China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi started his visit to Japan Sunday, the first Chinese foreign minister to visit the country since 2009. Wang will attend the China-Japan High-level Economic Dialogue in Tokyo and brief Japan on the results of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un‘s visit to China. China, Japan and South Korea will also hold a summit in Tokyo in May. Japanese media reported that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang may attend the summit and Wang will lay the groundwork for Li’s visit.
Sino-Japanese relations are warming. The remarks of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration over China’s affairs grow increasingly positive. Tokyo expressed willingness to join the Belt and Road initiative. Sino-Japanese trade last year started to rebound after a downward trend. The two nations have also been negotiating a maritime and aerial communication mechanism to prevent accidental clashes and are close to reaching an agreement.
Ties between Beijing and Tokyo had fallen to a low ebb with continuous friction, which consumed the energy of both sides, harming their international strategy and regional stability in the last few years. Both countries have reflected on the situation. Promoting normalization of Sino-Japanese relations has gained momentum in both countries.
The core tension between Beijing and Tokyo seems to be China’s rise. Seeing China swiftly surpass Japan as the new No.1 power in Asia, Tokyo feels uncomfortable. Tokyo seemed more proactive than anywhere else about containing China’s rise. Chinese society does not accept this rebellious Japanese psychology and has been very persistent about slapping down Japanese arrogance.
After almost eight years of conflicts, the major issue gradually withered away.
When it comes to total economic volume, China has left Japan far behind and the latter can hardly turn the situation around. In 2017, China’s GDP is more than 2.5 times that of Japan. In terms of consumer markets for automobiles, mobile phones and appliances or construction of high-speed railways and highways, Japan can hardly compete with China. Little by little, Japanese society is adapting to the gap between the two sides. Its competitive mentality is beginning to melt.
Taking the US side has brought many losses and shrinking benefits to Japan. The relationship between Tokyo and Washington has grown increasingly close and the US can thus exploit Japan more unscrupulously.
Moving toward a neutral position between China and the US is no doubt more in line with Japan’s national interest. It is commonsense geopolitics. By doing so, Japan’s strategic space will grow clearer. Its security will be improved and it will gain a more favorable position in economics and diplomacy.
Reshaping China-Japan relations is of great strategic significance to Beijing. It will also have a positive influence on regional peace and stability. China cannot change the alliance between Washington and Tokyo, but it can cripple the aggressiveness of that alliance toward Beijing.
China and Japan should review the four political documents between them and jointly put their ties back on track. This is the big picture between the two and all other strategies should come second.