The old expression that familiarity breeds contempt never applied to two countries better than China and Japan. The neighbouring states have interacted with each other for nearly 2,000 years, and Japan has been greatly enriched by infusions of Chinese culture (think written Chinese characters, Buddhism and ceramics, to name only three), yet official relations have been contentious for centuries. The two countries have gone to war at least three times in modern history, and political dust-ups occur every time a prime minister visits the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to Japanese war dead or a politician makes an ill-considered comment about Japan's militarist past. In this marvellous history of bilateral relations and contemporary issues, Sinologist June Teufel Dreyer provides readers with rich context to aid both specialists and casual observers in understanding one of the most significant regional ties. Dreyer masterfully illustrates how bilateral relations have been fraught with mutual misperception and petty conflict from the beginning. For much of pre-modern history, Japanese leadership chafed at Chinese condescension and efforts to confine the island nation within the Sino-centric tribute system. For their part, the Chinese saw the Japanese as disrespectful upstarts. The coming of western foreigners to Asia completely upset China's domination of east Asia, and Japan more effectively integrated itself into the Westphalian state system and globalizing economy. Japan turned the tables as they joined the western game of carving out spheres of influence and later colonies, now viewing the struggling Chinese with condescension. During the Cold War, both countries felt the need for better relations and, together with Deng Xiaoping's hunger for foreign investment and technology, this helped create a ‘golden age’ of normalized relations from 1972 to 1989 (p. 156). China's rise to Great Power status, combined with loss of economic dynamism in Japan, subsequently brought old historical and territorial resentments back to the surface. Dreyer points out that a perceived natural synergy of the Japanese and Chinese economies drove both countries to upgrade relations, even before normalization. Trade agreements required balanced trade, and both sides had to work around that, given the advantage Japanese exporters held. Normalization greatly aided trade and removed various restrictions, but Japanese companies faced the same problems that western firms encountered inside China. Japanese business and government were concerned about aiding potential Chinese competitors, while Chinese officials worried about a chronic and growing trade deficit with Japan, along with China's lack of competitiveness. Japanese industrialists saw China as merely part of their country's trans-Pacific trade network. The post-Tiananmen advance of the Chinese economy, accompanied by Japanese stagnation, corrected the imbalance to a degree, as Japan grew more dependent on China as its largest export market (replacing the United States) and the trade surplus shrank. Shared concerns about military stances have shaped postwar security policies, as each country reacted to the perceived militarization of the other. The Korean War and China's intervention therein was a major factor in the creation of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in the early 1950s, which in turn was a driver of Chinese military buildup. Japan's cautious efforts nonetheless were constrained by its pacifist constitution, a security treaty with America, and the Yoshida Doctrine, by which Tokyo yielded security leadership to America. After normalization, China only infrequently complained about Japanese militarization. However, the perceived Japanese assertiveness in the 1980s, the enhanced Tokyo–Washington cooperation from the 1990s onwards and the Japanese upgrading of the SDF provoked increasing howls about a perceived US–Japanese effort to contain China. Current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's robust nationalism and desire to amend the constitution now confirm Chinese worries. A chapter on the Taiwan issue is a neat summary of the history of the not-quite-nation island. Taiwan has been at the centre of Japan–China relations since 1949, just as it has been a key concern to Sino-American ties. Because the island was a Japanese dependency for so long, Beijing has been wary of perceived Japanese efforts to gain influence in Taipei. The popularity of Japanese culture in Taiwan underlines this perception. Since Sino-Japanese normalization, Taiwanese leaders such as Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian have used their Japanese connections to keep unofficial bilateral ties strong. While this book is nearly the definitive text on its subject, it is not without a few drawbacks. While the history is superbly written and deftly explained, it may take up space that could have been devoted to more discussion of recent issues (there are only four chapters on contemporary matters). A second edition thus could use a condensed history, while adding chapters on political relations, Sino-Japanese competition in south-east and south Asia, the importance of US ties for both, and bilateral socio-cultural ties. Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun would also be strengthened by a chapter on diverging perceptions of past relations and war memory in both countries. * See also Urs Matthias Zachmann, ed., Asia after Versailles, pp. 429–31; Matthew E. Kahn and Siqi Zheng, Blue skies over Beijing, pp. 445–6; and Bobo Lo, A wary embrace, pp. 451–2. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 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International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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