By Zhou Yongsheng, Professor of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University
Japan showed its willingness to improve Japan-China relations at the beginning of 2018. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly stated that he wants to improve relations between Japan and China, Japan's foreign minister Taro Kono had his first trip to China since taking office as foreign minister and said Japan would like to steadily develop the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries from an overall perspective.
China and Japan are close neighbors and China-Japan friendship conforms to the fundamental interests of the two countries and the two peoples. In recent years, China-Japan relations have been in an abnormal state because of erroneous practices on the issues of territorial disputes and historical cognition. Japan’s commitment to improve China-Japan relations is a positive move, but careful analysis shows that there is too much utilitarianism behind this position.
The first is the American factor. As a staunch follower of the United States, Japan's China policy is largely influenced by the U.S. China policy. An important international context for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan at that time was the normalization of China-U.S. relations.
In 2009 when President Barack Obama's visit to China far exceeded the time of his visit to Japan and that also made Japan rather nervous. Last year, the improvement of China-U.S. relations to a certain extent made Japan quite worried that if there is no further improvement in China-Japan relations, Japan will be at risk of being marginalized.
Therefore, since the end of April 2017, Japan's top leaders have repeatedly expressed their readiness to improve relations with China and have shown positive attitude toward participating in the "Belt and Road" initiative and exploring tripartite cooperation.
The second is the economic factor. As the second largest economy in the world, China has maintained steady growth for many years successively and has become the driving force for world economic growth.
In 2017, China's GDP exceeded 80 trillion yuan and it imported 12.46 trillion yuan of goods, which provided a vast market, investment and development opportunities for all countries. In addition, the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad is also rapidly growing.
Against the background of the ineffective Abenomics, Japan wants to improve its relations with China in order to make use of China's economic development so as to promote its own economic development, increase employment and foreign exchange earnings.
The third is the diplomacy factor. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party will usher in a new round of presidential election in the fall of 2018. Japan's House of Councilors will also hold an election in the summer of 2019. In order to be re-elected as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, and achieve a continuous ruling, Abe will do his best to enhance the personal and cabinet support rate.
Currently, Abe faces many difficulties both at home and abroad. On the one hand, there is economic slowdown, challenge of intra-party opponents and tremendous resistance on the proposal of constitutional amendment. On the other hand, there are the outstanding DPRK nuclear issue, and territorial dispute between Japan and Russia. Under such circumstances, achieving diplomatic scores by improving relations with China can help Abe increase personal and cabinet support.
The steady and healthy development of China-Japan relations is in the interest of both peoples and is also conducive to regional peace and development.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan, but the present relations between the two countries is again turning cold. This shows that the improvement of the bilateral relations is a long-term commitment and needs the long-term efforts of both countries.
We hope that Japan will adopt a solid and sincere attitude, understand and treat its relations with China strategically, and act in the same direction with China. Based on the four political documents and the four-point consensus, the two countries should strengthen communication, enhance mutual trust, properly control differences and promote the improvement and development of Sino-Japanese relations in the right direction.