With increased confidence, China and Japan can lead on world stage

By Zhang Yun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/26 17:38:41

File Photo: Xinhua



Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to the Japanese city of Osaka for the G20 summit from Thursday to Saturday. 

China's relations with Japan have seen an uptick since 2017, bringing into stark relief the heated competition with the US in trade, technology and geopolitics.

Many believe that the root cause of better ties with Japan lies in the uncertainty besetting the policy adopted by the administration of Donald Trump. The White House's ambivalence surely provides the strongest external push, but if it were the only reason, the sustainability of China-Japan relations would have been put into question. 

The fundamental reason for the thaw in ties between the once-estranged neighbors is the change in the way they started looking at themselves and perceiving each other in the past few years. If both sides seize the opportunity, sustainable development of China-Japan relations is not far. 

With rising confidence, China has been more proactive in seeking better relations with Japan.

China in 2010 replaced Japan as the world's second-largest economy, and left the US behind in manufacturing. This boosted China's confidence and prompted China to think its domestic path and strategic international issues. 

China has been trying to deepen its reform and opening-up, become proactive in global economic governance and supply of public goods, and improve its discourse power in world affairs. 

China-Japan ties suffered after 2010 due to territorial, historical, and security issues. 

However, with well-defined goals and enhanced confidence, China has gained the ability to shape the strategic environment on its own. Thus, fostering a new type of international relations has become a choice. Japan is both a big power and China's neighbor, so developing relations with Japan in the new era has naturally been included in China's policy agenda.

On the other hand, Japan's increased confidence in itself has also added impetus to its China policies. 

Although opinions vary on "Abenomics," Japan's stock market has been rising, employment among youth is higher, and society has been less pessimistic about the economic outlook. 

According to a Japanese Cabinet Office survey released in August 2018, 74.7 percent of Japanese were either satisfied or moderately satisfied with their daily life.

Losing the position as the world's second-largest economy, Japan has started to re-examine its people's living standards and satisfaction rate, and to reassess itself as a great economic and social power. Unlike other developed countries, Japan has been devoid of populist sentiments, and has been economically and socially stable. 

On the international front, Japan's Diplomatic Bluebook, since its 2016 edition, states that "while making the utmost efforts for promotion of national interests," Japan will "lead the international community for peace and prosperity of the world." 

For example, after the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that Japan agreed with 11 other countries demonstrates Tokyo's leadership in international economic governance.

Meanwhile, Japan has recognized the historical trend of China's further development. China remains a future world power and Japan's neighbor, thus developing strategic relations with Beijing has become inevitable for Tokyo.

An unpredictable US has prompted introspection and mutual perception between China and Japan to a certain extent. Facing a world with supply deficit of public goods and a lack of leadership, China and Japan have realized that both have the responsibility to be active in global governance reforms.

China has long acknowledged itself as a big country enduring poverty and other weaknesses. Beijing has regarded development as its long-term strategic goal. However, to develop further, China as the world's second-largest economy should take the initiative to play the role of global leader. This is also the call of the international community.

Since the defeat in WWII, Japan has long played second fiddle to the US. But in the face of prominent changes in the international order and China's rise, Japan has realized that it can also exercise international leadership. And this requires a healthy relationship with China.

Of course, many sensitive issues between the two have not been resolved. The possibility of downtick in ties remains. But as long as the two can factor in global and regional governance, strengthen strategic communication, manage differences, and build political and social consensus, stability and development of relations is a given. 

The author is associate professor of National Niigata University Japan and senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Area Studies and Global Governance, Beijing Foreign Studies University. [email protected]



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