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

The lives of men, Thomas Hobbes observed, are dominated by “cruelty, brutish egoism and unconstrained passion that is directed by insecurity and fear in the state of nature”; men are insecure and mistrust each other. Authors have tried to draw a link between the principles of human nature and the behavior of nations. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been building upon Japanese nationalism; the desire for the country to be collectively strong is part of his agenda. The driving principles of self-interest are seen as being rooted in the human nature of egoism. Abe himself is conservative and nationalistic, and individuals or groups, when they act politically, will inevitably be driven by narrow self-interests.

In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of Japan`s surrender in World War II, Abe subtly changed the context of the official apology for Japan`s wartime aggression, showing reluctance to deliver the clear apology that China and South Korea had demanded. Abe`s statement invited sharp criticism from Beijing. Xinhua, China`s official news agency, said the statement was “a fine line with linguistic tricks, attempting to please his [Abe`s] right-wing base … and avoid further damage in Japan`s ties with its neighbors.”

“Japan is back” – Abe`s famous line – has been viewed by China as an effort to shape a bigger role for Japan on the global stage. Indeed, Abe does project strong nationalism and patriotism. Not only that, Abe is viewed as a historical revisionist, demonstrated by his 2012 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, the lack of remorse for Japan`s wartime history and ignorance toward the issue of comfort women. The membership of more than half of Abe`s cabinet in Nippon Kaigi, a Japanese nationalist association, also points to the same conclusion that the behavior of nations is a projection of the human nature of the people governing them.

Historical national interests

Japan`s and China`s overlapping claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is also a hot and unresolved issue since the end of World War II. Both countries are fully aware that the islands` value is a mixture of national and business interests. Different interpretations of history result in different versions of claims, and the military presence of both claimant nations in the area could worsen the dispute and increase the possibility of armed conflict, making it one of the major factors in the deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations that could hinder reconciliation.

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