan dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2010, then State Secretary Ms. Hillary Clinton declared that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are part of the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. The statement made by Clinton and the Japanese government’s acknowledgment of the statement signaled the resoluteness of the Japan-US alliance to China. Also, the Noda Yoshihiko administration’s (September 2011-December 2012) emphasis on the restoration of bilateral relations with the US and decision to purchase the disputed islands further aggravated the relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

 China’s Declaration of ECS ADIZ

On November 23, 2013, China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) declared the creation of an ECS Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) as shown in figure-3  (Keck, 2013). 

According to a report, six aircraft identification rules included measures China would consider an encroachment of its airspace, including rule number three which stated, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions” (Natzke, 2014). China’s unilateral move was a direct challenge to the Japanese and to the US. While no economic impact was evidenced, the move resulted in widespread criticism of China by both Japan and the US and steps taken to bolster military ties and structuring of defense posture. Significant to the dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku/DiaoyuIslands is the fact that the military on both sides is deeply involved. China or Japan could take provocative action thinking wrongfully that they can control the situation. A large risk is an accidental collision of ships. After China’s creation of an ECS ADIZ, the conflict has escalated to include the possibility of a mid-air collision

This escalation did not negatively affect the trade numbers between China and Japan. In the first half of 2014, China and Japan trade increased from the previous year by 4.4%, to US $168.4 billion (Zhao Y. , 2016).  But the situation did affect the relationship between China and Japan and China and the US. Both the US and Japan sharply criticized the Chinese and Japan continued its military buildup. Combined with other actions taken by the Chinese in the ECS (such as dispatching many maritime units to the waters) near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and China’s budgetary increase of 12.2% in military spending in 2014, Japan was prompted to shift its defense priorities from North Korea to China and increase the buildup of its military (Miller, 2014).

As evident by this incident, the situation around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is like a thermometer, only it does not measure the temperature around the Islands, it measures the temperature in Beijing. When Beijing is embarked on a domestic policy of economic growth and calmness, it can be expected that the temperature around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands will remain calm. When Beijing is embarked on an expansionist program, the situation will get worse. There will be collisions of fishing boats, no-fly zones declared, and naval maneuvers conducted.

Chinese internal Stability, Nationalism and Senkaku/Diaoyu

Callahan argues that under the current political culture “national pride and national humiliation still work together as a guiding historical template that frames political crises in the present and the future” thus “the PRC’s national security is closely tied to its nationalist insecurities, domestic politics and foreign policy overlap, soft and hard power produce each other, and elite and mass are intertwined”. 

In China’s view Japan’s failure to compromise on the question of territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is therefore viewed largely as a lack of remorse for its violent past”. Thus, would China achieve control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the victory would be made all the more significant as it was achieved over the PRC’s main regional rival and a key antagonist in Chinese interpretation of history. Deterrence is a key aspect to evaluating China’s naval buildup. China is engaging to build and strengthen its naval force in order to reinforce to the world that China has power if it chooses to use it (Dimond, 2014).

China has already been the largest trade partner of most East Asian countries, and its economic presence is incomparably influential in Asian economy. Meanwhile, China’s rise as military superpower has bolstered tensions in region. Continuous, robust efforts to modernize its naval and air military forces and nuclear and missile forces and now the PLA’s growing anti-access/area denial (A2/ AD) capabilities are serious concerns for Japan and the United States. With this growing military power, China has begun to assert its claims in regional issues such as the ECS. China’s political presence in this region has also greatly increased. Many regional problems cannot be solved without Chinese cooperation – North Korea’s nuclear and missile development is one of the best examples of this need. Maritime security in South and East China Seas are other examples. China can be part of the problem in these problems, but it also can be a solution. Competitive and cooperative approaches must be combined in any strategy towards China. 

Both China and Japan are the key allies of the US in Asia. However, the US allies still send alignment signals to China through their decisions in alliance commitment to the US and decisions to cooperate with China in the political and economic realm.  (Lim, 2015). In this regard, balancing would take steps so that China’s rising influence will not obstruct regional or global cooperation. This implies more “soft” balancing rather than “hard” balancing. To that end, partnerships with many countries are to be strengthened. Security cooperation with Australia, South Korea, and India will be a very important part of this balancing. Promotion of functional and ad-hoc regional cooperation and rule making and norm formation through such cooperation will also be important tools.  Balancing China in the ECS, there is a long-term territorial disputes concerning about the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island between Japan and China which has been problem undermining the bilateral relations over past 30 years.

Similarly, with enormous strategic advantages, the disputes is also involved by multiple extraterritorial plays including the U.S. as Obama administration once declared that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty could be adopted into the Diaoyu Island and subsequently confirmed by Trump administration. Under this circumstance, then-Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko had been worried that if China found a reasonable way to resolve the SCS disputes in its favor, it would copy that into the ECS to deal with the Diaoyu Island issue. (Milford, 2015) After Abe took office, he realized that engage more proactively into the SCS disputes would not only benefit Japan’s own economic and security interests but also a way of making the SCS a bargaining chip in geopolitical wrestle with China in the ECS as it may contain China’s strategy then relief Japan pressure in the ECS.

In addition, since other claimants in the SCS, for example Philippines and Vietnam, are in need of U.S. and its ally’s appropriate presence in this region to provide guarantees towards freedom of decision-making process, Japan’s engagement will also promote the coordination in various spectrum with them and improve bilateral relationships in between, and ultimately get understandings and supports in return for its claims in the ECS. That is one of the reasons why Abe administration has been so eager to raise the discussion over SCS together with the ECS issues in quite a lot of occasions and appealing for widely resistance of Chinese unilateral actions on changing the status quo in maritime area.

Xi Jinping’s policy towards Japan: continuity and development 

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic relations. However, conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has driven China-Japan relations to their lowest point. On September 11, 2012, Japan’s Noda Cabinet decided to nationalize the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

To protest this, China normalized its Coast Guard’s cruises in the waters of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Abe Shinzo’s rise to office on December 26, 2012, and aggravated by the disputes over historical issues, China-Japan relations deteriorated from territorial and historical disputes to disputes over national interests and security. With the Xi administration’s refusal to resume high-level political contact with the Abe administration and the continued decrease in economic exchange, China-Japan relations show clear signs of a “political and economic freeze.”

In the first half of 2014, Japanese investments in China dropped 47%, and bilateral trade is close to nonexistent. Even though the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 saw the successful turnover of leaders in both China and Japan, which provided an opportunity to improve China-Japan relations, the bilateral relations did not recover from the chasm created by the nationalization of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s historical view point further complicated China-Japan relations.

Facing the deterioration of China-Japan relations, the new Chinese premier, Xi Jinping’s policy towards Japan became the focus of attention. At the beginning of his term, Xi Jinping set a tough stance on issues of territory and sovereignty, emphasizing a foreign policy of “adhering to principles, official and public interactions, and complete comeback” towards Japan. Tensions remained over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands for both sides.

In response to Abe’s tough stance towards China, the Xi administration began a “media and diplomatic war” towards Japan over historical issues. A total of forty-five Chinese ambassadors published fifty critical papers regarding Abe’s historical viewpoint. On December 26, 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which incited Chinese government’s strong protest. Immediately after, high-level Chinese diplomatic envoys voiced disapproval through press conferences, mainstream media, and interviews in their host countries. The most famous of theseis the debate in early 2014 on BBC between Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, and Japanese ambassador to Britain.

During the debate, Liu Xiaoming refuted Japan’s false claims regarding the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and severely criticized Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. In the six months following Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, a total of thirty-two Chinese ambassadors published critiques of Abe. In order to critique Japan’s erroneous statements over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and historical issues, the Chinese government publicized various historical archives and data. At the beginning of 2014, Jilin Province Archives publicized a large number of archives relating to Japan’s invasion of China, including archives of Kanto Gendarmerie’s command, Manchukuo Central Bank, and Manchukuo architectural drawings.

In July 2014, the Central Archives publicized “Japanese War Criminals’ Confessions of the Invasion of China” online in order to use war criminals’ written confessions to restore history. China’s retaliation adhered to Chinese diplomatic reasons and interests in building a foundation for the China-Japan debate over historical issues. Japan’s invasion of China brought great pain and suffering to the Chinese people. There were survivors who wanted to request post-war compensation from the Japanese government through legal means, but the Japanese government used the excuse that the Chinese government already gave up compensation during the establishment of diplomatic relations to deny civil litigation. The Chinese government had not actively pursued this out of consideration for China-Japan relations. 

Adhering to core interests

In regards to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the Xi the administration has a firm position: continue “regular cruises” to break Japan’s traditional control over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and foster a situation of China-Japan joint management of the waters of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. During the Third Collective Learning of the Politburo at the beginning of 2013, Xi Jinping stated, “no foreign country can expect us to trade our core interests or swallow the bitter fruits that would injure the interests of our sovereignty, safety, and development.”

Following this, at a forum for the purpose of improving maritime struggles and security cooperation, Deputy Chief of Staff, Qi Jianguo said, “the military and state have recently participated in effective strategic cooperation over maritime struggles, maritime safety, and protecting rights and stability as a result of national core interests and overall development  currently our national security threats have mostly come from the sea, the key of our development is also on the sea, maritime struggles impact national sovereignty and safety, as well as national construction and development.”

The Xi administration has made great efforts to protect national core interests. In the waters of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Chinese official cruises have been normalized and the use of UAV(Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) reconnaissance has been deployed; this series of actions has strengthened China’s control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. On November 23, 2013, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced the delineation of an ECS ADIZ. China’s delineation of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea not only secures airspace safety, it also prevents Japan’s use of an air defense identification zone to place strategic pressure on China.

Since the U.S. transferred the jurisdiction of Japanese air defense identification zone to Japan in 1969, Japan has thrice unilaterally expanded the boundaries of the identification zone: once in 1972, again in 2010, and finally in 2013. Japan’s air defense identification zone not only includes the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, but also the ECS oil and gas fields. In the Northwest, Japan’s delineation of the air defense identification zone is only 50 kilometers off of the Russian coastline. After China’s delineation of an ADIZ in 2013, Japan is considering expanding its identification zone to the Ogasawara Islands. Therefore, China’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone not only breaks the “air defense identification zone blockade” created by Japan against China, it also protects China’s core interests. However, the delineation of the ECS ADIZ further exacerbated China-Japan relations. So far, the Abe administration has refused to acknowledge China’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.

Maintaining trade relations, expanding environmental and technological exchange 

The Japanese government’s “Island Purchase Incident” in 2012 has had a significant impact on China-Japan economic cooperation; the movement to “boycott Japanese products” has had an especially significant impact on the sale of Japanese products in China. In addition, investment and China-Japan trade have also been affected. According to Japanese JETRO’s (Japan External Trade Organization) estimate, Japanese investment in China dropped by $9.09 billion in 2013, a 33% decrease YoY. This sum reflects 6.8% of Japan’s $134.51 billion total foreign investments and is the first drop below $10 billion in 10 years. Thetrend has continued in 2014. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, in the first half of 2014, Japanese investment in China dropped 48.8% YoY. The worsening of China-Japan trade relations has had as significant impact on China-Japan political and security relations.

As a result of the “Island Purchase Incident,” exchange between Chinese and Japanese officials above the ministry level have almost reached a standstill; the only remaining exchange is the “Trilateral Meeting of Ministries of the Environment.” However, Xi Jinping has historically showed personal enthusiasm for maintaining economic cooperation with Japan. In 2009, as vice president, Xi Jinping attended the breakfast meeting of the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations in Tokyo and gave a speech titled “Promoting China-Japanese War and the Global Anti-Fascist War”, Xi Jinping emphasized the significance of maintaining long-term friendly China-Japan relations and a willingness to promote the long-term stable development of China-Japan relations on the basis of the Four Political Documents between China and Japan. However, political conflicts and security tensions between China and Japan inevitably damage bilateral economic relations. Japan Economic Cooperation to a New Level.”

Xi proposed four points for promoting economic cooperation between the two nations: (1) facilitate the recovery of trade development; (2) promote cooperation of sustainable development; (3) further high-tech cooperation; (4) actively promote cooperation among China, Japan, and Korea.13 The fifteenth “Trilateral Ministerial Meeting” was held in Kitakyushu, Japan in May 2013. The sixteenth “Trilateral Meeting of Ministries of the Environment” was held in Korean in April 2014. The meeting approved cooperation priorities for the next five years: nine items including improving air quality, protecting biodiversity, managing trans-boundary movements of electric waste, responding to climate change, and protecting rural environments. The “16th Joint Publication of Trilateral Ministries of the Environment” was also ratified at the meeting. At the same time, in the “Speech at the 69th Anniversary Celebration Forum Commemorating the Victory of Chinese People’s Anti-

China’s policy towards Japan during Hu Jintao’s administration had three aspects: (1) establish mutual political trust, promote the building of a strategic relationship that’s mutually beneficial; (2) increase economic cooperation, spur economic growth in China and Japan; (3) attempt to create a mechanism to resolve disputes over territory sovereignty. 

China actively pushed to further and expand China-Japan economic cooperation. (1) Create a mechanism for economic dialogue between China-Japan top officials. On December 1, 2007, China and Japan held the “First China-Japan High- Level Economic Dialogue” its main purpose was to: (a) exchange both countries’ economic development strategies and macroeconomic policies, deepen mutual understandings; (b) coordinate interdepartmental economic cooperation, discuss major issues concerning both parties under cooperation; (c) strengthen policy communications regarding major regional and international economic problems, widen area of cooperation between the two countries.15 (2) Strengthen economic cooperation regarding environmental protection, energy, agriculture, and information technology. (3) Promote China-Japan economic cooperation regarding regional and international affairs.

China and Japan actively attempted to create a mechanism to resolve disputes over territory sovereignty. Towards the beginning of Hu Jintao’s presidency, China and Japan actively attempted to establish a cooperative mechanism to resolve the pending East China Sea issues. During Wen Jiabao’s visits to Japan in 2007, regarding the issue of East China Sea resource development, China and Japan reached are solution based on joint development. In June 2008, China and Japan agreed to set a joint development area in the East China Sea region.

Even though the joint development plan received strong domestic opposition in China and Japan, China and Japan’s attitude of resolving disputes through a cooperative mechanism should be recognized. Looking back on the development of China-Japan relations under the Hu administration, the Xi administration needs to work in the following three areas. First, mutual political trust is key; summit meeting is the core. Under President Hu, the heads of China and Japan met often, creating another “honeymoon period” for post-war China-Japan relations. Summit meetings not only deepen mutual trust, they also foster the development of mutual trust in various levels and areas.

Finally, bilateral public opposition and dissatisfaction will likely be the least stable factor affecting China-Japan relations. According to the newest research reports, “the relationship between the two countries can be said to have reached its lowest point in ten years; national sentiments of the two countries are still relatively distant. Chinese response of having a “bad impression” or a “relatively bad impression” of Japan is as high as 86.8%. Japanese impression of China continues to deteriorate, the public response of “bad” and “relatively bad” impressions are as high as 93.0%, a 2.9% increase for last year’s research results.” Friendship between the peoples of both countries is the foundation and motivation for the development of long-term China-Japan relations; the deterioration of political relations should not prevent the public from developing friendly relations.

Furthermore, issues such as food security and air pollution could present new challenges in the China-Japan relations. In Japan, compared to the ownership of the Diaoyu/ Senkaku Islands, the safety of food from China and the issue of air pollution will more likely demand the attention of the Japanese people. Therefore, in addition to managing high-level politics, how to pay attention to low-level politics that are closely related to public interests, such as environmental protection and food safety, will be an important topic in China’s future policies towards Japan.

In addition to the issues stated above, besides China and Japan’s specific territory sovereignty disputes, issue of historical understanding, and issue of military security, conflict over national security strategies is the main point of contention between the two countries. Abe’s slogan after rising to power is “recapture a powerful Japan”; this is similar to Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream of realizing the revival of a great Chinese nation.” Both leaders have placed the countries’ futures in the “glorious histories” of former times, awakening the people’s patriotism using historical memories, for the purpose of promoting the implementation of national strategies. Under this background, how to coordinate long-term national interests with practical interests is an important question for the Xi administration to consider in its policy towards Japan (Bae, 2014).

About the authors:

  • Nabel Akram: Master of philosophy in Political Science and Former Research Assistant at University of Management and Technology Lahore. Research Interests Include Asia Pacific, China’s Foreign Policy. Can be reached Via email [email protected] 
  • Komal Tariq: Master in International Relations and Senior Teacher of Social Studies in Educators.