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The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
In-depth critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific...and the world.
Reconciling Japan and China*

Mel Gurtov

Abstract: The conflict-resolution literature offers new insights to reconciling parties in conflict. This article applies that literature, along with political-science approaches, to the seemingly intractable China-Japan rivalry. Proceeding from the standpoint that China and Japan need one another, and should manage their conflict for mutual benefit, the article suggests several steps they may take—bilaterally, in multilateral settings, and in civil society—to reduce tensions and promote better understanding.

A Framework for Transforming Sino-Japanese Conflict

China-Japan relations constitute a long-running, dangerous, and seemingly intractable conflict. The relations are not immune to positive change, but they are constantly vulnerable to backtracking and intensification of rivalry. Both kinds of changes have occurred since normalization of relations in the early 1970s. The issues in dispute are well known and are therefore not the primary subject of this paper. Instead, the aim here is to explore areas of potential cooperation that may ease tension and eventually lead to reconciliation.

This aim, almost needless to say, is more easily written about than accomplished in fact. Intractable conflicts by their nature acquire a life of their own; the longer they go on, the more vested in conflict do the parties become. In the case of China and Japan, moreover, history envenoms the relationship to an extraordinary degree, infecting both high-level dialogue and public opinion. Official rhetoric about the importance of Sino-Japanese peace and cooperation notwithstanding, in the public arena it is rare to find groups or individuals speaking out on behalf of reconciliation, even when (as in the case of business leaders, for instance) they benefit from it. In fact, influential people in both countries have been attacked for advocating reconciliation. Governments always devote more resources to conflict than to conflict resolution.

Because China-Japan conflict operates at so many levels—it is at once structural, societal, psychological, and of course political—any effort to move it toward reconciliation needs to look at both policies and processes. Moreover, we should be audacious in thinking of reconciliation as involving something more than “simple coexistence.” As David Crocker has written with respect to warring parties, reconciliation is a healing process:

In the most minimal account . . . reconciliation is nothing more than “simple coexistence” in the sense that former enemies comply with the law instead of killing each other. Although this modus vivendi is certainly better than violent conflict, transitional societies . . . should aim for more . . . Among other things, this implies a willingness to hear each other out, to enter into give-and-take about matters of public policy, to build on areas of common concern, and to forge principled compromises with which all can live. The process, so conceived, may help to prevent a society from lapsing back into violence as a way to resolve conflict.[1]

Yet, if transformation of the parties is the ultimate goal of reconciliation,[2] there is a long road to travel when it comes to China and Japan.

This paper contends that to travel that road, the appropriate starting point is not continuing debate over grievances but practical steps that serve common interests. There is a school of thought that argues that until Japan fully acknowledges its past transgressions against China and, like post-war Germany, makes apologies and amends, no progress is possible. But such an approach may add to the problem of conflict resolution. Dealing with the proximate causes of conflict is often more productive than attempting to resolve past grievances. As we have seen many times in the China-Japan case, whenever Japanese politicians reopen the wounds of war, they invite a Chinese response, thus feeding competitive nationalisms and pushing the history issue to center stage—precisely where it should not be.[3] History is better off being shelved until such time as a sense of true partnership emerges—that is, when concerted cooperation occurs over a lengthy period. Only then, when mutual trust is implicit because of habitual dialogue and policies that serve common interests, is reconciliation possible and apologizing politically feasible.

Premier Fukuda Yasuo (right) meets Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing

For reconciliation to happen, the tools of both political science and conflict resolution need to be used. Most analysts favor one or more of the three now-standard approaches in political science:

Liberalism: the role of multilateral regimes and commercial ties in promoting irreversible interdependence;
Realism: the impact of power differentials and power transitions on policy making;
Constructivism: addressing issues pertaining to cultural and psychological differences, and the politics of identity (nationalism in particular).

Analyses grounded in political science, however, are insufficient when it comes to reconciling states and societies in conflict. For one thing, they have a strong tendency to fish for trouble: They mainly seek to identify the causes and consequences of conflict rather than focus on preventing, managing, and resolving conflict.[4] For another, they are in sharp disagreement with one another on basic premises. Realist analysis typically sees China-Japan rivalry as an enduring feature of the East Asian strategic landscape, and discounts economic engagement as likely contributing to China’s military as well as economic superiority. Constructivists often point to nationalism and history as being able to overwhelm any common ground Chinese and Japanese diplomats may find. The Liberals’ response—that strong business ties, coupled with China’s deepening involvement in Asian multilateral groups, will diminish rivalry and promote further cooperation with Japan—is appealing but not easily testable. On one hand, business ties have grown in spite of disputes over history and territory; but on the other, those disputes have persisted. Moreover, strong economic relations sometimes create new disagreements of their own, such as over technology transfers, trade imbalances, and development assistance.[5]

If scholars are to contribute to China-Japan reconciliation, as I believe they should, they will need to dig deeper into the tool box and exploit the conflict-resolution literature. Three areas seem particularly pertinent:

Dialogue: focus on the legitimacy of the parties, the diversity of formats for discussions, and the process of “getting to yes”;
Engagement: techniques, such as use of positive incentives, for bringing parties to the table or otherwise making contact;
Confidence building: the use of preventive diplomacy and transparency to build trust.

The vantage point of conflict resolution is its focus on establishing greater trust, widening common ground, and managing differences between disputants. Rivalry is not treated as unalterable, nor is one side to a dispute assumed (for purposes of a settlement) to bear greater responsibility than the other. Approaches to resolving conflicts and reconciliation must take place at several different levels, from the personal to the regional and global.[6] Of central importance, and often neglected, is the domestic political element. In the case of China and Japan, the roles of powerful bureaucracies, parties, and political leaders, as well as of public opinion and civil society, must weigh in any usable approach to conflict management.[7] Of cardinal importance, as stressed below, is the widespread understanding that each leadership and society must come to about the virtues of their mutual dependence, as a source of common prosperity and as a restraint on nationalistic outbursts.

Problems of Sino-Japanese Conflict Management

In this paper I elaborate on the contribution and piece together a menu that might be seized upon by Chinese and Japanese at various levels to design a new relationship with each other. These ideas are essentially building blocks, in which synergy and consistency rather than a carefully calibrated strategy is the key. The essential argument is that peaceful, cooperative relations are in China’s and Japan’s (not to mention the United States’ and everyone else’s) best interest, and that there is a high and increasing price to be paid for indifference to the consequences of ongoing rivalry—among which is a new cold war in Asia.

Managing Sino-Japanese differences presents a number of special problems, however. One is that neither Beijing nor Tokyo seeks an honest broker who might mediate the conflict. Another is the lack of self-criticism in each society, hence also the seeming inability of each to establish a new domestic consensus regarding the other party. Third is that neither of the multilateral forums to which Japan and China belong—Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the various offshoots of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—has the capacity or the authority to act preventively or as conciliator in the dispute. Nor does Northeast Asia, unlike Southeast Asia, have a security dialogue mechanism that the two countries might use to discuss their disputes.

Fourth is the asymmetry of Japanese and Chinese power. While much is made these days of the fact that the two countries, for the first time in their modern history, are simultaneously strong, their strengths lie in different areas. Fifth, is the consistent inconsistency of China-Japan dialogue. It seems that every positive step is quickly undermined by a negative one—sometimes deliberately, one suspects. One recent example is when Koizumi expressed “deep remorse” to Hu Jintao in April 2005 for Japan’s aggression in China. Hu accepted; but once Koizumi announced in Japan that he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine, all the goodwill dissipated.[8] A second such instance occurred following Chinese defense minister Cao Gangchuan’s visit to Japan in August 2007. It was the first such military exchange in nearly ten years, and it may lead to the setting up of a hotline. Thereafter, China’s foreign ministry informed the UN secretary general that it would resume reporting of arms exports and imports after a decade-long break, and would give a breakdown of its military budget.[9] But these two steps were undermined when Japan’s navy joined U.S., Indian, and Australian ships in war games, part of a major security initiative under Abe to become a strategic partner with Australia and other states with “democratic values.”[10]

One other formidable obstacle in the path of China-Japan reconciliation is the United States. Positive U.S.-China relations are central to the resolution of most of East Asia’s security issues. But while the United States and China have found common ground lately in a number of policy arenas, such as terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation, Japan and China have not. In the eyes of many Chinese specialists, U.S. partiality to Japan is a major reason why.[11] Their argument is that Japan’s deployments in the Middle East, its enhanced military firepower, its interest in constitutional revision, its strategic partnership with Australia, and its revival of national spirit have all come at the behest of the United States and thus have the appearance of balance-of-power politics directed at China. Yet, as one Chinese specialist on Japan has admitted, Beijing must choose between the lesser of two evils:

The Chinese academic community is somewhat conflicted about the fu¬ture of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. On one hand, although it does not expect the alliance to become stronger, an invigorated U.S.-Japanese alliance may join hands against China. On the other hand, a looser U.S.-Japanese alliance may lead to its ultimate collapse, leaving a Tokyo unbound by Washington. It remains uncertain whether an independent Japan would employ a friendly China policy. The direction and future of the alliance, however, is ultimately up to Washington and Tokyo.[12]

The Costs of Avoidance

A serious potential consequence of the continuing rift is that a new cold war will break out in East Asia. The longer the rift simmers, the more likely it is that the so-called security dilemma will come to pass. While Japan has extended its security ties, Beijing is busy cultivating its own alignments: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ASEAN+3, and Russia. As China’s military modernization proceeds and issues of transparency go unresolved—the 17.8 percent boost in military spending announced in 2007 represented the seventeenth year in the last eighteen in which a spending increase reached double digits; and China’s ASAT test in January 2007 may have revealed the secretiveness of the military even within China’s own bureaucratic ranks[13]—Japanese leaders will justify countermeasures, such as increases in military spending and force acquisitions, and revision of Article 9 of the constitution.

Accenting the Positive

Up until now, the official bilateral level has been the locus of most discussions of problem areas in China-Japan relations. There is a positive side to this reality, however. First, Japanese and Chinese leaders have embraced East Asian regionalism, at least in terms of deepening economic integration and joint consultations (mainly in ASEAN+3);[14] and they along with all the other key actors in Northeast Asia have also accepted the idea of creating a regional dialogue mechanism for dispute resolution.[15] Second, as discussed further below, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s trip to China and South Korea soon after succeeding Koizumi Junichiro in October 2006, and the reassurances to China of his successor, Fukuda Yasuo, may open the door to further and more concrete dialogue. Third, the high and growing degree of economic interdependence between Japan and China—in trade, direct investment, and official development assistance (ODA)—remains the crucial asset for preventing open conflict.

Viewed from the perspective of conflict management, moreover, another source of optimism is that the same issues that divide the two countries and peoples may be turned into arenas of cooperation.

Why do Chinese and Japanese leaders eye each other so warily? The reasons are easy enough to list: geographic propinquity, historical animosity, unequal power, concern about alliance relationships. All these concerns can be turned around, however, so that the key issue becomes not sources of endless rivalry but ways in which China and Japan need one another. For indeed they do—such as to control environmental destruction, to promote China’s “peaceful rise” in ways conducive to both domestic and international stability, to restrain military growth, and to sustain regional political and economic stability. Such mutual dependence helps neutralize potentially aggressive forms of nationalism. Thus, rather than interpret China-Japan relations exclusively in terms of competition for influence, we might think about the significant opportunity costs that occur as the result of China-Japan friction.[16]

Fortunately, in recent times the China-Japan relationship has not been all about competition and heated words. In October 2006, on the occasion of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s official visit to the PRC, the two sides proclaimed that they would “strive to build a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests . . . ” “Contact and dialogue,” including “frequent” talks between the top leaders, would take place. Explicit references were made to four areas of cooperation: the East China Sea negotiations, “Japan-China security dialogue,” ASEAN+3, and the Six-Party Talks. Last, Japan and China promised to “strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation particularly in the areas of energy, environmental protection, finance, information and communication technology, and protection of intellectual property.”[17] Then, in April 2007 Prime Minister Wen Jiabao returned Abe’s visit and won great applause with a speech, “For Friendship and Cooperation,” before the Japanese Diet. As he had in the past, Wen stressed looking ahead rather than backward, common development, and “seeking agreement while minimizing differences” (qiutong cunyi). Mention was again made of energy and environmental cooperation.[18]

Some specific follow-ups to those promises have since emerged. First, Prime Minister Fukuda immediately proclaimed interest in improving China-Japan as well as Japan-Korea relations, starting with the assurance that he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead. On visiting China in December 2007, following a visit to the United States, Fukuda (like Abe) again stressed mutual interest.[19] Second, the two governments reportedly reached a basic understanding on global warming, with Japan agreeing to provide China with technological assistance to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.[20] Third, on the military side, the Chinese missile destroyer Shenzhen visited Tokyo Bay in November 2007, with a Japanese return visit scheduled for sometime later.[21] Fourth, the first China-Japan High-Level Economic Dialogue was held in December 2007. China’s delegation leader spoke of how trade with Japan was of mutual benefit: “China’s development is not a threat to Japan but an opportunity, and Japan’s development is advantageous for China’s uninterrupted economic progress.”[22]

The restoration of high-level diplomacy was in itself an important act, and the promises made as the result of Abe’s visit were all to the good. Japan-China relations have had their best moments when dialogue has focused on functional areas such as those mentioned in the joint statement on military, economic, environmental, and other concrete subjects. Still, one wonders how much wider and deeper cooperation might be if dialogue were more culturally informed. How does dialogue actually take place between Japanese and Chinese officials, journalists, historians, and environmental and energy experts? Are there missing ingredients that reduce the opportunities for creating greater trust, such as mutual respect and acceptance of the other’s legitimacy? Intercultural research has shown that insensitivity in international relationships can be a major contributor to tensions, or can limit progress in dialogue.[23] Likewise, the choice of format, procedures, and participants in international dialogue may also have much to do with outcomes.[24]

Reconciling: Potential Avenues and Resources[25]

Tracks I, II, III Options at Three Levels

Below I consider just a few possible steps on three tracks—governmental, mixed governmental and nongovernmental, and popular (civil society)—and at three levels: unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral. Track I consists of official declarations, confidence-building measures (CBMs), and negotiations. Track II includes activities such as workshops, conferences, and other gatherings that bring together NGOs, business, parliamentary, and other officials speaking in their private capacity. Track III activities are entirely in the public (civil-society) domain—e.g., professional and popular associations, media and labor groups, and businesses.

Unilateral Steps are those that either of the parties, or an important outside party such as the United States, might take to reduce tensions. These include policy initiatives such as statements of noninterference, arms reductions, and apologies for past conduct. Bilateral Steps are those the parties take together, such as joint research, environmental cooperation, and energy development, as well as pledges and statements of principle. Multilateral Steps bring the parties together in larger cooperative networks, such as regional and global organizations devoted to security dialogue, energy, arms transparency, labor, health epidemics, and other transnational issues.

The steps I have chosen may not stand much chance of being implemented any time soon, but each one may generate the kind of goodwill and trust that will lead to other positive steps. Thus, I have stepped around issues of historical grievance, which are the most difficult to address, in favor of those where mutual interests coincide—the well-known win-win approach.[26]

Regularization of High-Level Diplomacy (Track I, Bilateral)
Now that direct dialogue has resumed, Chinese and Japanese leaders should pledge to make it a regular occurrence. In addition, they should issue a new joint statement of friendship and cooperation to upgrade both the sentiment and the functionality of the 1998 joint declaration. A counterpart of such diplomacy might be creation of a prevention-focused bilateral group to provide advance notification (for instance) of troop or ship movements, somewhat like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Mutual Appreciation (Track I/Unilateral and Track II)
Chinese government, media and other institutions (including schools) can contribute to a positive atmosphere by expressing appreciation for Japan’s contributions to China’s economic rise. Some Chinese commentators agree that China has been lax in this regard.[27] Japan has been very generous with yen loans, for example—over $14 billion from 1990 to 2005 alone—and has directly invested over $51 billion in the same period.[28] Although expressions of appreciation have been made from time to time, they have often been diluted by bitter reminders of the past and suggestions that Japanese business has also benefited from the aid and investments.[29] The Japanese side therefore has an obligation too: to acknowledge the benefits it has received, and to consider new ways to contribute to China’s development, such as an extension of environmental protection programs when ODA ends in 2008.[30]

Affirmations of Good Intentions (Track I, Bilateral)
Although words can never replace deeds, professions of friendly intentions and mutual respect, apologies for past conduct, and a positive common vision of future relations do serve good purposes. A negative example to demonstrate the point is the November 1998 China-Japan joint declaration of friendship and cooperation, which left both leaderships very upset: Jiang Zemin, because the Japanese side failed to provide an apology for the past, unlike in the Japan-ROK joint declaration that had been concluded the previous month; and Obuchi Keizo, because of Jiang’s immoderate criticisms of Japan. The China-ROK agreement, and the Sino-Indian joint declaration of November 2006, are models of forward-looking statements: They specify areas of actual and potential cooperation, as well as the agencies that will undertake it; they assign roles for specialists; and they stress mutual involvement in regional and global activities. These functional areas are framed with rhetoric suggesting positive intentions toward the other party: India and China “are not rivals or competitors” but rather have a “strategic and cooperative partnership,” says the joint declaration.[31] It therefore might be time for China and Japan to renegotiate or update the 1998 agreement, with a new spirit of cooperation and attentiveness to specific areas of cooperation.

Creating a Northeast Asia Security Dialogue Mechanism (Track I, Multilateral)
All the recent agreements reached during Six Party Talks on North Korea—the September 2005 joint statement of principles and the agreements of February and October 2007—held out the prospect of a multiparty security forum that might evolve from the Talks and the establishment of a “permanent peace regime” on the Korean peninsula. Although implementation of each party’s commitments remains to be seen, preliminary discussion of the scope and organizing principles for a dialogue mechanism could begin now. A dialogue mechanism would provide China and Japan with an opportunity to work together on any number of common security issues, such as their long-running dispute in the East China Sea,[32] security guarantees for the Korean peninsula, and a Northeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone.[33] The common forum would also provide an institutional basis for greater transparency in military affairs, such as arms acquisitions and deployments. The Japan-China Fisheries Agreement that went into force in June 2002, and ongoing bilateral “security consultations” since 1994, provide positive reference points and building blocks for a regional dialogue mechanism.[34]

• Putting Balance into U.S. Policy[35]
As two knowledgeable experts have argued, the United States has a large stake in a moderation of China-Japan relations. If U.S. policy continues to promote “normal nation” status for Japan in ways that seem to China to amount to containment, a new cold war in Asia might result, with the two countries engaged in arms racing, forcing other countries (notably in ASEAN) to take sides. Rather than promote an expansion of Japan’s international security role and sound alarm bells about China’s military modernization, the United States “should declare its unambiguous opposition to worsening Sino-Japanese relations and exert its considerable influence with both Tokyo and Beijing to establish a cooling-off period.”[36] One major Japanese newspaper, worried about a new cold war in Asia, offered several concrete suggestions, all of which require U.S. support in multilateral settings: creating a Northeast Asia security “entity” (such as the security dialogue mechanism discussed above), convening regular U.S.-Japan-PRC summits, and obtaining U.S. and Chinese signatures on a protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (the Treaty of Bangkok) that bans the use of nuclear weapons.[37] Other ways the United States can help improve Japan-China relations are by moderating Japanese expressions of a security interest in Taiwan (contained in the “2+2” joint U.S.-Japan statement of February 2005), not supporting constitutional revision of Article 9, and not calling upon Japan’s military in support of U.S. collective-security missions far from Japan, and inviting China to take part in the trilateral security talks that take place between Japan, the United States, and South Korea.
All these policy changes can be taken with assurances to Japan that the security alliance remains strong and that the United States is not moving to a “pro-China” policy—shifts that Japanese leaders have feared in the past but that Chinese analysts themselves do not demand.[38] What they want, and what is surely in Japan’s interest as well, is cooperativeness in U.S.-China relations, which is vital to East Asia’s future. For history shows that when their relations are cooperative, difficult regional issues can be dealt with effectively, as the Six Party Talks on North Korea have abundantly demonstrated.[39] Japan may well need to hedge against a rising China, but it should not be perceived as seeking to contain it. U.S. and Japanese policies would do better to focus on seeing that China’s modernization proceeds along environmentally sustainable lines.[40]

• Track II Gatherings
Apart from high-level diplomacy, Chinese and Japanese media, business, academic, and scientific circles have much that they could explore with each other. A gathering of such specialists, drawn from private and public institutions, might promote mutual understanding, reduce stereotyping, and change popular opinion in both countries. For example, a scientific meeting might be arranged to come up with initiatives on global warming and energy cooperation, or a joint plan for dealing with transboundary pollution.[41] A joint East Asia television history project is a second example, following on publication in 2006 of a joint Chinese-Japanese-Korean history text. Track II gatherings might also encourage particular groups to lobby their governments for improvements in China-Japan relations—as Japanese business groups have already done on the Yasukuni issue. The two governments might convene an eminent persons group to advise on solutions to specific issues in dispute.[42]

Track III – Civil Society and People-to-People Exchanges
Improving mutual perceptions and counteracting distorted imagery require remedies at the grassroots level as well as among political leaders. For policy makers, nationalism is a two-edged sword; if they appear to be going against it, they face domestic opposition to “softness” when dealing with the enemy. Thus, Hu Jintao is sometimes said to have been a target of the April 2005 demonstrations against a permanent Japanese seat on the UN Security Council for not being as tough with Japan as Jiang Zemin had been; and the China hands in Japan’s foreign ministry have often been criticized in the Japanese press for being too “pro-China.” At the popular level, the problem is more complex. In China’s case, anti-Japanese nationalism clearly has grassroots dimensions; the fact that the 2005 protests were driven by the Internet showed that new reality very plainly. But official approval of anti-Japanese feelings (so long as they do not get out of control) is just as clearly involved, not only in popular demonstrations but also in the “patriotic education campaigns” carried on numerous television stations. Japan has its counterparts when it comes to playing to or promoting anti-Chinese feelings. Japanese courts consistently reject suits that challenge officially sanctioned history textbooks and ask for compensation for Chinese (and all other) war victims; revisionist historiography still has an audience (and is rarely criticized by public officials); the arch-conservative Sankei News and popular comic books often depict China in the most evil terms.[43]

Civil society, though nascent in China and still rather weak in Japan, needs to be encouraged to explore, systematically and practically, how Chinese and Japanese can learn at least to be more accepting of one another. At least one study of Japanese NGOs in China—which are far more numerous there than in any other country—suggests that they can be very effective people-to-people diplomats, particularly in the environmental field.[44] Yomiuri’s reevaluation of Japan’s war responsibility exemplifies what the mass media can do to dispose of historical myths.[45] Yomiuri and its liberal newspaper counterpart, Asahi Shimbun, might co-sponsor a media summit with their Chinese counterparts on ways to avoid stereotyping and report objectively on events in the other country.[46] The editors of these two newspapers have already joined in calling for building a secular war memorial to replace the Yasukuni Shrine.[47] In academia, the appointment of scholarly panels to reevaluate historical sources of grievance has already occurred twice, in the first instance (in 2005) ending with the production of a joint textbook in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Such scholarly gatherings should be regularized.

If some of the above ideas are implemented, they may lead to other positive developments.[48] For example, China might support a Japanese seat on the UN Security Council. The two countries might find agreement on the purposes and membership of the East Asian Community. Suspicions about the force modernizations of their militaries might abate as new CBMs are devised. They might establish a standing crisis-management body. Private groups might be prevented by their governments from interfering in territorial disputes. In the end, China and Japan must reach the point of recognizing that security for one is really security for the other—just as happened between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and as the previous two South Korean governments decided in seeking to engage the North.

Mel Gurtov is Professor of Political Science and International Studies in the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective. His most recent books are Superpower on Crusade: The Bush Doctrine in US Foreign Policy and Global Politics in the Human Interest, both available from Lynne Rienner Publishers ( He may be reached at

Written for Japan Focus and posted on January 5, 2008.


* Prepared for presentation at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, March 28, 2008.
[1] David Crocker, “Reckoning with Past Wrongs: A Normative Framework,” Ethics and International Affairs, vol. 13 (1999), pp. 43-64.
[2] On transforming the relationship between disputing parties, see Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution, 2d ed. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).
[3] A recent example occurred in 2007 when Prime Minister Abe reopened the issue of the comfort women. Instead of simply indicating that he had no intention to change the Japanese statement of 1993, issued in the name of the chief cabinet secretary, that blamed the army for the forcible seizure of women in occupied lands to serve as sex slaves, Abe, while expressing sympathy for the women, said that in his opinion the army’s role was unproven. He thus found himself in the same bed with the former education minister, Nakayama Nariaki, who boasted about how he and other LDP members had kept mention of the comfort women and the army’s role in their recruitment out of school texts. These unfortunate words lend legitimacy to the Chinese view, expressed by one prominent Chinese scholar, that historical issues (in this case, the Yasukuni Shrine) have “become a main or perhaps even the only obstacle to Sino-Japanese engagement and cooperation at the moment, like a fish bone stuck in the throat. Only if this problem is appropriately resolved will China further discuss po¬tential cooperation programs with Japan and specify its policy on Japan’s role in international and regional security.” Yang Bojiang, “Redefining Sino-Japanese Relations After Koizumi,” Washington Quarterly, vol. 29, No. 4 (Autumn, 2006), p. 131.
[4] Of course there are exceptions. See, e.g., Kent E. Calder, “China and Japan’s Simmering Rivalry,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 85, No. 2 (March-April, 2006), pp. 129-39.
[5] On the political uses of Japan’s ODA, see Tsukasa Takamine, “A New Dynamism in Sino-Japanese Security Relations: Japan’s Strategic Use of Foreign Aid,” The Pacific Review, vol. 18, no. 4 (December, 2005), pp. 439-61.
[6] Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts, p. 329.
[7] See Reinhard Drifte, “Engagement Japanese Style,” Chinese-Japanese Relations in the Twenty-first Century: Complementarity and conflict. (Routledge: New York, 2002), p. 53. See also Murata Koji, “Domestic Sources of Japanese Policy towards China,” in Lam Peng Er, ed., Japan’s Relations with China: Facing a Rising Power (Routledge: London, 2006), p. 39.
[8] See Tok Sow Keat, “Neither Friends Nor Foes: China’s Dilemmas in Managing Its Japan Policy,” China: An International Journal, vol. 3, No. 2 (September, 2005), pp. 297-98.
[9] Reuters, "China Defense Minister Visits Japan, Ties on Mend," August 29, 2007; NAPSNet, same date.
[10] The U.S. commander in the maneuvers denied they were directed at China (Reuters, "Bay of Bengal War Games Not Aimed at China: U.S.," August 23, 2007, at NAPSNet, same date); but it is highly unlikely that Chinese leaders saw it that way. The new Japan-Australia declaration on defense, signed in March 2007, “will mean”—in the words of then-Prime Minister John Howard—“that our security relationship with Japan will be closer than with any other country with the exception of the United States,” even though the agreement reportedly only concerns cooperation on terrorism and disaster relief. (Japan Times, March 11, 2007.) This declaration should be seen in the context of Japan’s “values diplomacy,” the brainchild of Foreign Minister Aso Taro in a speech in late 2006 on a democratic alliance of Japan with other states—though not South Korea, interestingly. When Abe visited India the following August, he referred to an “expanded Asia”—Japan, the United States, Australia, and India—marked by shared democratic values and strategic interests. “Abe: Japan, India United by Values,” Asahi Shimbun, August 23, 2007.
[11] See also Wang Jisi, “China’s Search for Stability with America,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 84, No. 5 (September-October, 2005), p. 44.
[12] Yang Bojiang, “Redefining Sino-Japanese Relations,” p. 133.
[13] See Bates Gill and Martin Kleiber, “China’s Space Odyssey,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, No. 3 (May-June, 2007), pp. 2-6. The authors contend that the test, in which a ballistic missile shot down a weather satellite, was undertaken by the Chinese military without consulting the ministry of foreign affairs.
[14] Sueo Sudo, “It Takes Two to Tango: The Conflict as Japan Sees It,” in James C. Hsiung, ed., China and Japan At Odds: Deciphering the Perpetual Conflict for the Future (New York: Palgrave, 2007), pp. 43-57. ASEAN+3 refers to the ten ASEAN states plus Japan, China, and South Korea, with “the three” now meeting regularly.
[15] This was one element of the Joint Statement of Principles of the Six Party Talks in September 2005, and it has been repeated in subsequent meetings of the six parties. Text in Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network (NAPSNet) Special Report, September 20, 2005, online from
[16] I am indebted for this point to Prof. Peter Van Ness of the Australian National University.
[17] “Japan-China Joint Press Statement,” October 8, 2006.
[18] Chinese text in Renmin gang (, April 13, 2007.
[19] Fukuda cited three areas: promoting mutual benefit (such as energy), mutual understanding (such as security), and international society (such as terrorism and North Korea). See Kazuyo Kato, “China-Japan Rapprochement in Perspective,” China Brief, vol. 8, No. 1 (January 4, 2008).
[20] Yomiuri Shimbun, "Japan, China Reach Deal on Anti-Global Warming Project," November 30, 2007, in NAPSNet, same date.
[21] New York Times, November 28, 2007, p. A16.
[22] Statement of Vice-premier Zeng Peiyan, as reported in Renmin gang (, December 1, 2007.
[23] See Raymond Cohen, Negotiating Across Cultures: International Communication in an Interdependent World (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 1997).
[24] See Harold Saunders, A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), and Herbert C. Kelman, “The Problem-Solving Workshop in Conflict Resolution,” in Richard L. Merritt, ed., Communication in International Politics (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1972).
[25] A version of this section was originally presented in a paper, “Reconciling China and Japan: A Menu of Alternatives,” for the Conference on the Need for Conflict Prevention and Conflict Management in Sino-Japanese Relations,” Tokyo, March 8-9, 2007, sponsored by Uppsala University and Keio University. The paper owes much to a workshop on China-Japan reconciliation that was held at the Australian National University in August 2006, the results of which I summarized in “Options for Reconciling China and Japan,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31, No. 1 (2007), pp. 169-75.
[26] This focus on interests draws inspiration from Roger Fisher, Elizabeth Kopelman, and Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping with Conflict (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994).
[27] See Shi Yinhong, “Sino-Japanese Rapprochement as a ‘Diplomatic Revolution.'” Shi urges (p. 4) that “the Chinese government, represented by our top leader, should frequently use appropriately strong language to express gratitude to Japan for its large scale economic assistance to China since the beginning of our ‘Reform and Opening’ in the late 1970s.”
[28] See Chu-yuan Cheng, “Sino-Japanese Economic Relations: Interdependence and Conflict,” in James C. Hsiung, ed., China and Japan At Odds: Deciphering the Perpetual Conflict (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), table 5.2, p. 84.
[29] Ralph Jennings, “Japanese Aid Message Lost on Deaf Chinese Ears,” Japan Times, January 11, 2005; China Daily (Beijing), December 14, 2004; “Japan's Aid to China is Not Unilateral Benefaction: FM Spokeswoman,” People’s Daily Online (Beijing), December 2, 2004. Moreover, PRC repayments of Japanese loans have regularly surpassed loan amounts since 2003.
[30] Ever since 2001, when Japan began to cut back ODA to China, most aid has gone into environmental programs. One reason may have been political: to answer critics in Japan who variously argued that China no longer needed foreign aid and was diverting ODA to military programs. See Glen Hook et al., Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security, 2d ed. (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 201.
[31] Press release of the prime minister’s office, “Joint Declaration by the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China,” November 21, 2006.
[32] For specific proposals to resolve the East China Sea dispute, see Mark J. Valencia, “The East China Sea Dispute: Context, Claims, Issues, and Possible Solutions,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31, No. 1 (2007), pp. 127-67. Each side has presented proposals for joint development of undersea resources (Japan in September 2005, China in June 2004 and March 2006), but basic issues of territorial control and jurisdiction stand in the way.
[33] See Peter Van Ness, “Why the Six Party Talks Should Succeed,” Asian Perspective, vol. 29, No. 2 (2005), pp. 231-46 and Van Ness, “The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Four-Plus-Two—An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” in Mel Gurtov and Peter Van Ness, eds., Confronting the Bush Doctrine: Critical Views From the Asia-Pacific (London: Routledge-Curzon, 2005), pp. 242-59.
[34] The fisheries agreement established a joint commission to manage overlapping fishing areas. The security dialogues, of which there have been seven (through 2006), also include exchanges of visits by military personnel. On the latter, see Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s Security Agenda: Military, Economic, and Environmental Dimensions (Boulder, Colo.: Rienner, 2004), box 5.3, p. 196.
[35] For an extensive treatment of this issue, see my “U.S. Policy and Sino-Japanese Rivalry,” in Hsiung, ed., China and Japan At Odds, pp. 113-31.
[36] Minxin Pei and Michael Swaine, “Simmering Fire in Asia: Averting Sino-Japanese Strategic Conflict,” Policy Brief (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), No. 44 (November, 2005), p. 7.
[37] “Japan’s New Strategies,” Asahi Shimbun, May 23, 2007. The commentary said: “The important thing is that none of these moves should be confrontational—that is to say, they must not aim to isolate, antagonize or keep anyone in check. Otherwise, they will kill the dynamism of regional development. And this is where holding regular Japan-U.S.-China summits will be of great help.”
[38] Japanese concerns about Washington’s China policy were rife in the Nixon years, at the time of the visit to China, and when the Clinton administration established a “strategic partnership” with China. See Gerald L. Curtis, “U.S. Policy toward Japan from Nixon to Clinton: An Assessment,” in Curtis, ed., New Perspectives on U.S.-Japan Relations (Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2000), pp. 9-19. On China’s perspective, Yang Bojiang (“Redefining Sino-Japanese Relations,” p. 135) writes that “the best choice for the United States would be to continue its alliance with Japan and South Korea and keep be¬nign relations with China but also to transition to active promotion of multi¬lateral cooperation throughout the region. Looking forward, the only way to resolve the regional security dilemma in East Asia completely is to promote multilateral security structures.”
[39] As Wu Xinbo writes: “If China has normal relations with the United States as well as Japan and trilateral relations are largely stable, Beijing will be less suspicious of a Washington-Tokyo axis . . . ” Wu, “The End of the Silver Lining,” pp. 128-29.
[40] See Kenneth B. Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), pp. 337-38, 348.
[41] Kent Calder (“China and Japan’s Simmering Rivalry,” p. 136) suggests that energy cooperation provides an especially fruitful avenue for promoting Track II cooperation between China and Japan.
[42] Valencia, “The East China Sea Dispute.”
[43]Cohen and Pei, “A Vicious Sino-Japanese Cycle of Rhetoric.” On Sankei Shimbun’s ability to silence critics of Japan’s policies toward China, see David McNeill, “Softly, Softly,” Japan Focus, July 18, 2007.
[44] Akio Takahara, “Japanese NGOs in China,” in Lam, ed., Japan’s Relations with China, pp. 166-79.
[45] James Auer, ed., From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who was Responsible? Tokyo: The Yomiuri Shimbun, 2006.
[46] China’s official newspaper, the Beijing People’s Daily, has certainly published its share of anti-Japanese articles; but it has also published positive commentaries, such as one endorsing “rational” and “moderate” nationalism in the two countries. See “Role of Nationalism in Sino-Japanese Relations,” People’s Daily Online, February 16, 2007.
[47] Wakamiya Yoshibumi and Watanabe Tsuneo, “Yomiuri and Asahi Editors Call for a National Memorial to Replace Yasukuni,” Japan Focus, February 28, 2006.
[48] Two other groups that have made proposals concerning China-Japan reconciliation are: International Crisis Group, “North East Asia’s Undercurrents of Conflict,” Report No. 108 (December 15, 2005); and Japan Forum on International Relations, Policy Council, “Japan and China in the Changing Asia” (Tokyo, October 2006).

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Authors: For all articles by the author, click on author's name.   Mel Gurtov