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

Mutual threat perception

The historical dimension of threat perception refers to the past experiences of particular nation-states, which contribute to how they perceive threats. According to Yinan He, an associate professor at Lehigh University, in the United States, reconciliation among nations is less likely if they face no common threat or present a mutual threat to each other. With Japan and China, their antagonistic positions in the bipolar international system have postured them as a mutual threat that could lead to war.

The perception of a threat is also stimulated by historical memories of war atrocities; the commemoration of the Nanjing Massacre has become a national memory in China. The continuous outrage of China over past suffering, and the scarcity of remorse by Japan, adds a historical dimension to the threat perception. China has not forgotten what Japan did to it, and has demanded that Japan perform acts of reconciliation. And China is offended by the fact that Japan has explicitly mentioned China as a matter of concern that needs to be taken into serious consideration. It indicates that China still sees Japan as a perpetrator of its suffering and humiliation in the past, and that the historical issues and controversies are still relevant, as they are still fresh in the memory of China.

For Japan, the threat perception of China comes from economic and geopolitical considerations, in the sense that China has surpassed Japan to become the world`s second-largest economy and the geographical proximity of the two countries. The rise of China has caused Japan to sense a threat, and pushed the country to increase its military capabilities. As such, there is mutual hatred and mistrust. The historical issues between Japan and China surrounding reconciliation provide a critical justification for confrontation. The cause is not the obsession with past trauma, but the ability of history to support the willingness of nations to confront one another.

The mutual perceived threat has triggered both Japan and China to strive for a balance of power, resulting in a regional security dilemma. That is because of their respective positions in a bipolar world that expects both to increase their power. Japan, in this regard, has been undergoing military reform as a response to the growing threat from China. For its part, China saw Japan`s purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as a threat led by ultra-right nationalists wanting to remilitarize Japan. Beijing`s response of stepping up maritime patrols and creating the controversial Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea resulted in another response of concern from Japan. The explicit mention of China as a threat in the Japanese Defense White Paper also indicates insecurity and fear over the growing assertiveness of China`s maritime activities.

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