Sino-Japanese Relations: Old Enmities and New Rivalries

This presentation by Dr. Amy Catalinic and Dr. Amy King proved enlightening in reference to the history of Sino-Japanese relations. New details come to light about the cooperative conduct of economic and diplomatic relations between Beijing and Tokyo in the aftermath of WWII. The common assumption of Sino-Japanese relations is that the imperialist actions of Tokyo over the Chinese mainland, as well as the acquisition of Chinese territory in the 20th century and alliance with the West to circumvent Chinese authority for the extraction of resources, irrevocably damaged China and Japan’s relationship and that the current barbs each are throwing towards one another over territorial disputes is the continuation of this hostile relationship.

International Relations identifies with three levels of analysis: individual-level, state-level, and international-level. Some commentator’s admit that the Sino-Japanese relationship quieted during the Bush administration, but due to the ascendance of Abe as Prime minister, conflict would occur again.  “The Japan of Abe is both confident and adversarial, shaking off long-standing deflation and increasingly confronting China over contested territory.”[1] Therefore the individual-level of IR analysis was driving the relationship. Others have answered that it is global politics driving the relationship; the balance of forces between the two has shifted in China’s favor and this inevitably provokes conflict. The video we watched I believe speaks from the third, the state-level of IR analysis, where IR is driven by politics within countries political system.

The speaker at the Australian National University challenges Sino-Japanese relations on two fronts: on the one front, she states their relations weren’t always fraught with conflict in the post-WWII period, and in fact officials and businessmen deliberated with one another at their highest level in the 60’s and 70’s. An unofficial trade agreement went into effect between the countries in 1962, lending Japanese technological expertise to the Chinese. China, as it did during its first attempt at modernization, went to Japan for technical advice relating to industrialization, and held hundreds of meetings with the Japanese in the 50’s and 60’s. This is completely contrary to how we view their relations today; they should have been at their most hostile in this time period, directly after the end of the war, but instead they were cordial with one another.

What drove these relations into such friendly territory after WWII? The author makes the case that it was the electoral system, a state-level analysis, which drove friendly relations. It was the constraints of the old electoral system up until 1994 that allowed for the realization of mutually beneficial relations. Japanese lawmakers and voters had no incentives before then to vote and run elections based on national policy. The electoral system was instead categorized as a pork-benefit program, where politicians in the LDP would specialize in one form of pork, and run on delivering the money and projects to their district. The politics of pork particulars was then replaced by a more robust inter-party electoral system, and politicians changed by running on national platforms of policy. Foreign Policy was a key national platform to run on, so they focused on the fraught history of Sino-Japanese relations, and in turn no longer accommodated China (which simple meant not paying attention to China’s rise), What’s interesting about this is that it would have been much easier to attack China’s rise in the 50’s and 60’s, but due to electoral constraints the Japanese saw no reason to. Now that they do have an incentive to do so, it may be too late.

[1] Chico Harlan,

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