Reconciliation at the crossroads: Hindering factors Sino-Japanese relations
January-March 2018
By: Lanny Surya Alfiani and Anak Agung Banyu Perwita

With a joint communiqué in 1972, China`s longstanding demand for war reparations from Japan was withdrawn, marking the normalization of diplomatic relations and the start of reconciliation between the two Asian powers. Nevertheless, historical issues and controversies still pop up; indeed, recalling historical memories is inevitable. Antagonism and mistrust still cloud bilateral relations between Beijing and Tokyo despite reconciliation. The anarchical condition of the international system and human nature can explain this contradiction, which is influenced by perceived threats and the balance of power today. In consequence, Japan and China have a security dilemma.

A history of relations

Asia, a region with numerous unresolved disputes, is sprinkled with historical frictions and tensions over power competition between nations. The “Asian Paradox” of growing wealth but lingering territorial disputes and new power rivalries has left countries in the region with a feeling of mistrust. The bilateral relationship between Japan and China is not an oddity; it has never been smooth, with relations between the two nations often described with the phrase “hot economics, cold politics.” Despite their geographic proximity and influence upon each other, Japan and China have experienced frequent turbulence over their 1,000-year history, and things between the two nations remain tense to this day. As Richard C Bush, an American expert on Chinese affairs, wrote: “The shadow of the 21st century past darkens the 21st century future.”

The notion of reconciliation in East Asia itself is raised due to past conflicts, the actions of colonialism and war crimes before the end of World War II, leaving painful memories in the hearts of many. War crimes by Imperial Japan are a major obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations. In examining the dynamics of the Japan-China relationship, it is necessary to look through the lens of history, as both countries view their security and policy through their own lens of historical experience. In the first and second Sino-Japanese wars, bilateral relations were dominated by conflict and hatred, and the events and tragedies of these periods were what caused the notion of reconciliation in the first place. This includes the Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese soldiers slaughtered at least 200,000 Chinese civilians and war prisoners.

For a short period after World War II, the relationship between Japan and China was almost nonexistent. But in the 1970s, China began to establish diplomatic relations with other nations, including Japan. The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei to China in September 1972 concluded with the signing of the Japan-China Joint Communiqué, marking the official normalization of relations. The statement announced the “termination of previous abnormal relations,” and said the Japanese government was “keenly aware of Japan`s responsibility for causing enormous damages to the Chinese people in the past through war, and deeply reproaches itself.” Subsequently, after the normalization of relations, trade between the two nations began. In August 1978, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China was established, based on the same principles of the joint communiqué. The communiqué also contained an expression of apology, which was a starting point for reconciliation as well as trade and economic cooperation, political security and diplomatic relations. Unfortunately, normalization did little to create truly better bilateral relations between Japan and China more than four decades later, putting reconciliation in jeopardy.

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