Talking Sino-Japanese Relations in Leeds

My colleague Caroline Rose has been very generous in inviting me to join two conferences of the Sino-Japanese Research Network in the past year. With a focus on contemporary history and political disputes, the group marshals a great deal of expertise (both disciplinary and linguistic) and bonhomie.

At today’s conference, Professor Yinan He from Seton Hall University was the keynote speaker, discussing ‘IR Theory and Contemporary Sino-Japanese Relations.’ Dr. He’s homepage contains pdfs of many of her outstanding articles and her 2009 book comparing Sino-Japanese to German-Polish experiences of postwar reconciliation and historical politics is a must-read. As Dr. He said, China governmental point of view today toward Japan might be characterized as ‘Our door is always open to dialogue, as long as you adopt our correct view of history.’  Dr. He also challenged the notion that Sino-Japanese relations is at (as media often hyperventilate) ‘at a new low point,’ as such a phrase tends to be recycled.  

Caroline Rose presented some intriguing aspects of research on ‘people’s diplomacy’ of the 1950s between China and Japan, seeking to understand to what extent the traditional sub-structure of the bilateral relationship (mainly non-governmental organizations) has deteriorated under the new term of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Dr. Rose also noted that there are more anniversaries representing positive Sino-Japanese interactions than is often accounted for (such as the anniversary of normalization), meaning that what one author has called ‘China’s calendar of scars’ is not always a minefield (to mix metaphors) when it comes to relations.

Ed Griffiths noted that Abe had not necessarily been seen to be as overtly hostile or provocative toward the PRC as his predecessor, Koizumi Junichiro, but that Abe’s behaviour since taking office had actually burned whatever political capital he had earned with the Chinese in his previous term (putting a stop to the Koizumi method of visiting Yasukuni Shrine). But He Yinan countered by discussing how Abe had so little to gain politically from his Yasukuni visits, and I followed up by noting that Abe was not facing a strong challenge from his right (the disintegrating if entertaining Ishin no Kai) nor excess pressure from his neo-Buddhist coalition partners (the Komeito, whose posters were everywhere when I visited Tokyo during upper House elections this past summer), much less the Japanese Communist Party.

The visits of former Japanese Prime Ministers to China — Hatoyama Yukio, Fukada Hasao, and Murayama Tomiichi — was also discussed profitably, but with the understanding that even abundant contacts, people-to-people relations, and a thriving trade relationship was no substitute for a more stable, less acrimonious Sino-Japanese relations at the state-to-state level.  

As I continue my own work on the postwar Sino-Japanese relationship with a focus on the years 1945-1956, having such dialogue partners is absolutely vital and I look forward to more interactions with this dynamic group.

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